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Transmeta chips expected in devices next month

The first announcements of hotly anticipated products using Transmeta's low-power Crusoe chip could come next month, chief executive David Ditzel says.

The first announcements of hotly anticipated products using Transmeta's low-power Crusoe chip could come next month, chief executive David Ditzel said today.

"The logical place to look for systems would be at PC Expo," the June convention in New York where tech firms show off upcoming products, Ditzel said in an interview with CNET News.com. The comments came after his speech at PricewaterhouseCooper's Technology Forecast: 2000 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Ditzel said it's not yet clear whether the first Crusoe devices will be full-featured notebook computers or "Webpad"-style Internet appliances.

"It's a horse race between the pad guys and the notebook guys," he said.

Transmeta was launched with much fanfare in January, when the chip start-up unveiled two processors--the Crusoe 3120 and 5400. Combined with special software from Transmeta, the Crusoe system requires much less power than existing designs. The chips are expected to arrive first in lightweight laptop computers and stripped-down Webpads that could run all day on a single battery charge.

The Transmeta technology also uses "code-morphing" software, which allows the Crusoe chips to emulate Intel or other chips without some of the performance penalty traditionally associated with emulation. The software also allows Transmeta devices to be upgraded with a simple software download.

Ditzel said Transmeta's product launch strategy is on schedule.

"We hope to have a variety of interesting and sexy products shipping in high volume in time to be under the Christmas tree," he said.

Ditzel reiterated that the privately held company has no set schedule to go public.

"Our focus right now is on shipping products," he said. "An IPO would be nicer once people can see and touch" our products, he said.

Transmeta, whose employees include Linux originator Linus Torvalds, has emerged as a high-profile threat to chip giant Intel. The start-up's credibility was boosted by an announcement last month that it had secured $88 million in funding from America Online, Gateway, Compaq Computer, Sony and several major Taiwanese electronics manufacturers.

S3, which has shifted from graphics chips to digital gadgets, is one of the few firms to announce solid plans for the Crusoe, saying the chips will be the foundation for a planned line of Internet appliances. Other backers, including AOL and Gateway, have indicated plans to get into the appliance market, however, where the easy upgrading and long running time of the Crusoe chips are seen as major advantages.

But some have questioned whether any new firm can snag much market share from the established chip leaders, noting Intel's ongoing efforts to reduce power consumption in mobile chips.

"If Intel really sees Transmeta as some kind of significant market-share threat, what could it do in response that would make Transmeta more miserable?" MicroDesign Resources analyst Keith Diefendorff has said. "That's unknown at this point."

News.com's David Becker and Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.