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Transmeta gears up for notebooks, expands chip line

The upstart microprocessor designer plans to showcase a number of corporate notebooks using its chips at PC Expo later this month.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--Upstart microprocessor designer Transmeta plans to showcase a number of corporate notebooks using its chips at PC Expo later this month, and will later diversify its product line to offer capabilities for different devices.

Notebooks for the corporate market featuring Transmeta chips will be part of a major display at PC Expo, said company executives at the Computex trade show in Taipei. The move will present a competitive challenge to Intel, as no processor manufacturer, including Advanced Micro Devices, has yet to seriously take on the Santa Clara Calif.-based giant in the business market.

Companies that will likely display notebooks include Compaq and Gateway, which are investors in Transmeta, and IBM, which already has said it will demo a Transmeta-based notebook. Some of the notebooks will be mere prototypes, but others will be preproduction models, Transmeta officials said.

"You have to have the strong brand names behind you to show quality and compatibility," said James Chapman, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

In addition, the company is drawing plans up to offer a variety of Crusoe processors. The company unveiled its first products early this year with two chip designs--the 3120, recently relabeled as the 3200, for the appliance market and the 5400 processor for notebooks.

In the near future, the company will release two additional processors, the 3300 and the 3400, for the appliance market, and a 5600 for notebooks, said Brian Hurst, director of worldwide sales for Transmeta.

Each of these chips will feature different performance characteristics, Hurst said, although he would not clarify what the particular characteristics would be.

The activity comes at a time when the PC semiconductor market appears to be fragmenting.

Intel virtually dominated the market for PC silicon in 1997. Since then, AMD has carved out a position on the high-performance end with its Athlon processor. Via Technologies has become a challenger in chipsets, which connect the PC to the rest of the computer. And now Transmeta is making inroads into the business market, a market Intel has effectively owned.

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Both Chapman and Hurst emphasized that the notebooks to be shown at PC Expo would be marketed to the business industry. Transmeta's 3000 family is largely designed for devices, which will use Linux. The 5000 family will go into notebooks, which will run on Windows, said Hurst.

Transmeta will face a challenge in getting into the corporate market, Chapman acknowledged, but the support should be convincing to a certain degree.

"We're going to show a lot of great notebooks at PC Expo," he said.

Some major computer manufacturers also have a strong financial reason to see Transmeta succeed. Along with Gateway and Compaq, Tatung and First International Computer, two Asian contract manufacturers that make computers for western PC marketers, are investors in Transmeta. Also, IBM manufactures Transmeta's chips. All of these companies will financially benefit from Transmeta grabbing market share.

The recent investments by Compaq and others came about because the PC manufacturers were interested in taking a financial stake in the company. "It was at the request of our customers," said Hurst.

Both Hurst and Chapman said that the 3200 line and the 5400 Crusoe chips are in volume production. Diversifying the two product lines will likely come later, they said.

Chapman said Transmeta has not talked much publicly about processors beyond the 3200 and 5400, because as a rule, the company does not discuss forthcoming processors until they can be adapted into machines that might appear on shelves or catalogues.

The 3200 was formerly known as the 3120. Transmeta changed the code name because of a trademark dispute, said Hurst.

Transmeta has been one of the most closely watched companies at Computex. First International Computer has generated considerable publicity with its Aqua Web Pad, which is based on a Crusoe 3200 processor. The device will be shown at PC Expo and enter volume production toward November.

Despite the publicity, Transmeta has clung to its obsession with privacy. The company does not have a booth on the floor. Instead, it is occupying the Presidential Suite of Taipei's Grand Hyatt. Unlike most companies, though, which leave the door to the hospitality suite open, Transmeta's door is locked for most of the day.