Transmeta chips to hit corporate laptops

NEC is to announce two new Versa notebook PCs based on Transmeta's Crusoe TM 5600 processors, according to sources close to the company.

John G. Spooner
John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
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NEC takes it outside
Brett Morrison, director Versa Notebooks, NEC
Transmeta may be coming to a cubicle near you.

NEC will announce on Monday two new Versa notebook PCs based on Transmeta's Crusoe TM 5600 processors, according to sources close to the company.

Though Sony has been shipping Transmeta-based Vaio notebooks in North America since last year, NEC's new notebooks represent the chipmaker's first corporate win in the region. Transmeta also recently won a large corporate contract with Fujitsu. But the 12,000 notebooks resulting from the deal will ship only in Japan.

By choosing Transmeta, NEC has bucked tradition. PC makers have been reluctant to offer non-Intel chips to corporate customers in the United States, especially in the notebook market.

The new NEC models, slimmed-down machines weighing about 3.3 pounds, will be fitted with a TM 5600 chip running at 600MHz. They will also come configured with a 10.4-inch display, 128MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. Prices will start at $2,299, sources familiar with NEC's plans said.

As reported earlier, NEC's new notebooks will also offer some trick technology. One model, dubbed Versa DayLite, will have a reflective screen that doesn't need an internal light source. The notebook is intended to be used outdoors. The other, Versa UltraLite, will offer a traditional backlit screen.

Both notebooks ship with lithium ion polymer batteries, more malleable than traditional lithium ion batteries in that they can be made both thin and flat. These properties allow NEC to mount the batteries behind the notebooks' screens. Traditional lithium ion batteries, which are also included in the notebooks as part of a dual battery system, are constructed from round or square-shaped cells.

Transmeta isn't the only chipmaker eyeing the notebook market. Advanced Micro Devices has begun shipping mobile Athlon chips to PC makers, and notebooks based on the chip are expected later this quarter.

Analysts don't believe these new notebooks will overwhelm the corporate market--at least not right away.

"Intel has really been ratcheting up in response to AMD and Transmeta. So as a result, its position is stronger than it was six or nine months ago," said Mike Feibus, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "That's not to say that AMD (and Transmeta) won't do well. But I don't expect to see a wholesale defection, either."

PC makers IBM and Compaq Computer have evaluated Transmeta chips, but neither has announced plans to offer a notebook based on Crusoe. IBM executives said Transmeta's advertised power savings were not significant enough to convince it to leave the Intel fold after it canceled a project to graft a Crusoe chip into its ThinkPad 240 mini-notebook.

Despite the reluctance of some PC makers, Transmeta shipments may hit 1 million units this year.

Transmeta shipped about 150,000 Crusoe chips in 2000, according to Mercury Research. The firm estimates the company shipped about the same number in the first quarter of 2001 and predicts it will have shipped about 1 million units by the end of the year, Feibus said.

Transmeta announces its first-quarter earnings April 19.

Transmeta and NEC representatives declined to comment for this story.