SAN MATEO, Calif. Transmeta Corp. officially throws in its lot with the Hypertransport interconnect with its announcement on Monday (March 10) of its next-generation mobile processor that will use the interface. The TM8000 will use a 400 MHz Hypertransport link to south bridge chips and the AGP 4x interface to graphics, replacing PCI links in its current CPUs.
The choice of Hypertransport is not a huge surprise given Transmeta has long been a member of the Hypertransport Consortium led by Advanced Micro Devices. Nevertheless, the move marks the first effort to bring Hypertransport to mobile PCs.
To date, AMD is using Hypertransport on its Hammer processors for PC servers and desktops while Broadcom and PMC Sierra are using the link in network processors. Intel is expected to bring serial PCI Express as a primary interconnect to desktop and notebook PCs starting in late 2004.
The choice of 400 MHz Hypertransport is a natural one for Tr ansmeta. The company needs to move to a higher performance interconnect than PCI for the 256-bit TM8000 which the company claims will be able to issue up to eight instructions per clock. The 2.5 Gbit/second serial PCI Express interconnect, led by Intel Corp., likely would represent too expensive and risky an alternative.
By adopting Hypertransport, Transmeta's users will be able to leverage south bridge chips companies such as Acer Labs, Nvidia Corp., Silicon Integrated Systems and Via Technologies Inc., which are expected to build for AMD's Operton.
South bridge chips generally provide links between a CPU and systems I/O for PCI, USB, hard disk interfaces and other links.
Besides Hypertransport and AGP 4x, the TM8000 will also support 400-MHz DDR with error correction code and an LPC bus linking to flash memory. The ECC support is designed to appeal to makers of low-end servers and server blades where Transmeta has some design activity with startup RLX Technologies.
Eye on Centrino
Transmeta tipped the details about the TM8000 on the eve of Intel's launch of its Centrino notebook chips which are likely to be its chief competition this year in mainstream notebook designs.
Transmeta promoted the concept of lower-power network processors with its previous generation chips, a factor that motivated Intel to design its low power Pentium M processor at the heart of its Centrino platform.
Transmeta hopes the TM8000's performance boost over the current 128-bit TM5800 helps it find sockets in mainstream "thin and light" notebooks that use 12- and 14-inch screens. That's up from the ultralight notebooks with 10-inch or smaller screens where the TM5800 sees many of its design wins today.
John Heinlein, director of systems marketing for Transmeta, cited International Data Corp. estimates that the thin and lightsegment represents 65 percent of today's notebooks, moving to 84 percent in 2005. "It's the mainstream segment of the notebook market today," he said.
Rob Enderle, resea rch fellow at market watcher Giga Information Group (San Jose) said some OEMs are reacting against Intel's plan to supply 802.11b silicon with its Centrino platform, opting for combo 11a/b or 11g chips instead, a factor turning some designers toward alternative CPUs such as the TM8000.
"It's interesting that the Centrino launch is actually giving Transmeta a boost," Enderle said.
The company badly needs one. Transmeta has promised to reach profitability by the end of 2003. However, to date the company has been hemorrhaging cash.
Once Silicon Valley's hottest and most secretive startup, Transmeta has struggled for survival during the downturn. It posted a loss of about $171 million on sales of about $35 million in its fiscal 2001, up from revenues of $16 million and losses of $97 million in 2000. The company estimated it had about $130 million in cash reserves in December 2002.
Transmeta's current woes stem from when the company switched foundries from IBM to TSMC, missing its delivery dates i n the process. "They have solved that problem, but they still have to deliver this chip, get design wins and hope the market picks up," Enderle said.
The TM8000, built in a 130-nm process, will ship in systems in the third quarter, said Heinlein.
Despite Transmeta's shift to mainstream notebooks, Enderle said he expected most of its design wins in PC Tablets, a new category of pen-based computers being heavily marketed by Microsoft. That segment could represent as much as a quarter of all notebooks by 2005, he said.
Separately, Transmeta got a small boost today (March 10) when Sharp announced it would use the current 1-GHz TM5800 in its Actius MM10 notebook to be sold in the U.S. Sharp had been shipping a similar model with the CPU and a 10.4-inch LCD, but only in Japan.