A top-secret computer chip designed
and funded by a powerful group of high-tech leaders is slated to
roll out this Wednesday amid a flurry of high expectations and
For the past five years, Transmeta Corp. has secretly toiled
away on the project under the leadership of CEO David Ditzel, a
former chip designer for AT&T;'s Bell Labs and Sun Microsystems Inc.
What makes Transmeta all the more interesting is the cast of
characters attached to the Santa Clara-based company. Employees
include superstar designers like Linux creator Linus Torvalds,
while investors consist of industry barons like Microsoft Corp.
co-founder Paul Allen and billionaire financier George Soros.
"This is going to really raise eyebrows, and yes, the big chip
makers Intel and AMD should be worried," said Drew Peck, a
microprocessor analyst from Cowen & Co. "It doesn't hurt that it's
coming from some of the most extraordinarily talented people in the
The company has refused to reveal exactly what it is developing,
cloaking its actions in a veil of mystery thus adding to the
hype. But Transmeta says it's finally ready to spill the beans.
Reporters and analysts have been told to plan to spend the
better part of Wednesday with Transmeta at a 175-acre historic
estate and villa in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
There, according to marketing officials, "the world's first
family of software-based smart microprocessors" will be unveiled
The coy approach continues on Transmeta's Web site.
"We rethought the microprocessor to create a whole new world of
mobility. Arriving January 19th, 2000. The Crusoe Processor."
The words fade into a bucolic picture of illusory footprints
meandering across a white sandy beach.
Buried in the Web site's source code, an additional message
discloses that "Crusoe will be cool hardware and software for
"Obviously their ploy here is to generate a lot of buzz in
advance, and evidently they've succeeded in that regard," said
So what's behind the buzz?
Transmeta officials have given hints that Crusoe is a new type
of semiconductor, or computer chip. The company designs them, but
will not manufacture them.
Crusoe's combination of hardware and software could create a
viable challenge to industry leader Intel Corp. But until
Transmeta's product and strategy are unveiled, analysts remain
cautious in their outlook.
"It's certainly a promising team," Gartner Group analyst
Martin Reynolds said. "Running up against Intel is not a good
thing to do, but if you look at processors that do lots of
multimedia stuff, maybe there is a place for something truly
innovative there. For example, look at where set top boxes are
going. There are different requirements for processors for those
Joe Byrne, a chip analyst for Dataquest, was equally wary.
"There's a lot of competition in this market, so you have to be
guarded in terms of your outlook," said Byrne. "However, this is
a very interesting cast of characters and it will be interesting to
see what they've produced."