Transmeta seeks a buyer

Sep 30, 2008

Transmeta, the turn-of-the-millennium startup that sought to “revolutionize mobile Internet computing” with an innovative “code morphing” CPU architecture aimed at replacing Intel processors in mobile devices — and former home to Linus Torvalds — is up for sale.

The company in 2000 unveiled two “Crusoe” processors (the TM5400 and the TM3120) targeting ultra-light mobile PCs running Microsoft Windows OSes. The key uniqueness of the company’s Crusoe processors was “code morphing” software, whereby a low-power VLIW (very long instruction word) processor core could emulate Intel x86 architecture mobile processors.

“It is this software that provides the compatibility by ‘morphing’ (i.e. translating x86 instructions) to the underlying hardware engine,” Transmeta said when it broke the silence on Crusoe. “Crusoe is a smart processor that ‘learns’ about an application while it runs and uses that experience to greatly extend battery life,” the company explained.

One code morphing function — “LongRun” power management — was enabled Crusoe processors to continuously adjust their operating speed and voltage to processing bandwidth requirements, with the result of “dramatically extending battery life,” according to the company.

Transmeta soon closed an $88 million financing round, landed numerous mobile device design wins, and introduced a series of new Crusoe and Efficion processors incorporating its code morphing technology.

Not surprisingly, however, Intel countered with its own aggressive power management technologies. This, along with stiff mobile-x86 processor competition from Via and from AMD, contributed to Transmeta’s 2005 decisions to undergo a “strategic restructuring” and to start licensing its technologies to other chip makers. (Transmeta technology licensees have included NEC, Fujitsu, Sony, and Toshiba, and others.)

In October, 2006, Transmeta filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Intel, claiming the latter’s Pentium III, Pentium 4, Pentium M, Core, and Core 2 product lines infringed Transmeta patents and demand an injunction against the sale of those processors plus royalties and damages.

Transmeta and Intel settled their legal battle one year later. In return for Intel paying $150 million up front, plus annual license fees of $20 million for five years, Intel was granted “a perpetual non-exclusive license to all Transmeta patents and patent applications, including any patent rights later acquired by Transmeta, now existing or as may be filed during the next ten years. Transmeta will also transfer technology and grant to Intel a non-exclusive license to Transmeta’s LongRun and LongRun2 technologies and future improvements.”

In August of this year, video-chip powerhouse Nvidia paid Transmeta $25 million for a “non-exclusive license to Transmeta’s Long Run and LongRun2 technologies and other intellectual property” for incorporation into future Nvidia chips.

Last week Transmeta announced that, “after actively exploring a full range of strategic alternatives over the past few months and after strengthening its balance sheet,” it had begun seeking a buyer in order to further “enhance value for all its stockholders.”

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