Low-Power VLIW CPU Delivers Speedy x86 Upgrade

May 7, 2003
Software-based code morphing benefits from more execution units.

Transmeta pushes the envelope with its TM8000 x86-compatible processor. This VLIW-based device (see figure) doubles the number of execution units (EUs) to eight versus the four found in the company’s current TM5800 processor. This architectural change significantly boosts performance while retaining the code-morphing software (CMS) that converts x86 instructions into very-long-instruction-word (VLIW) instructions.

The company took advantage of its software translation to provide bug fixes and performance improvements to its existing processors. Such enhancements aren’t possible with fixed hardware architectures. CMS is also the basis for improved power usage. Transmeta has been known for its low-power approach, called Long Run, and the new design is supposed to be even more efficient. The mobile and wireless spaces are the TM8000’s prime targets.

Speeding up the clock and adding more execution units would make the TM8000 a nice, but somewhat average, improvement. Luckily, Transmeta’s architects have been busy in other areas as well. The TM8000 will use a high-speed HyperTransport link for peripheral interconnects. It also incorporates its own North Bridge and AGP 4x support. This reduces the number of support chips while pushing performance. The memory interface handles DDR400 with error control coding.

The TM8000 is based on 0.13-mm technology. Transmeta hasn’t yet announced a release date or pricing. The company got burned with the TM5800, so it’s being more conservative with these details. Overall, the TM8000 directly competes with Intel’s Centrino mobile technology. It’s been tough for Transmeta to compete with Intel, but the TM8000 should give it more clout when performance is an issue.

Transmeta Corp. www.transmeta.com

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