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Transmeta Businesses Technology

Torvalds's Former Company Transmeta Acquired and Gone 150

Posted by kdawson
from the here's-to-you-mister-robinson dept.
desmondhaynes sends along a posting from the TechWatch blog detailing the sale of Transmeta (most recently discussed here). Linus moved ten time-zones west, from Finland to Santa Clara, CA, to join Transmeta in March 1997, before this community existed. Here is our discussion of the announcement of the Crusoe processor from 2000. Our earliest discussion of Transmeta was the 13th Slashdot story. "Transmeta, once a sparkling startup that set out to beat Intel and AMD in mobile computing, announced that it will be acquired by Novafora. The company's most famous employee, Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, kept the buzz and rumor mill about the company throughout its stealth phase alive and guaranteed a flashy technology announcement in early 2000. Almost nine years later Transmeta's journey is over." Update: 11/21 16:25 GMT by KD : It's not the 13th Slashdot story, only the 13th currently in the database. We lost the first 4 months at one point.
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Torvalds's Former Company Transmeta Acquired and Gone

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:53AM (#25845429)

    that something Linus worked on was a failure.

    You mean he's human after all?

    Oh the humanity.

    • by Macrat (638047)

      Worked on?

      More like he was hired to sit in an office and be their "star" power.

      • by hpa (7948) on Friday November 21, 2008 @02:43PM (#25848703) Homepage

        Worked on?
        More like he was hired to sit in an office and be their "star" power.

        Nothing could be further from the truth. Out of the five major components of the Crusoe firmware -- the dynamic translator, interpreter, nucleus (mini-OS), virtual I/O, and out-of-line handlers ("microcode"), Linus was the driving force, designer and primary implementor of one (the interpreter.) He eventually transitioned into an "advanced research" role, working on more "far out" projects.

        You might find this link [uspto.gov] interesting.

    • by MrNaz (730548) *

      Hey, at least it's not something Theo worked on. Then we'd see fireworks.

    • His choice to replicate the Unix experience also shows him to be a sadist.
  • Very telling..... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SQLGuru (980662) on Friday November 21, 2008 @10:54AM (#25845451) Journal

    From the article:

    Transmeta today announced that Novafora will acquire Transmeta and its assets for $255.6 million in cash.

    Transmeta's cash, cash equivalents and short term investments at September 30, 2008 totaled $255.2 million.

    So, the entire worth of the company intellectual property was about $0.4M?

    Layne

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mfh (56)

      So, the entire worth of the company intellectual property was about $0.4M?

      Probably offset against debt.

    • Re:Very telling..... (Score:4, Informative)

      by confused one (671304) on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:02AM (#25845585)
      Most of their $250M is from a recent settlement with Intel. They won't be getting any more money from THAT source.
    • by djseomun (1119637)

      From the article:

      Transmeta today announced that Novafora will acquire Transmeta and its assets for $255.6 million in cash.

      Transmeta's cash, cash equivalents and short term investments at September 30, 2008 totaled $255.2 million.

      So, the entire worth of the company intellectual property was about $0.4M?

      Layne

      The excess $400,000 paid for Transmeta is not necessarily intellectual property. Under financial accounting, it is considered "goodwill."

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        It might be, if it can't be assigned to any other sort of intangible asset, but given that they aren't keeping the Transmeta name or anything like that and their main motive in buying the company is to use the technology in their own products, I would think it probably is intellectual property.

        • by djseomun (1119637)

          It might be, if it can't be assigned to any other sort of intangible asset, but given that they aren't keeping the Transmeta name or anything like that and their main motive in buying the company is to use the technology in their own products, I would think it probably is intellectual property.

          From the Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 141 [fasb.org], The excess of the cost of an acquired entity over the net of the amounts assigned to assets acquired and liabilities assumed shall be recognized as an asset referred to as goodwill. An acquired intangible asset that does not meet the criteria in paragraph 39 shall be included in the amount recognized as goodwill..

          Reading this myself, I see that I have made a mistake: the $400,000 figure is not necessarily goodwill either, as the article mentioned

    • by fm6 (162816)

      That sounds about right. The adaptive compiler CPU idea was very intriguing (sort of like Hot Spot [sun.com] for x86 code) but nothing really useful seems to have come out of it.

      I used to own a Crusoe-based laptop. It ran hot, and battery life was unimpressive. So where's the alleged benefit for this technology?

      • I have one lappy with Transmeta CPU. Runs HORRIBLY slow, worth than PII@233MHz (which I had at that time).
        Battery life is nothing impressive. Practically unusable machine.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Elias Serge (657630)

        What model did you have? I own a sony c1 picturebook with a first-gen crusoe. Very slow, but it got impressive battery life (at the time) and ran very cool. The entire unit had one fan about the size of a quarter which only ran when the cpu was maxed out. The rest of the time you could barely hear it idling. Of course the horrible hard drive (10x louder than the fan, slow, unreliable) more than made up for it...

        And PII@233 sounds about right speed-wise.
        I consider crusoe the perfect example of an idea t

        • by fm6 (162816)

          Mine got stolen many years ago, but I think it was the same model as yours. I can't explain why yours works as designed and mine didn't, but my experience seems to be pretty typical.

          I now own a Motion Computing tablet with a 1Mhz processor that runs very hot indeed. But it makes no noise at all. Or almost: if you put your ear right up to the air vent, you can just barely here the fan. Can't hear the disk drive at all.

          Got my sister a used Optiplex SX270 that's just as quiet.

          Noise is primarily a matter of mec

    • I noticed that too... But not just intellectual property. Intellectual property and all of it's assets!

    • I'm pretty sure *checks* yep, I was running RedHat in 1995. And it was version 2.0
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jester998 (156179)

      Pretty sure they're talking about the Slashdot "community" -- Slashdot was founded in Sept 2007.

      • But why is it relevant to put that in the summary?
      • Pretty sure they're talking about the Slashdot "community" -- Slashdot was founded in Sept 2007.

        Now just wait a minute. Just wait one minute here. Did we have some sort of temporal field anomaly? I could have sworn I was wasting time on Slashdot for years. Guess it's the Alzheimer's again. Or the coffee. Or maybe we can blame it on George Bush...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by zeromorph (1009305)

      As much on slashdot this is self-referential, i.e. "this community" = Slashdot, and if you take this frame of reference "March 1997, before this community existed" is indeed correct [wikipedia.org]:

      # July 1997 - shortlived forerunner to Slashdot, called "Chips & Dips"
      # September 1997 - Slashdot is created.

  • This may not be a done deal. Some stockholders are suing, trying to block the sale, because the price is equivalent to the cash on hand, investments, and tangible assets. It appears to value the IP at $0 and the stockholders think Transmeta is worth more.
  • by Crizp (216129) <chris@eveley.net> on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:08AM (#25845665) Homepage

    Makes me feel old... oh wait I am. Crap.

    • by pete_norm (150498)

      They should have gone directly from story 12 to story 14. Being story 13 doomed Transmeta in the long run...

  • it's kinda sad. They tried. But the juggernauts ran them right over. Their technology was gee-whizzy and innovative. But they had a hard job getting anybody to buy into such a radical change.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "But they had a hard job getting anybody to buy into such a radical change."

      They didn't offer any CPU/motherboard combos to leverage Linux community participation, so it is obvious they did not want that. Mobo/CPU combos would have gotten exposure that merely going B2B couldn't buy.

      If your product is hardware your community can't buy, you cannot leverage their support very well.

      • Not only that, they kept the low-level VLIW (very long instruction word) interface to their chips a secret. I think, especially running Linux, that it would have given them a huge performance boost if you could run native VLIW-compiled code directly on the chip instead of going through the x86 emulation layer.

        • Re:kinda sad (Score:4, Informative)

          by default luser (529332) on Friday November 21, 2008 @12:48PM (#25847111) Journal

          But that was done on purpose, so they wouldn't hit the obvious wall that hurts all VLIW architectures: increasing IPC without changing the architecture, and without adding all the complex re-ordering logic seen in RISC-like superscalar processors. Once you get above one VLIW per clock, you have to throw the compiler's assumptions out the window, or you need to re-compile the code.

          If you don't have to support the old architecture, you can change it to increase IPC without excessive overhead. This was the concept behind adding an interpreter layer between the chip and the OS. Of course, they didn't realize that they were trading one performance bugaboo for another: instead of making a bigger, more expensive chip, they sapped tons of performance doing x86 instruction transation and re-ordering in software. This cost them tons of performannce, as a lot of the time, their VLIW pipeline was only %50 filled.

          Transmeta had the same problem Intel did with Itanium: with the exception of perfectly tailored code, the VLIW compiler couldn't keep processor resource utilization anywhere near %100. Transmeta had one additional problem over Intel: their compiler had to work in REAL TIME, with a tiny 16 or 32MB buffer. It's no wonder they got toasted by the x86 market..Itanium, even with Intel backing, is on the way to a similar fate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron (339739)

      But they had a hard job getting anybody to buy into such a radical change.

      That's not too surprising, due to the disappointing fact that once their product finally hit the market, it wasn't significantly more efficient than its conventional competitors.

      • I do wonder if they could have done better if they'd tried to support more architectures. If they'd been able to run PowerPC code as well then they'd have been very attractive to Apple - low power, and compatibility with both x86 and PowerPC code. They might have picked up a lot of business from big UNIX customers if they'd been able to migrate to something that could run both their legacy PA-RISC, Alpha, and so on code and also x86 code.
        • Re:kinda sad (Score:4, Informative)

          by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:56AM (#25846371) Journal
          The raw performance of the chips wasn't very good either. They were low power and low performance in a ratio that didn't provide any benefits over Intel's solutions.

          Plus working with small companies for such a vital part, wasn't in apple's interest. I think Apple learned its lesson working with Motorola. As big as it was, Motorola couldn't fulfill apple's meager request for power pc chips, nor could it fund development of faster chips.
          • by sootman (158191)

            My company had two early Compaq tablet PCs, a TC1000 with a 1 GHz Transmeta CPU and a (by that time HP) TC1100 with a 1 GHz PIII. The PIII ran circles around the Transmeta (like, when you were waiting for it to turn your spoken words into text, it was 1-2 seconds versus 3-5) but the Transmeta didn't get significantly better battery life--both were good for about 4 hours in typical usage (which, at a conference, means taking notes, surfing, and playing FreeCell and Dots. [microsoft.com])

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:19AM (#25845837) Homepage Journal

    That a small start up could take on Intel in a serious way? Sure you can make processors for some narrowly defined market that Intel might not be interested in pursuing. But at the time (this was before Pentium M and Centrino) Intel's mobile offerings were embarssing, and Intel was hurting to push something out quickly that could solve the mobile problem. Even at that time laptops were consider the wave of the future, and I think we can safely assume that Intel and AMD both realized that the laptop market was only going to grow much larger.

    Do you really jump in between Intel and AMD when they are both scrambling to come out with a solution first for a low power mobile chip with good performance? It didn't make sense to me then, and it doesn't make sense looking back on it.

    Sorry to be so critical of Transmeta, but I really couldn't see them achieving anything more than Cyrix/VIA with the Crusoe architecture, as novel as it was.

    The only thing that I thought might save them from the beating they received from Intel was the Efficeon. Having worked with product development for blades and modules, there are some serious power constraints in many of these products. And if you can get even a few more MIPS per Watt it can make the difference between being able to run an application or not. For application-oriented blades and modules (for example, Cisco NM, AIM and blades) the ability to have a little more oomph means you can offer more connections per blade or more features or do products that you could not do before. (afaik Cisco never used the Efficeon)

    • Did anyone seriously think that 2 students would be able to take on Yahoo and MS and win?
      • Yes. The web search/advertising market was very young, Yahoo! and MS's search engines sucked, their designs were fundamentally wrong for the direction the web was going, they showed no indication that they were going to make any meaningful changes.

        The CPU market was not young, Intel and AMD had decent products, and they were pouring resources into R&D.

      • Well Yahoo was two students too. So it's not inconceivable now is it?

    • That a small start up could take on Intel in a serious way?

      Well, that wasn't what killed them. There are many stories of garage companies taking on the fat, lazy big boys and winning (Microsoft/Apple against IBM, for one).

      What killed them was the Fundamentally Wrong Approach. They wanted to, in essence, make a "magic optimizer" that would take Intel instructions and convert them to run on a very simple, low-power device. The "magic optimizer" was left as an "exercise to the geniuses". The business plan for that consisted solely of hand waving. "Hey, we'll just hire smart people and let them figure it out."

      Unfortunately, optimization is a notoriously difficult problem, and is really a subset of Strong A.I. No one programs in assembly language these days, so one really understands how bad compilers really are at producing code, compared to human optimized code. Computers are so fast and programmers are so expensive, so we don't really care anymore.

      Taking assembly and trying to translate/recompile it into another very-low-level assembly and do this on-the-fly without any time or performance penalty is a fool's game. It was never going to work. I could probably even dig up my posts on this subject way back when. :)

      See also: VLIW processors, where the hardware guys fool themselves by saying, "the software guys will figure out how to compile to it."

      • by Animats (122034) on Friday November 21, 2008 @01:24PM (#25847615) Homepage

        RISC machines made sense before Intel figured out to make x86 go faster than one instruction per clock. That happened with the Pentium Pro, which came out in 1995. (The Pentium II and III were basically Pentium Pro architecture, shrunk down to a single die in a newer fab.) Transmeta didn't announce a product until 2000.

        Before the Pentium Pro, RISC architectures seemed to be the way forward. The RISC designs could get down to one instruction per clock, and they weren't that hard to design, because all the hard cases were prohibited. I met the design team for one of the MIPS CPU parts, and it was about 15 people.

        Intel took on the insanely hard problem of making a superscalar x86 CPU. All the awful things that can happen in x86 code had to be handled, and not only handled, handled fast. The internal complexity of the Pentium Pro/II/III is huge. It took a design team of 3000 people at peak to bring it off, and a huge transistor count in the CPU. Yet they did it. With that architecture, they could beat one instruction per clock, which blew away the whole rationale for nice, simple RISC machines. Transistors on the chip had become cheap enough that a CPU with 5.5 million transistors was commercially feasible.

        Along with blowing away RISC, that technology blew away Transmeta. Transmeta had an OK idea, but they were five years too late.

        • by marxmarv (30295)

          x86 machine language is RISC, just compressed/encrypted.

        • RISC machines made sense before Intel figured out to make x86 go faster than one instruction per clock.

          That's not what made RISC fade into the background.

          RISC was about tradeoffs: Do only very simple instructions and you can do them very fast with a small amount of logic (which makes you even faster). Then trade this for occasionally doing several instructions instead of one and you're still ahead.

          The smaller machine also means you can move to the next, still faster, logic family while the yeild is still

        • by epine (68316)

          RISC machines made sense before Intel figured out to make x86 go faster than one instruction per clock.

          That's a good starting point, but you missed half the story.

          The concept that RISC failed to stir into their soup is that latency is fundamentally asynchronous in general purpose computing. There are specialized floating-point kernels and such where latency can be successfully regimented into a synchronous model. The majority of customers with these requirements bought dedicated, specialized machines. It

      • by sootman (158191)

        See also: VLIW processors, where the hardware guys fool themselves by saying, "the software guys will figure out how to compile to it."

        Q: How many software engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?
        A: Isn't that a hardware problem?

        Q: How many hardware engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?
        A: Can't the software guys just code around it?

      • I will agree with you that the technology decisions, while interesting research, were perhaps not the best investment.

        But my argument is that if you're a little guy and want to take on major players in a market, you need to attack their weak points long before the major players realize they have a weak point. When companies with huge resources are competing in a R&D heavy sector, you don't want to jump in and try to compete in areas that the big players are aware of. They'll eat you for lunch.

        Perhaps I'

        • But I have learned, rightly or wrongly, that being stealthy and going for the customers that are being ignored by more powerful players is a better strategy.

          I agree with you there. I don't remember the exact quote, but I still remember shaking my head when Andreessen started shooting off his mouth taunting Microsoft back in the Netscape browser days. I think I posted at the time something to effect of, "A browser is not the most difficult piece of technology in the world. All he's doing is causing The Nav

  • by Orion Blastar (457579) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {ratsalbnoiro}> on Friday November 21, 2008 @11:22AM (#25845873) Homepage Journal

    and Intel ran them out of business like so many others.

    Intel ran Cyrix, Centaur, out of business and they got bought out. Intel stopped NEC (Remember the V20 CPU that replaced the 8088?), and almost ran VIA and AMD out of business.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kindaian (577374)
      You are forgetting ARM, Alpha, and several others... (from SIG if i recall). Ones got brought, others just faded away...
      • ARM is very popular for embedded systems.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        Yup, ARM is really hurting badly, what with out-selling x86 around 4:1 and owning the fastest-growing segment of the microprocessor market.
        • by jimicus (737525)

          And is also owned by Intel and produced under the brand name XScale, though rights to the chips have also been sold to other companies.

          • ARM was never owned by Intel. Intel licensed ARM cores and produced them under the StrongARM brand. They then got some ex-Alpha people to do the XScale design, which ended up being a typical Intel chip of the era - high clock frequency, low instruction-per-clock. They then sold the entire XScale division to Marvell, and now do not make any ARM-compatible chips. Meanwhile, the likes of Samsung and TI are making ARM chips with a performance per watt ratio around an order of magnitude better than anything
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by tlhIngan (30335)

              ARM was never owned by Intel. Intel licensed ARM cores and produced them under the StrongARM brand. They then got some ex-Alpha people to do the XScale design, which ended up being a typical Intel chip of the era - high clock frequency, low instruction-per-clock. They then sold the entire XScale division to Marvell, and now do not make any ARM-compatible chips. Meanwhile, the likes of Samsung and TI are making ARM chips with a performance per watt ratio around an order of magnitude better than anything Inte

        • please show me one single arm cpu for two thousand euros a piece.

          there are lots of arm cpus being sold right now but they are dirt cheap.

          • by cduffy (652)

            there are lots of arm cpus being sold right now but they are dirt cheap.

            Relevance?

            • uh, profit margins?

              • by cduffy (652)

                We were talking about whether ARM is successful; a product selling in such massive quantities is doubtless successful -- for it to be otherwise, they'd need to be selling at a price incapable of covering both fixed and marginal costs.

  • Yet another buyout.... The problem here is that we now are (actually, almost always were) in a duopoly shared by Intel and AMD. Let's see if another processor company emerges in the future... How about that chinese company?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lysergic.acid (845423)

      i'm just curious why VIA hasn't been a major contender in the growing netbook & low power desktop market. haven't low power processors always been their specialty?

      i think it'd be hard for any independent manufacturer to compete against AMD & Intel in the high-end market where the duopoly is firmly entrenched. however, many consumers are beginning to realize that they really don't need the latest quad core processor just to check e-mail and surf the web. i expect the trend towards low power desktops

      • by Ant P. (974313)

        i'm just curious why VIA hasn't been a major contender in the growing netbook & low power desktop market. haven't low power processors always been their specialty?

        Linux drivers. Intel provides them, VIA does not, and Vista is not an option. In a panic they've started dumping out public specs and drivers in the last few weeks, now that the Atom is out and they're in danger of being made irrelevant.

      • I'm just going to whack you with the information stick and leave you to synthesize clue.

        1. The more copies of a model sold, the less each copy pays for engineering.
        2. A new chip design costs six to eight figures (USD) to develop.
        3. A new computer model costs a lot to develop and support, even if you're starting with a reference design from a chip vendor.
        4. People in the first world, where such niche segmentation is most likely to fly, care about run-time. Energy efficiency is irrelevant.
        5. People in the fi

        • lol. i'm hoping that post wasn't meant to be serious.

          1. duh.
          2. i guess they'll just have to work really hard to produce more than a few thousand chips, eh?
          3. and your point is?
          4. you've never been outside of the U.S. have you?
          5. oh, what the hell am i doing...

          sorry, i prefer to write in organized, coherent paragraphs rather than disjointed lists with no logical structure.

          in any case, assuming you're right and no one cares about energy efficiency, people still care about performance. an energy-efficient system will run coo

  • Um... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by sootman (158191)

    Archives go back to December 31, 1997 [slashdot.org] but the site itself goes back to September. [wikipedia.org] So I don't think that was the real 13th story.

  • Our earliest discussion of Transmeta was the 13th Slashdot story. And without any comments too! This could my very chance to get in a first post! mwahAHAHAHA!
  • Linus Torvalds formerly owned a company.
    Linus Torvalds' former company was acquired.

  • Wasn't there enough room to say that in the subject field?

  • by hpa (7948) on Friday November 21, 2008 @05:48PM (#25851565) Homepage
    An insider's view...

    What killed Transmeta was a few things things:

    1. Poor execution on the hardware side.
      Transmeta felt they were taking too many risks on the software side, and adopted a hyper-conservative culture on the hardware side. The result ended up being both late and below target. All the software optimizations in the world could not help push more operations down the pipe than it could actually perform.
    2. The increasing cost of memory performance
      As time went on, the cost of x86 decode and scheduling in hardware went down, and the cost of memory performance -- caching systems, and so on -- went up. The VLIW instruction set consumed more icache than the native x86 instruction set.
    3. TSMC meltdown
      The best design in the world doesn't help if your fab partner don't deliver for their own design rules.
  • This may be a stupid question, but, where does Linus work now?

      -- thanks, Dave

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