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Transmeta and Code Morphing Software

Transmeta Corp. was founded in 1995 by group of enthusiasts with the aim to create ultra low-power microprocessors compatible with contemporary software designed to run on x86 chips. But while the concept seems impressive, eventually Transmeta found itself in a wrong time in a wrong place and with a wrong kind of hardware.

Transmeta’s microprocessors were based on its own proprietary VLIW architecture and their compatibility with x86 or different instruction set was maintained using the so-called code morphing software (CMS). Theoretically, this allowed Transmeta to be add new features to its central processing units by updating the software. However, this also meant that performance of such chips will hardly be very high.

The first Transmeta’s processor – Crusoe (based on 128-bit VLIW architecture) – was launched in the year 2000. Due to code-morphing software it could not perform as competing offerings from Intel. Moreover, it could not run certain industry standard applications due to issues with CMS. To make the matters worse, back then nobody heard of netbooks or smartbooks and notebooks were mostly designed for business users, who would hardly enjoy even low power notebooks with limited software compatibility based on unknown chips. The 2000 was not the right time to introduce low-power microprocessors for ultra-thin laptops.

Transmeta’s second attempt was called Efficeon (which was based on 256-bit VLIW design) and was released in 2003 to compete against Intel Centrino/Pentium M platform for the space inside premium notebooks. Not exactly a good place to compete for, considering the fact that Pentium M was much faster in terms of performance and few end-users cared about very long battery life back then.

Due to low performance and issues with code morphing software, Transmeta could not win a lot of designs. As a consequence, the company posted massive quarterly losses and in 2007 the company announced its plans to quit hardware business. Subsequently, the firm was acquired by Novafora and ceased to exist. Novafora also quickly sold Transmeta’s patents and vanished into oblivion.

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