Hardware-software hybrid cuts lap-top power use

Transmeta Corporation has unveiled a computer processor with only a quarter of the transistors of a comparable, conventionally designed unit.

Called Crusoe, the processor uses software rather than transistors to cut power consumption. It is being targeted at mobile computers with short battery life, such as lap-tops.

Crusoe consists of a `hardware engine’ surrounded by a software layer. The `engine’ uses long instruction word (or VLIW) commands, allowing the chip to execute up to four operations in each clock cycle.

The software, called code morphing, converts instructions tailored for standard chips into VLIW commands. Code morphing is built into the support chips, so hardware and software functions can be decided depending on the products in which the processor is used.

Hardware-software hybrids allow microprocessor designers to enlist software experts to bring products to market faster, Transmeta believes. Software upgrades can be brought to market independently from the chip.

Transmeta is run by a team including Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, Dave Ditzel, formerly chief architect at Sun Microsystems, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and billionaire financier George Soros.