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Chip Hall of Fame: Transmeta Corp. Crusoe Processor

Ahead of its time, this chip heralded the mobile era when energy use, not processing power, would become the most important spec

1 min read
Transmeta Corp. Crusoe Processor
Photo: Dave Ditzel

Crusoe Processor

Manufacturer: Transmeta Corp.

Category: Processors

Year: 2000

With great power come great heat sinks. And short battery life. And crazy electricity consumption. Hence Transmeta’s goal of designing a low-power processor that’d put those hogs offered by Intel and AMD to shame. The plan: Software would translate x86 instructions on the fly into Crusoe’s own machine code, whose higher level of parallelism would save time and power. It was hyped as the greatest thing since sliced silicon, and for a while, it was. “Engineering wizards conjure up processor gold” was how IEEE Spectrum’s May 2000 cover put it. Crusoe and its successor, Efficeon, “proved that dynamic binary translation was commercially viable,” says David Ditzel, Transmeta’s cofounder, now at Esperanto Technologies. Unfortunately, he adds, the chips arrived several years before the market for low-power computers took off, and appeared in only a few products. In the end, while Transmeta did not deliver on its commercial promise, it did point the way toward a world in which a processor’s power use was as important as its raw power, and some of Transmeta’s technology found its way into Intel, AMD, and Nvidia chips.

Spectrum coverWe here at Spectrum were all aboard the Transmeta bandwagon. The cover photo included one of Transmeta’s most famous hires, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux (third from right).Photo: IEEE Spectrum

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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

Hoff thought designing 12 custom chips for a calculator was crazy, so he created the Intel 4004

14 min read
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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor
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The rays of the rising sun have barely reached the foothills of Silicon Valley, but Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff Jr. is already up to his elbows in electronic parts, digging through stacks of dusty circuit boards. This is the monthly flea market at Foothill College, and he rarely misses it.

Ted Hoff is part of electronics industry legend. While a research manager at Intel Corp., then based in Mountain View, he realized that silicon technology had advanced to the point that, with careful engineering, a complete central processor could fit on a chip. Teaming up with Stanley Mazor and Federico Faggin, he created the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004.

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