Power Savings vs. Notebook Muscle

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-07-08 Print this article Print

Transmeta is banking on power consumption, cooling and size as big considerations.

Most of us once judged notebook computers using a certain set of criteria in a fairly standard order: comfort, cost, power and battery life. Now that costs are within expectations and power is generally adequate across the board, my entire judging criteria has been blown to bits. I suspect that the manufacturers want it this way. That way they market their notebooks to fit any occasion. The technical guts are there, of course, but new markets are created when style supersedes substance. Think Apple and polo shirts, for example.

For the manufacturers, however, there seems to be a little battle brewing. The reason: Transmeta has tossed a curveball into an industry that was hitting home runs off fastballs for at least a decade. Transmeta is banking on power consumption, cooling and size as the next big considerations in the industry. But it hasnt convinced all the manufacturers that power savings over power processing is the way to go. This is nuts. Its crazy to believe that anyone would not want a device with an 8-hour battery life vs. something that had 3.5 hours, even if the latter device was 20 percent faster. Thats the story I got from talking with the notebook and chip manufacturers. Motion Computing, for example, the new company formed by former Dell executives, said Transmetas Crusoe chip set was too slow. So did some other manufacturers, even though I had seen Crusoe-based prototypes from them. Transmeta-based devices probably are significantly slower than Intel-and AMD-based devices. The chip set requires an abstraction layer that translates x86 code (Windows) into Crusoe code. This is the stuff Linus Torvalds is working on.

Its possible, in some cases, that performance over battery life is essential. Motion, which is targeting the vertical markets with its Tablet PC design, probably made a correct choice. Motion also will become the Tablet PC research and pilot development arm for Dell (my speculation), so Intel chip sets are a good fit. In general, however, mobility depends on greater battery life. Couple this thought with the reigning principle of the computing industry—that value is added as density increases—and you have an excellent case for Transmetas designs, which allow for smaller form factors, including the OQO device (very cool) and some of those fashionable Sonys.

Whats more important in your line of work—battery or performance? Write to me at john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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