Sony licenses Transmeta power-saving technology

Chipmaker looks to licensing to reach profitability

Sony has agreed to license Transmeta's LongRun2 power-management technology for its processors, the third licensee that Transmeta has signed in the last year, the companies said Monday.

On Friday, Transmeta told investors, analysts and the media that it signed "a global consumer electronics company" as its third licensee, but did not reveal that the company is Sony until Monday. Transmeta is restructuring its operations to focus on licensing its technologies and de-emphasize the production of its own chip designs.

LongRun2 allows chip makers to control the threshold voltage of a processor, or the amount of power needed to activate the transistor. This can help control current leakage during periods when a transistor is awaiting further instructions, a problem that has grown worse as the industry continues to shrink transistor sizes.

Transmeta believes it can finally reach profitability by licensing technologies such as LongRun2 and its software-based processor designs to chip companies such as Sony, Fujitsu and NEC, the company's other licensing partners. The Santa Clara, California, company's Crusoe and Efficeon processors for notebook PCs consume very little power, but have not caught on with the general public or corporate customers outside of Japan.

Financial details of the license were not disclosed. However, the deal should be similar to the other licenses that Transmeta has signed, with a large up-front payment followed by ongoing royalties, Transmeta executives said Friday. In the third quarter of 2004, Transmeta recorded $3.7 million in licensing revenue, slightly more than it took in on sales of its chips.

Sony, along with IBM and Toshiba, is working on a next-generation processor that will power the PlayStation 3 gaming console. Further details about that chip, code-named Cell, will be revealed at the upcoming International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco on Feb. 8. The company also manufactures chips for its own products, such as digital televisions and DVD players.

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