Sharp Notebook Features New Chip Off The Block

By Patricia Fusco | Posted March 16, 2004

Last October Transmeta demonstrated how its new Efficeon, or TM8000, processor works. According to the company, Efficeon is said to offer performance increases of about 50 percent over the Crusoe processor. At the time, manufacturers expected to see the chipset at work in new notebooks before the first quarter of 2004 was through. They were right on target — Sharp introduced its first Efficeon notebook computer to the U.S Market this week.

The evolution of portable computers created several problems for chipmakers. Smaller and lighter portable PCs that process as much data as desktop computers have to be scaled down to smaller dimensions. Consequently, all that processing power in a notebook greatly diminishes battery life.

One chipmaker developed a technological breakthrough that solved part of the power drain that portable PCs put on transistors. Transmeta's first generation of long-running processors was originally introduced in January 2000. The Crusoe chipset was the first in the industry to adjust megahertz and voltage dynamically — hundreds of times per second — to reduce power consumption in portable PCs.

Because the Crusoe chipset tackled one of the major problems in notebook computing — short battery life caused by processor power consumption — Intel began to pour more efforts into reducing power consumption altogether, a push that culminated in the Centrino chipset released in March 2003. While battery life improved, chipmakers took their first step toward making notebook computing more efficient.

Transmeta's second generation of processors for mobile computers extends the company's approach further to include dynamic adjustments of transistor leakage under software control. Software control is important in order to adjust power drains due to changes in runtime conditions, such as voltage and temperature.

Sharp's new Actius MM20 offers enhancements in performance that only Transmeta's Efficeon chipset can provide. The Actius MM20 is an ultra thin, two-pound addition to Sharp's award-winning Actius family of notebook computers. The Actius MM20 offers a variety of upgrades and improvements over its predecessor, the Actius MM10.

Shipping in April 2004, the Actius MM20 offer improvements in processing power, memory, battery life, hard drive size, and wireless networking speed. The Actius MM20 also includes improvements in graphics performance, keyboard layout, and a new "mobile mode switch" that allows users to extend battery life when it is needed the most.

Because of improvements that the Transmeta Efficeon processor provides, the Actius MM20 is able to process up to twice the number of instructions per clock cycle than the Actius MM10 was capable of, enabling users to run their applications faster with greater reliability. The Transmeta Efficeon processor also provides the Actius MM20 with substantial improvement in battery life — it can run for 3 hours using standard battery settings or 9 hours with an extended-life battery for all day computing.

Sharp Actius MM20 NotebookEquipped for wireless connectivity via integrated 802.11g Wi-Fi (define), the Actius MM20 notebook provides users with a lightweight, wirelessly enabled notebook that serves as an adept adjunct to a desktop machine. Sharp uses DirectHD technology to allow the Actius MM20 to be accessed as though it were another drive on a connected computer, when the unit is placed in the Sharp Connection Cradle. This means users are able to transfer files back and forth at will, making the Actius MM20 an ideal satellite notebook that can be carried from appointment to appointment, while maintaining data consistency with a user's main work station.

To make data consistency even easier, Sharp has partnered with Iomega to develop SharpSync. Powered by Iomega Sync software, SharpSync allows users to pre-select folders that they would like to keep in sync between the Actius MM20 and another computer. Once these folders are assigned, the Actius MM20 automatically syncs the selected folders between machines when connected to the provided Sharp Connection Cradle or through a DirectHD connection cable (sold separately). This enables a multi-PC usage model in which users are able to maintain data consistency seamlessly with other computers.

The Actius MM20 also received a memory upgrade — 512 MB DDR (define) SDRAM (define) — twice the amount of memory as the Actius MM10. With the increased processing power of the Transmeta Efficeon chipset behind it, the Actius MM20 is also able to offer more efficient multi-tasking capabilities.

Finally, the Actius MM20 also provides a substantial improvement with the addition of ATI's MOBILITY RADEON video controller with 16MB of dedicated video memory. The addition of dedicated memory means that the Actius MM20 will not have to siphon memory from the entire system in order to display graphics, which means users are able to run 3D programs and other graphics intensive applications on the MM20.

The Sharp Actius MM20 is available for an estimated street price of $1499, which includes Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, a 20 GB hard drive, and a 10.4-inch LCD display. Sharp Actius notebook computers are available online or through Sharp's network of retail partners and resellers.

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