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Transmeta Testing Mass Production 54

jackstaley sent us an article about Transmeta testing mass production of its Crusoe processor. They talk about IBM (which can make copper chips, but interestingly enough, has licensing deals with Intel that should protect Transmeta from potential lawsuits) as well as exporting the production to Taiwan.
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Transmeta Testing Mass Production

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  • Intel still doesn't make copper interconnect chips. What is your point? You demonstrate your lack of understanding. Go __READ__ the article!
  • Then again, it could have been running a java morphing layer too. If that's the case, then it looks like my reservations have been answered and I'm going to start getting excited about this.

    It was. Or at least the use of a normally reserved opcode to tell the morpher to switch instruction sets seemd, and the rest of the explination of the demo (like them saying there was a picoJava morpher) seemed more consistant with two morphers at once then running a x86 JVM.

    There is (as far as I know) only the one production morpher. Which makes sense. Don't dilute your manpower until you have some mesure of success....

  • IBM has a long-time patent exchange contract with Intel from back in the days when they used to build x86s.

    Intel has a large number of patents on the x86 architecture - some of them pretty bogus with prior art up the wazoo ..... but they also have a lot of lawyers .... probably more that a small company like TM has employees of any kind ....

  • The lower power part, as I understand it, is the ability to dynamically increase and decrease power requirements as the need arises. *NO* commercial chip offers that kind of feature. That is a truly revolutionary feature. Not even restamping other procs would result in the kind of power consumption that you should be able to get with the Transmeta chips. Currently chips either run at a continuous power level, have multiple steps (Speed Step) or simply go into sleep mode. The ability to throttle back to near nothing is a great energy saver, especially when you consider that most of the time your proc is doing absolutely nothing.

    I wholy agree with your point about it basically being a x86 emulator. I'll get excited when it can emulate the PPC chipset effectively. I'm more interested in the Transmeta chips from a 'what's next' point of view. i don't think this first generation of chips will be all that stunning in a price/perfomance area but the next generation or two should prove the technology to be solid, useful, and practical. And in the long run, when Intel and other manufacturers begin reverse engineering these features it'll benefit us all (I hope).
  • 1) Yes, there is a significant difference. I don't have the article at hand, so these might be wrong, but here's what I remember. Crusoe uses a MAX 2W power (or so),and runs an average 1W under full load. Intel chips at similar performance (pure MHz or benchmark equiv), before the very latest stuff (speedstep, but not the latest gen) take a max 20W, average 3-5W under load playing DVD. These numbers include the northbridge, which is on chip in crusoe, off chip in intel.

    2) I believe that the "code morphing" software is loaded at boot-time, but I could be wrong here. At the very least, all the little caches and everything that cache translated code (and provide a large part of the performance) would have to be flushed every time you switched from user-space to kernel-space in your example. This would (presumably) create a large performance hit.

    Anyway, I think the web site [] has more details.


  • What are they doing that could anger intel?

    Emulating the x86 instruction set... Though it's not clear that their processor is indeed doing that, since it's not actually an x86 processor, it just runs the codemorphing software that allows it to run intel-compatible binaries.

    IBM's long had a patent cross licensing agreement with Intel, allowing it to manufacture it's own x86 compatible processors, and other chip makers have contracted some of their chip manufacturing to IBM as a way of keeping out of Intel's legal crosshairs.

    I thought this was interesting while its kind of funny seeing a small company like Transmeta hiding behind IBM's legal team.

    Better safe than sorry! I bet IBM has many more and much better lawyers than anything else that Transmeta has access to... It's just like picking a fight with a bully and then watching your big brother step in and say "if you want him you have to go through me first..."
  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Monday August 07, 2000 @06:09AM (#873767) Homepage
    I'm very surprised that this post got moderated up at all. No offense, but it doesn't provide any information, or ask any question that hasn't been asked and answered before.

    The Transmeta website, cleverly located at provides temperature differences, performance numbers, technical background on the chip (It's not RISC, quite the opposite)... Further, there are white-papers for those seeking enlightenment.

    If that is not enough, ars-technica ( has done a phenomenal review of Crusoe's underlying technology.

    Really, rather than rehashing all of this, once again, why not just go to the authoritative source, Transmeta, and get answers to the questions. Or did I just swallow a big fat piece of bait?
  • Well, they were so secretive for 4 or 5 years prior, only to let the cat out of the bag in January and give Intel PLENTY of time to come up with it's response. If they hadn't announced a time table or what they were even doing when they did, Intel would still be resting on it's laurels rather than announcing it's own ultra-low power chips...

    Transmeta should have waited. Signed up a number of OEM's under NDA's to manufacture some products, and then waited til NEXT january and said "and everything you see here, you can buy on line today".
  • Interesting thoughts, but they seem a bit irrelevant to me. They demoed a laptop playing Q3A on a transmeta chip at the launch. The chip is definitely out there. THere just aren't products available. So total system power consumption is still unknown, but it will of course vary system-to-system. Chip power usage is publicized, and presumably very well understood within the company.

  • I heard this before that there won't be a line of Transmeta desktop machine, and I always wonder *why*. I mean, it's a chip that doesn't heat up much so you could ban all the fans out of your computer and enjoy silence (or your MP3's).

    Besides, as far as I understood the Transmeta chips will be quite powerful and cheap (?). So why not spare a couple of bucks and make the secretary do her Word 2002 work on a Transmeta-based chip.

    Heck, even I would be sign up for a desktop Transmeta....I just code, and I don't mind getting coffee when the project compiles ;-)

  • Realize that if the software infringes on the patent, Intel's going to sue the crap out of you just as surely as they would a hardware only vendor- just because it's software doesn't magically defend something in this day and age (Haven't you all been paying attention all this time? LZW, Amazon's "one-click", etc. C'mon now- they need some sort of shield until the BS about patents in general is sorted through!)
  • The hardware component is a very simple, high-performance, low-power VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) engine with an instruction set that bears no resemblance to that of x86 processors.

    Perhaps they want protection due to the VLIW part. Since Itanium is also VLIW and perhaps Intel has some patents related to it.

    As for whether it's an emulator or not (it's definitely not a clone) I'd say it's a hardware emulator. And I agree, its better to play it safe than be sorry and lose millions or even billions of $$$.
  • Did Intel pay Transmetta to wait until Intel was ready for a new chip on the market? ... all the old stock has sold, the new processing equipment is in place, and ready to compete with all those other chip makers. Never forget MS has a spouse/relative ... in the rise to global power.
  • If you review the current article on /., as well as the press releases, you will find that ACTUAL chips were used to gather data. They are simply not MASS PRODUCED for the consumer market yet - since that requires a heavy-duty fab facility, which Transmeta does not have.

    Making prototype chips is much easier than mass production. In fact, the NSF will produce up to 5 prototype chips given a schematic design by a college student. This is a great way to do a proof of concept, and to obtain a piece of hardware for testing. Once there, data is gathered, and if the design holds true, you make arrangements to mass-produce the chip.

    Special purpose chips are simpler to mass produce, since they are not competing with those made by the companies that actually own fabs. Now you see the problem Transmeta is facing. They are making a direct competitor to the chips made by the fab owners.

    Yes, they should 'put out a few chips'. But, you see, producing prototypes - if you are not a brilliant student but rather a business, is extremely expensive. It only gets cheap, if you can produce them by the millions, in a fab. The chips Transmeta had prototyped, most likely went to the R&D labs of various device manufacturers, so they could start designing hardware to use these chips.

    Now that the hardware is 'in the pipeline' (as they say), Transmeta must obtain a steady supplier of the chips at a reasonable cost; before anything can be placed in the consumer market.

    I hope that explains things a bit.

  • Sounds like something Steve Jobs would do.

  • Transmeta is funded by none other than paul allen, of micro$oft infamy.

    I wouldn't worry about them running out of money anytime soon.

    Now, as to why Linus would be in business with someone like allen in the first place, that's completely open to speculation.

    Resistance is NOT futile!!!

    I am not a drone.
    Remove the collective if

  • by danderson ( 157560 ) on Monday August 07, 2000 @04:02AM (#873777)
    From the article:

    Big Blue also provides legal cover from Intel. Because of extensive cross-license agreements, only IBM and ST Microelectronics can manufacture Intel-clone chips for other designers and provide these designers complete legal immunity, said sources close to Intel.

    However, from the crusoe tech page on the [] transmeta web site []

    The hardware component is a very simple, high-performance, low-power VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) engine with an instruction set that bears no resemblance to that of x86 processors. Instead, it is the surrounding software layer that gives programs the impression that they are running on x86 hardware. This innovative software layer is called the Code Morphing software because it dynamically "morphs" (that is, translates) x86 instructions into the hardware engine's native instruction set.

    So is it really a clone, or an emulator? I'm guessing Crusoe is just playing it safe

  • The chips were launched on January 19. That was 6 months and 3 weeks ago. As for "haven't seen the Crusoe in anything", I suggest you look here [].
  • I'm with this guy

    a.) I never travel, and If I do my 386 laptop is enough to play a game of Wolfenstein while on the road.
    b.) I don't have much money to get a new device

    c.) my next computer probably will be an Athlon, I see a lot of games optamized for 3dnow not P3.

    D.) If any of these embedded devices do get cool, I'll just wait a couple years and get one cheap, or wait to see one at a Flea market (no kidding, I just bought 2 p75's couple months ago that had 24megs of Ram, PCI ethernet cards "RealTek", and built in Video, For 5$ a piece, one got used for parts (PCI NIC works great), and the others going to an Uncle of Mine for a Birthday Present.)
  • by stripes ( 3681 ) on Monday August 07, 2000 @05:15AM (#873780) Homepage Journal
    2, can the Crusoe chip execute code written in difference instruciton sets at the same time (well, as much as any other popular single-pipe processor executes multiple threads), eg can it run Crusoe-optimized x86 Debian running an application compiled for Alpha Linux?

    One of the demo's they had at unveling was a copy of DOOM, and x86 executable with part of the inner loop replaced by picoJava. It seemed to run that pretty quick, so it can switch instruction sets dyanmically. There is undoubtly some penality, but it apparently isn't huge.

    There is no evidence that it can run Alpha code particurally fast. It has 48 (or 40?) registers internally. More then enough to do software registr renaming, and have operatinog regesters left when emulating a 4 register (10 if you count segment registes, the PC and flags) machine. The Alpha has 32 user visable registers (or is it 32int plus 32FP?). The 21264 has 80 renaming registers (invisable to the programmer) in two banks. The Crosue would have far less, so could be expected not to be able to hide as much latency.

    Oh, and since the Crosue is designed to emulate the 32bit x86, it is not likely to have 64 bit registers, or a 64bit ALU. And it's FPU certonally is geared towards the x86 quirks (80 bits, almost IEEE, but not quite).

    I wouldn't want to try to emulate the Alpha on a Crosue. It could probbably do a great 68000 (or the CPU32 in the palm, which is almost a 68000). Maybe even a good ARM, or V8 SPARC (these are pushing it though). Could definitly do a good JVM. Would do a great 6502, or Z80. :-)

    But not a Alpha. Not a V9 SPARC. Not the 64bit MIPS. Not the IA64.

  • Why?

    Transmeta *doesn't*, they do it in software; that's the whole point. (smaller chip, better profiling)

    AMD and Intel do; therefore, a lawsuit would be truly anticompetitive and inane, either way.

    Next question?
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • In my opinion the two biggest selling points of the Transmeta chip are it's code morphing and low power consumption. The difference in power is supposed to be on the order of 40 times less than an equivalent Mobile PIII. There was an excellent article in one of the IEEE magazine around May or so. As far as code morphing/architecture support I've only seen support for x86 mentioned.

    Many 'experts' believe that Transmeta's future will not be in notebooks but in subnotebooks and the 'web pad' devices. Also consider PDAs. The last WinCE device (Cassiopeia?) I looked at had a nice 200Mhz CPU but also had to be recharged every 14 hours. If Transmeta can offer twice the maximum cpu power and 2-3+ times the operational length and do it cheaply, manufacturers will jump all over them.

    Everyone's playing wait and see though. Well, IBM announced a Transmeta laptop a couple months ago but I haven't seen anything about it since.
  • Does this mean that the Crusoe-based products that we were made to think are currently in the latter stages of production are in fact not, since only now are the details of production being arranged?

    Or does it mean that the Crusoe-based products that are in the latter stages of production are not based on mass-produced Crusoe processes, but on (expensive) non-mass-produced ones instead?

    Neither alternative sounds very promising. Is there another?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Anybody who has done any amount of hardware design knows that you don't publish power consumption figures until you have hard data that isn't from a jimmied up breadboard, or worse, from a simulator running on a workstation.

    We have no way of knowing what the actual Power consumption will be, but we do know what the marketers at Transmeta hope it will be.

    The power consumption of vapour, of course, is near zero.
  • Does this mean that the Crusoe-based products that we were made to think are currently in the latter stages of production are in fact not, since only now are the details of production being arranged?

    No, it means that that Transmeta is testing out the possibility of including other chip makers in on the deal, rather than leaving it exclusively to IBM, due to IBM being more expensive than the others. Think of it like them starting up a new fab plant, only virtually, rather than what it means when Intel or AMD does it, physically.


  • If I recall correctly, Intel Coppermine chips do not use copper interconnects. Go figure.
  • "with part of the inner loop replaced by picoJava"

    Are you sure there wasn't a java emulator running, in turn, on the x86 morphing layer? The morphing info page [] implies that the only morphing layer available is for x86. Of course, if it runs java code reasonably well while a morphed emulator is playing virtual machine, perhaps that means that when the java itself is morphed, it will run even faster. OTOH, this demonstration still does not take into account the possible overhead of switching and maintaining instruction sets.

    Then again, it could have been running a java morphing layer too. If that's the case, then it looks like my reservations have been answered and I'm going to start getting excited about this.

  • well, the 5400 (or whatever it's called) is surely optimised to run x86. However, if it is a risc chip inside, then doing a good job of emulating an 24164 (again, or whatever) should be a metter of giving the hardware 64 bit regs. These guys have a rather easily morphed (pun!) architecture.

    Their value added is that they have the rollback/recover patent, the dynamic instruction cache patent, and quite some expertise in writing profile-based optimisers.

    This should all translate very well to any number of architectures, no, amongst them 64 bit.

    However, why would they want to, for now, is beyonf me. They want satisfactory speed and exceptional power consumption. As do I.
  • National [] can produce chips for other companies. Right now they are producing the Cyrix [] line of processors for Via Technologies [].

  • "Lawsuits about what?

    Intel may have lots of little patents some of which are needed to make crusoe compatible with the x86 architecture. But Intel may have cross licensed with IBM on these so if Transmeta uses IBM, they will be safe.

    BTW, as an aside, I used to work for a few years in the semiconductor manufacturing equipment industry and it was a very cuthroat business. People would patent the most trivial details left and right because the most seemingly insignificant details can win you the edge over your competitor and win you millions of dollars in repeat business because your technology is just a little bit better. Often these patents are used as wild cards in lawsuits where they sue you for patent infringement so you sue them back with yours and in the end cross-license and shake hands.

  • There's a talk by Dave Ditzel on the Crusoe here.
    htt p:// ee380/000209-ee380-100.asx []

    Great talk. Learn the facts.
  • I completely agree, but I think they didn't want to appear to be a threat to Intel, and whatnot. It didn't work, though, which is why Intel will need to shape up, or become the next lawsuit target.

    ...and you could play some "Silence-related" .mp3's. There are some excellent songs like that, with silence in the title or whatnot. :)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • It means that in a near future, some people will be paid $1/day to build millions of Crusoe. It's better than earning $0.5/day to build billions of Nike shoes, no ?

    Just an off-topic-Michael-Moore-like-thought...
  • More likely this is cheap (relatively) insurance. Could TransMeta afford to be tied up explaining the differences between emulating x86 and fab-ing x86 to a jury for two to five years?

    If IBM weren't involved, I'd expect Intel to try something.

  • Glad to see an article about Crusoe isn't garnering message support simply "because Linux is in there". At this point the shine has worn off.

    (Although, I probably just shot myself in the foot by adding another message to the thread. : )

  • AMD's been making copper-interconnect chips for _months_, and has yet to be sued by Intel...

    - A.P.

    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • Lawsuits about what?

    The crusoe architecture is different from the x86 and their concept doesn't even come near that of Intel's. So what potential lawsuits could they expect from Intel?

    As for exporting to Taiwan. Well.. that's something worth considering.. low personel cost and highly efficient factorys over there.
  • from the article []:

    Currently, IBM makes Transmeta's chips. This arrangement gives Transmeta access to cutting-edge technology and immunizes the company from legal action from Intel because of IBM's extensive cross-license with the chip giant. However, IBM charges more than the Taiwanese foundries, leading to more expensive chips.

    "Transmeta wanted to work with IBM to make sure there were no questions about legal issues with Intel," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group. "Over time, I think they will look to other foundries."

    basically it seems like a good idea that they work with IBM so that in case INTEL wanted to sue, they would have a hard time doing so.

    but i just skimmed the article, so i can be wrong.

  • "...[IBM] can make copper chips, but interestingly enough, has licensing deals with Intel that should protect Transmeta from potential lawsuits..."

    Lawsuits from whom? About what?
  • From the article: "Transmeta wanted to work with IBM to make sure there were no questions about legal issues with Intel," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group. "Over time, I think they will look to other foundries."

    I thought this was interesting while its kind of funny seeing a small company like Transmeta hiding behind IBM's legal team. I would like to know what these legal issues are with Intel. What is Transmeta doing that might cause them to be in trouble with the law and Intel? If anyone has info on this...I would be real interested.
  • That the technology behind Transmeta's Crusoe chip is great is not really open to doubt, but what is IMHO open to doubt is the speed at which Transmeta is moving at. It's been close to a year now since the chips were launched, and yet we still haven't seen the Crusoe in anything and Transmeta are still engaged in production negotiations.

    At this rate it appears as though by the time that Transmeta get something finally made and used its competitors will have moved beyond it. Time to market is a significant factor in the computing industry, and it looks to me like Transmeta are just taking too long to deliver.

    If they don't get their act together soon, the Crusoe will become vapourware because nobody will be using it.

  • Yea I would help them test the final product. Send one over, I will give it a good run though.
  • by pb ( 1020 )
    I've been waiting to see these in production since before the launch!

    Unfortunately, I'll probably be waiting some more. My next computer is almost certainly going to be an Athlon, and I doubt we'll see a line of Transmeta desktop machines for a while.

    Also, I don't want a notebook, and I'd only get an embedded device if it were really cheap and really cool. (although, if it were a tiny, fully x86 compatible device, that'd be pretty cool!)

    However, if they ever manage to support another type of processor or provide hooks for emulation/translation (even less likely), then I might get one regardless. I'd love to be able to run multiple instances of random OSes at hardware speeds! (VMWare for a later version of Crusoe would be downright confusing, though...)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • IIRC, Crusoe is based on a standardized RISC instruction set and equipped with a software (or firmware, if you will) translator to attempt to run other platform code in realtime. I remember something from an article a few months back (long enough that I don't have the link at hand - anyone want +3, informative?) about how good it was that it can run MS Excel and open a spreadsheet just as fast as Excel on a then-top-of-the-line 500 mega-hurts x86.

    Now, that's all fine and dandy, but isn't this just a little out of sorts in that you can get a run-of-the-puppymill wIntel chip that does the same thing, but runs cheaper? Of course this is not the only factor, there are a couple of questions, the answers to which would completely change the tides in my personal opinion of the usefulness of the Crusoe chips:

    1, is there a significant heat/power consumption difference from an x86 chip (that works at a speed comparable to the Crusoe running x86 code, we'll give Crusoe a chance here)

    2, can the Crusoe chip execute code written in difference instruciton sets at the same time (well, as much as any other popular single-pipe processor executes multiple threads), eg can it run Crusoe-optimized x86 Debian running an application compiled for Alpha Linux?

    I haven't seen hard facts on either of these. Opinions and facts would be appreciated - I can't find them. Honestly, though, I don't think the Crusoe is going to be the end-all of portable chips that the article's author seems to indicate it will be. I think we still have a couple of (chip) generations before everyone has their own personal wireless web pad (tm).

  • Another step along the long road toward having a genuine low power option for portables. While I wouldn't look for anything to be market competitive for another couple of years, this is a step in that direction. Transmeta is really raising (or, should I say lowering?) the bar in terms of power consumption. I'm looking forward to Crusoe processors becoming fiscally viable.
  • I would take a 400mhz processor running native win98 over a 75mhz MIPS running CE... But maybe thats just me.
  • I believe the lawsuits would regard Crusoe's implementing an x86 translator into the hardware (I think that's how they're trying to swing it, kinda makes sense since x86 is so prolific, but it also detracts from the portability concept). While I think we all pretty much agree that this is based on sound legal precedent, in our American age of lawsuit-happy bigwigs, someone is always gonna sue someone for some perceived wrong, no matter how frivilous.

  • I watched pretty much that entire intro show that they had on ZDTV, and picked up an article in ieee spectrum about it (too lazy to go find, sorry) but the big difference between this and regular x86 chips is twofold. First, there is an integrated 'northbridge' on the chips that helps cut down on the power use quite a bit. In addition, its RISC, and it has half the die size of an intel chip, so it uses less power in that regard as well.

    According to the spectrum article, they were originally trying to market these for both desktops and mobile, but all of their finanical backers were really only interested in mobile uses because there really are no good mobile chips out there that are specifically designed to be low power/heat. Supposedly the original chip only takes 1 watt, but I would imagine that that varies depending on what you are doing... I can't think that playing quake III/a DVD would only take 1 watt...

  • When we finally buy the chip will it have
    "This bios message is not here yet" for a bios startup?
  • AMD is protected due to previous contracts with Intel (and a vicious round of lawsuits - surely you remember those how could anyone have missed them?)

    So is IBM - stuff it manufactures is covered by it's patent exchange with Intel

    Who aren't covered are small upstart companies that haven't had the past clout to get these sort of contracts in place ....

  • by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Monday August 07, 2000 @03:55AM (#873811) Homepage Journal
    First I beat one pence coins flat, cut them into triangles and then dip them in that lovely ferric citrate extra-spicy salsa.

    So sue me :)
  • "...a lawsuit would be truly anticompetitive and inane..."

    but that is the entire point.
    big boy sues little start-up for sole purpose of tying up as much working capital before little start-up can be a real threat.
    if little start-up goes out of business or becomes financially shakey enough to be bought up big boy still wins.
  • Possibly, but think of it from their end:
    - Many companies are known today for software vaporware
    - Hardware vaporware is even worse - how many ideas are shelved for the next 5 years until [ quantum computing | 100Tb fiber for all | etc ] are implemented?
    They want to be sure that they can all but flood the market with a fully-functional product. If they are tied up in litigation, their sales will suffer; hence the IBM tie. Transmeta clearly has cornered the market on the Intel-killer, so they want to be able to keep up with the (assumedly) mega-high demand that will come.
    Intel compatability will be around for a long time - too much rides on it to allow a complete paradigm shift. Transmeta's functionality will be exactly what people need for webpad-like devices. (The old "what you want cause it's cool" vs. "what you need to to the job" argument. Heck, I still have a P-100 serving web pages like a fiend and firewalling at the same time!)
    I personally think that when Crusoe hits the market, it will be a goodthing(tm), as long as they can follow through on it's availabiltity.
  • What they are saying is that TM is making test tapeouts to a second foundry - one that has a lower cost per die than IBM. TSMC is know for it's very competitive pricing. As far as I know IBM is still making them.

    This has a couple of advantages to them - the obvious one, the the chips get cheaper - it also provides competition to encourage IBM to get their yields up and their cost down too - and it provides a 2nd source (customers like that - if IBM's FAB burns down someone else will still be making them) and it does provide a minor exchange rate hedge (since a lot of their customers will be in Asia).

    As the article mentions the downside is that it leaves them outside the legal umbrella of IBMs patent exchange with Intel ....

    In the real world chips don't suddenly get made and sell - after the release of something new there's a long slow adoption period - and chip production lags untill you have orders - it can take a foundry up to 3 months to respond to a sudden rise in orders (unless you've reserved space in the fab queue, pay extra, or just made chips on spec) - this can leave you in a chicken and egg situation - we can't use your chip because we can't get a lot of them next month - we can't ramp production until someone orders them .....

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.