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NEC Versa UltraLite - Extensive Review

NEC Versa UltraLite - Extensive Review - PCSTATS
Abstract: The NEC Versa UltraLite is positively sleek, and amazingly slim, measuring in at a mere 1.06" thick
 92% Rating:   
Filed under: Notebooks Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: NEC Sep 04 2001   Max Page  
Home > Reviews > Notebooks > NEC Versa UltraLite

Powered by the Crusoe Processor

Like many other notebooks in the emerging class of [less than four pound] subnotebooks, the NEC Versa UltraLite is powered by Transmeta's TM5600 Crusoe processor. Incidentally the TM5600 is based on the 0.18 micron processes and contains 128Kb of L1 / 512KB of L2 cache. Average power consumption is on the order of 2 Watts.

Unlike Intel processors, the Transmeta chips operate with very low power requirements and produce relatively little heat so no fans are required. On the UltraLite, the only cooling necessary for the TM5600 Crusoe chip is a small section of venting, enabling the processor to be air cooled.

Now if you aren't familiar with the Crusoe processor, what really makes it stick out from Intel's offerings, and for that matter just about any other processor, is that it is a software-based chip. The native language that the Crusoe CPU operates with is called 128-bit VLIW - Very Long Instruction Word. VLIW is something that bears no resemblance to that of traditional Intel chips, which are also known as X86 processors.

What enables the Crusoe processor to interact with the Windows operating system, or for that matter any program that runs under Windows is the Code Morphing Software layer that surrounds the chip. Code Morphing makes the VLIW Crusoe processor x86 compatible and consists of two main modules.

The first module is the interpreter, and its task is to interpret x86 instructions. The Interpreter also filters the x86 code so that sections which are executed frequently are passed to the Translator for optimization. CMS recompiles the x86 instructions into its native language and optimizes them to reduce the overall number of instructions executed.

The Crusoe processor also also contains its own Northbridge, further reducing power requirements on the system as a whole.

As most of the Crusoe processor's functionality is implemented via the CMS software layer, less transistors are needed on the silicon component of the chip. With less transistors, the power requirements by the CPU are lessened. Additionally, CMS software upgrades can improve overall system performance in future systems. For instance Transmeta recently upgraded from CMS 4.1 to CMS 4.2, a change which saw roughly a 20% increase in performance, while still further decreasing power requirements.

Flash your way to a faster processor - maybe

When Transmeta first launched the Crusoe processor, one of the most tantalizing features discussed was the ability to upgrade the performance of the processor by upgrading the software layer, CMS, that surrounds it. As it currently stands, CMS is not user upgradeable however. Upgrades are implemented by the manufacturer as they are released, which is about ever six months or so.

Since CMS upgrades are very similar to flashing a BIOS we will have to wait and see if Transmeta eventually allows the end user the capability of upgrading their processor in the field. The downside to a failed BIOS flashing has always been a dead motherboard, and with a notebook a similar condition could be quite devastating.

In weighing the finer points of the flashing process we can see that most, if not all notebooks on the market are ACPI compliant. Armed with ACPI one would imagine a range of power-related safeguards could be put in place to prevent any fatal power outages during CMS flashing. Considering that notebooks come with their own power source, flashing a chip on a notebook would appear safer than flashing a motherboard's BIOS (where the computer is at the mercy of power socket). But in an case, an upgradeable Crusoe isn't quite here.

LongRun Power Management

Power management comes to the NEC UltraLite thanks to the LongRun system which varies the frequency and voltage of the processor many times a second (depending on the workload of the computer at any one instant). Using built-in management tools Long Run can be tweaked by the user for performance or economy.

This is how LongRun reacted to the NEC UltraLite loading up Adobe Photoshop. Notice that both the frequency and voltage of the TM5600 were scaled back at various points during the boot-up process. The two patterns appear identical at first but if you look closely you can see distinct differences.

The graphing sample time was set to 100ms.

Inside the Long Run Interface the user is able to tweak and tune the performance of the computer to their liking while the data charts read back real-time information on the frequency and voltage of the processor. LongRun adjusts the speed of the processor dynamically and also works in conjunction with ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) so that if frequency and voltage scaling hits architectural boundaries, the processor can switch over to ACPI power management policies.

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Contents of Article: NEC Versa UltraLite
 Pg 1.  NEC Versa UltraLite - Extensive Review
 Pg 2.  First, what is a subnotebook?
 Pg 3.  The Size Difference
 Pg 4.  Features of the UltraLite
 Pg 5.  External CDROM and Floppy Drive
 Pg 6.  — Powered by the Crusoe Processor
 Pg 7.  Benchmarks: Battery Life
 Pg 8.  Benchmarks: Productivity
 Pg 9.  UltraLite Conclusions

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