NEC recalls some notebooks with Crusoe chip

TOKYO - Several of Japan's largest notebook computer manufacturers were put into a spin this morning after NEC Corp. announced that it was recalling around 10% of the notebooks it has produced based on Crusoe microprocessors from Transmeta Corp. because of a fault inside the chips.

The company began recalling a total of 284 computers based on the TM5600 Crusoe processor due to a problem with memory inside the processor itself.

"There is an error in the cache on board the processor," said Sammy Sakamoto, a spokesman for NEC. He said the company to date has sold around 2,800 machines based on the Transmeta processor since they went on sale in Japan in mid-October.

Sakamoto said NEC suspects the glitch isn't due to a fundamental problem with the processor itself, but rather to a faulty batch of chips.

Nonetheless, news of the recall sent other Japanese notebook makers, including Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and Sony Corp., scrambling to check whether their machines that use Transmeta chips had the same problem.

The faulty cache causes problems when Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 operating system is loaded onto the machines, said Sakamoto, and was discovered by the company during its own testing. NEC has yet to receive any complaints from customers regarding the issue, he added.

"This matter is now under investigation," said Ted Kanno, a spokesman for Sony, which has released two notebook models with the microprocessor in question. "We are investigating how this will impact the lineup and what action we should take to better serve customers."

"We have not decided anything yet regarding a recall, although we recognize this is a highly urgent matter and will take the appropriate action as soon as possible," he added.

A spokesman for Hitachi said his company was also looking into the issue.

In contrast, Fujitsu said it believed it had nothing to worry about. "We're not affected by it," said Bob Pomeroy, a company spokesman. "We use the 533-MHz chip and not the 600-MHz one, so as far as we know, we don't see any problems."

In a brief statement issued yesterday, Transmeta said it was working with NEC on the issue and "stands behind Crusoe and will continue to work with its customers to insure Crusoe's quality and reliability."

The Crusoe microprocessors NEC is replacing came from a limited manufacturing batch, Transmeta said in the statement. "Any remaining inventory of this material at NEC or other customers has been returned to Transmeta. Transmeta is currently shipping Crusoe microprocessors to its customers to replenish their production lines to meet the demand for Crusoe systems."

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