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Intel finally gives nod to DDR is it RIP for Rambus?

After months of industry speculation, in December Intel Corp. officially threw its considerable weight behind double data rate (DDR) SDRAM for PCs, a faster alternative to existing SDRAM. The new memory configuration was made possible by Intel's release of a new version of the 845 chipset, which is used in Pentium 4 machines.

Since late 1996, Intel has been promoting memory from Rambus (called RDRAM) for use in the newest, fastest PCs. RDRAM is faster than both SDRAM and DDR SDRAM but comes with a price premium, resulting in PCs commanding about $100 more than similarly equipped non-RDRAM machines. Rambus also holds a patent on its memory technology, and the use of RDRAM by manufacturers demands a royalty payment to the company.

Over the years, there have been numerous lawsuits from Rambus claiming that other memory makers have infringed on its patents. Rambus has in turn been sued by many companies--including Infineon and Hynix Semiconductor--who have claimed that Rambus withheld information from JEDEC, the standards-setting body for the memory industry.

For years, Intel had resisted moving away from Rambus, in which it has invested tens of millions of dollars. But over the past two years, competition in the chip industry has increased significantly, to the point where Intel can no longer "afford to ignore AMD's impact on the market. AMD uses chipsets from Via Technologies which support DDR SDRAM but not RDRAM. When it was introduced, Rambus technology outperformed SDRAM by a wide margin, a margin large enough to support its price premium. But since DDR SDRAM was introduced, the performance gap has contracted sharply, to the point where consumers are now voting for slightly less performance (a difference which may not even be noticeable) for slightly less money.

But prices for SDRAM, while still at historically low levels, may be headed back up, while Rambus says prices for its technology are falling. However, with Intel now allowing big PC OEMs to offer three tiers of machine (SDRAM, DDR SDRAM, and RDRAM), consumers who prefer Pentium-equipped machines now have a middle-performance choice, not simply a decision between high-performance and low-cost.
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Title Annotation:Stub Files
Author:Piven, Joshua
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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