Rambus demonstrates speedy bus technology

The chip connection technology developer demonstrated a 2Gbps (bits-per-second) transfer rate per channel with its QRSL (quad Rambus signaling level) technology. This bumps up the QRSL throughput from the 1.6Gbps level that was first announced in June 2000 -- a level which is expected to be incorporated into RDRAM (Rambus dynamic random access memory) by late 2001, said Kristine Wiseman, a Rambus spokeswoman.

QRSL combines DDR (double-data rate) technology along with multi-level signaling to transfer four bits per clock cycle and ultimately provide throughput from up to four memory sources to the system memory controller at 2Gbps.

One analyst suggests that Rambus' demonstration may have been more of a positioning statement to the industry.

"This announcement is likely to be a result of the pressure from the other vendors that are pushing DDR as a high bandwidth solution," said Cary Snyder, a senior analyst with research firm MicroDesign Resources.

HDTV (high-definition television), game consoles and set-top boxes could be typical applications for RDRAM using the signaling technology, Rambus' Wiseman said.

"It is usually a consumer product which requires increased bandwidth out of the fewest number of devices," Wiseman said. "The reason we say a consumer device is because they don't use connectors or memory modules. It is a non-upgradeable type of appliance. The key is highest bandwidth with fewest devices."

The 1.6Gbps is twice the bandwidth of the RSL (Rambus signaling level) technology found in most RDRAM devices like PCs, workstations and consumer appliances. Also at the ISSCC conference, Rambus demonstrated RSL technology that provides 2.1G-bytes per second (1.1Gbps) of bandwidth from a single device on a Rambus channel.

Despite its high performance, RDRAM has failed to take the PC market by storm. Until Intel last year released its high-end Pentium 4 processor for desktop PCs, which currently can only be used in systems featuring RDRAM, memory makers such as Seoul-based Samsung Electronics, among the early backers of the technology, found the speedy, but costly, memory chips a hard sell.

With Intel's support for the Rambus technology, however, Samsung expects to dedicate as much as 30 per cent of its total DRAM production capacity in 2001 to making RDRAM chips, said Jon Kang, senior vice president of product planning and application engineering in Samsung's memory technology and product division.

"As the only memory solution for the Pentium 4, Rambus will ramp very quickly this year," Kang said. Samsung has manufactured RDRAM chips since 1999, but Kang admitted that the company had been "quite disappointed" by the lack of demand until the arrival of the Pentium 4.

Nevertheless, Samsung is also backing DDR SDRAM (synchronous DRAM), a competing high-speed memory technology, which is expected to make up 10 per cent of the company's total DRAM output this year, Kang said, and continue to ramp up quickly next year. RDRAM, however, is likely to remain popular among users requiring the highest-performance desktop computers, he added.

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