Report: Rambus on Rocky Ground with Intel

"We made a big bet on Rambus and it did not work out," Craig Barrett said in the FT report. "In retrospect, it was a mistake to be dependent on a third party for a technology that gates your performance."

Barrett was referring to Intel's backing of a high-speed memory interface technology developed by Rambus, which to date has failed to win the hearts and minds of the PC industry, mainly due to high pricing. Although many leading PC vendors offer models with Rambus memory, these are usually restricted to the smaller volume, high-end offerings.

A spokesman for Intel in the UK said that the availability of Rambus technology was slower and the pricing was higher than the company had anticipated, but said that Barrett was "commenting on overall dynamics in the industry."

"We've already said we'll support SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory) 133 next year and are looking very closely at DDR (Double Data Rate) technology for the Pentium 4 as well," said Graham Palmer, a UK-based Intel spokesman.

Palmer was referring to PC 133 SDRAM, a type of memory commonly used in today's mainstream PCs, and DDR SDRAM, an emerging version that promises to offer a performance increase similar to that of Rambus' proprietary technology.

Rambus, however, owns patents covering key aspects of SDRAM and DDR SDRAM technologies, and has signed licensing agreements with memory chip makers including NEC, Hitachi and Toshiba, that will allow it to collect royalties for all SDRAM and DDR SDRAM chips the vendors ship.

Several other memory chip makers, including South Korea's Hyundai Electronics Industries, Germany's Infineon Technologies and Micron Technology of the US, are fighting Rambus' patents in ongoing lawsuits. Due to contractual obligations, Intel was obligated to support Rambus technology when it rolls out the Pentium 4 family of chips. The Pentium 4, the follow-up to the Pentium III, is expected to start shipping in this quarter.

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Douglas F. Gray

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