Interview: Three minutes with Avo Kanadjian of Rambus

PC WORLD: Let's start with the basics: People still get Rambus the company and RDRAM the memory standard mixed up, so please explain the difference.

AVO KANADJIAN: Over the last ten years Rambus the company has established leadership in high-bandwidth chip-connection technologies -- the interface embedded in components that speeds up their communication. RDRAM is the best-known derivative of this technology.

PC WORLD: So how does Rambus the company make money?

AVO KANADJIAN: We think of ourselves as the hub of research and development. We transfer the knowledge we develop to our [memory-manufacturing] partners for a licensing fee, and then there is a royalty [on sales]. We think this is the most cost-effective way for these companies to introduce state-of-the-art products.

PC WORLD: However, Rambus and a few of its "partners" have recently engaged in some legal battles over the patent rights to traditional SDRAM. Can you address that?

AVO KANADJIAN: The Rambus patents go back to 1990, and the original patents were written to apply for RDRAM. The continuation of the patents describes the same innovations used in SDRAM and DDR.

PC WORLD: So Rambus claims to have patented SDRAM technologies in 1990. When did manufacturers start making and selling SDRAM?

AVO KANADJIAN: SDRAM -- to the best of my knowledge -- did not go into production until sometime in 1994.

PC WORLD: OK, enough about the legal stuff; let's get back to technology. Explain why RDRAM is superior to SDRAM.

AVO KANADJIAN: Basically, it's a question of matching the speed of the processor's front-side bus and the frequency being used. A 1.1 gigabits-per-second front-side bus can be matched with PC133 SDRAM, but the latest [Pentium 4] processors offer a 3.2 gigabits-per-second front-side bus that can only be matched with dual-channel RDRAM solution providing 1.6 gigabits per second.

PC WORLD: You suggest that RDRAM outruns traditional SDRAM, but benchmarks show Pentium III systems with PC133 SDRAM often outperform PIII systems with RDRAM.

AVO KANADJIAN: In retrospect, I would say that the single-channel solution with PIII systems did not take full advantage of the Rambus memory bandwidth. But as we transition to the Pentium 4 dual-channel architecture, we're very confident that the new systems will take full advantage of Rambus technology.

PC WORLD: Price continues to be an issue, even for Rambus supporters. When will RDRAM become more affordable?

AVO KANADJIAN: RDRAM prices have been coming down in an orderly fashion, but the price of SDRAM has been fluctuating wildly, so the price gap between RDRAM and SDRAM hasn't been consistent. Our latest forecasts show by the second half of 2001 the cost to produce RDRAM will be only 15 per cent higher than SDRAM. Plus, indications are that DDR will cost 5 to 10 per cent more than SDRAM, so there's a high potential that RDRAM and DDR prices will be very similar by the second half of 2001.

PC WORLD: Some industry observers suggest that Intel is quietly pulling back its support of Rambus. And one analyst recently stated that RDRAM is dead. How do you respond to these statements?

AVO KANADJIAN: I don't know who he was, what he said, or if that was his exact quote. I was surprised by the statement, given that that's not the case at all. The company is doing fine, and our technology has been designed into numerous PCs. As for the perception of our relationship with Intel, Intel remains committed to Rambus. What the company has done is indicate that it will not let the availability of memory or pricing get in the way of their chip set and CPU transitions.

PC WORLD: Why should the average PC buyer buy a P4 system with RDRAM?

AVO KANADJIAN: Because they want the best toy that money can buy. The P4-based system is going to perform best in multitasking applications, and we believe benchmarks that measure performance improvements in those kinds of operations will show a P4 system is the best way to go.

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Tom Mainelli

PC World

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