Rambus to design DDR memory controllers

Rambus will provide DDR (double data rate) and GDDR (graphics DDR) memory controller interface designs that will reduce the amount of time needed by chipset manufacturers to design DDR memory controllers of their own, the company announced Monday.

Memory controller interfaces are needed to regulate data traveling between a PC or graphics processor and the memory modules in a system. Rambus already sells interface designs for its own RDRAM (Rambus dynamic RAM) and XDR (extreme data rate) standards, but is now embracing DDR and GDDR products made by companies that Rambus has seen in court on a regular basis over the past three years.

Rambus develops designs for memory chips that other companies license to build products. The company has had a limited degree of success thus far with RDRAM and its newest XDR DRAM standard, a situation Rambus blamed in an antitrust lawsuit filed last week on collaborative efforts among DRAM vendors to cripple RDRAM.

Rambus also believes that DDR memory infringes on several of its patents, and has sued several DRAM companies that did not license its technology in hopes of collecting royalties on all DDR memory chips.

The DRAM vendors argue that Rambus improperly deceived the DDR standards-setting organization into adopting technology for which Rambus held patents, as a way of ensuring future revenue. Those companies, such as Infineon Technologies, Micron Technology and Hynix Semiconductor, believe RDRAM failed to take off due to its high cost and complexity.

Despite the legal drama, Rambus' announcement acknowledges that DDR memory is here to stay as a dominant standard, and that Rambus can market its strengths in memory design to companies that want to use DDR chips in their products, said Rich Warmke, director of product marketing at Rambus.

"This represents a slight shift in strategy for the company. We'll have RDRAM and XDR DRAM, but we'll also have controllers that allow (PC and graphics chips) to connect to industry-standard DDR and GDDR," Warmke said.

Memory speeds are set to increase later this year as DDR2 memory chips are produced in larger volumes. The new standard allows memory vendors to release products that run faster than the 400MHz DDR standard. Faster DDR chips are available, but the performance of those chips starts to drop off without some of the architectural enhancements provided by the DDR2 standard.

These new faster chips require complex interface designs, and chip companies will find it easier to just license a design from Rambus rather than develop an interface on their own, Warmke said. Companies can shave six to nine months off the product development cycle by licensing a complete memory controller interface design from Rambus, he said.

"Our objective is to become a one-stop shop for memory interfaces," Warmke said.

Interface designs for consumer electronics and graphics products are available immediately, and designs for PC and server memory will follow, Warmke said. The company will announce initial customers at later date, he said.

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