Rambus CEO sees opportunity in Intel, AMD fight

Rambus sees the microprocessor war between Intel and AMD as a way to win new memory chip orders from the PC industry.

Rambus sees the microprocessor market share war between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) as a possible way to win more orders from the PC industry, according to the company's chief executive officer (CEO).

Rambus also looks forward to an upcoming court case against global DRAM makers, said CEO Harold Hughes in an interview in Taipei ahead of the Rambus Developer Forum.

A developer of high performance computer memory, Rambus has had a rough time finding mass appeal after the PC industry eschewed its RDRAM (Rambus dynamic-RAM) earlier this decade in favor of a less expensive alternative. Since then, the company has continued to upgrade its technology. Now, its XDR DRAM, which Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. is using in the PlayStation 3 (PS3), and XDR2 (XDR, second generation) stand to benefit from user demand for high performance PCs equipped with the latest microprocessors and graphics chips.

"Intel and AMD are in a fight right now. And when you're in a fight, you look at things differently than before," Hughes said. "Sometimes, someone's going to take some risks, and who knows what's going to happen."

AMD signed a five-year, US$75 million patent license agreement with Rambus early this year, and AMD executives spoke at the Rambus Developer Forum in Taiwan on Wednesday. Hughes said there was no AMD-related news to announce in Taipei.

He sees opportunity in the high-end desktop PC segment for Rambus's XDR and XDR2, to speed up the new breed of high-end PCs coming out as a result of multi-core processors from Intel and AMD. The memory chips are aimed at boosting graphics, a key consideration to PC gamers and users requiring intensive graphics or multimedia for their work.

The company has also already held discussions with Sony about the PlayStation 4 (PS4), where it hopes to win again as the best memory for Sony's popular game machines. However, it will be a while before any decisions are made on PS4 components.

Sony used RDRAM in the PlayStation 2 (PS2), and the PS3 will be use XDR along with its very powerful Cell processor, which has eight cores, and is expected to perform about 35 times faster than the processor in the PS2. The Cell uses 256M bytes of Rambus' XDR DRAM running at 3.2GHz. GDDR3 (Graphics Double Data Rate 3) memory chips are the nearest rivals to XDR, but run half as fast at 1.6GHz.

So far, users have raved about the graphics on PS3.

Although performance matters, and some users are willing to pay a premium for the best parts, Rambus still needs to ensure an adequate supply of XDR to drive down costs and convince more parts makers to develop chipsets, motherboards and other PC components around the memory chips. It also needs to convince more DRAM companies to produce the chips, and that's not easy when it's also facing them in court.

Currently, only Elpida Memory and Samsung Electronics have announced XDR chip products, but Hughes said there are two or three other licensees for the technology that have not yet announced their products.

Going forward, the company may find more leverage to obtain new licensees in an upcoming court case in San Francisco, which alleges a number of major memory chip makers colluded to keep RDRAM off the market as part of a price-fixing scheme between April 2001 and June 2002.

"We will have an anti-trust case against the major manufacturers," said Hughes. "We are privy to a large number of documents that we got as part of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) successful prosecution and there are e-mails that are quite blatant about what they were trying to do [against RDRAM] and what they did amongst themselves."

A number of DRAM executives from companies such as Samsung and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. already face prison time and fines from the DOJ case, in which they were charged with being co-conspirators in the DRAM price-fixing scheme.

"There's a reason they have people in prison," Hughes said. "They will somehow say that there is a disconnect between their actions on RDRAM and what they did on price setting on SDRAM DDR, and I think a great deal of the evidence will show that they are inextricably linked. For them to raise prices as they did, they first had to knock RDRAM out as a competing part."

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