Intel to let market decide fate of Rambus support

Intel was once the leading advocate for RDRAM (Rambus Dynamic RAM), but on Friday its executives declined to confirm whether its future chipsets would support the high-speed memory interface technology, saying Rambus is not the current first choice of consumers.

Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett said the company will continue to manufacture existing chipsets for the PC and workstation markets that support RDRAM, but stopped short of saying future chipsets in this sector will support the beleaguered memory technology. Chipsets are companion devices to central processors and handle much of the communication between the processor and the rest of the computer, including the memory chips.

"We are obviously supporting RDRAM today with our existing chipsets and the network processors continue to support RDRAM going forward and the rest of the products, you'll just have to wait until they are announced," he told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo.

Intel's support of RDRAM began in 1999 when it launched a chipset for the Pentium III, although it wasn't until the launch of the Pentium 4 processor in late 2000 that the company put its full weight behind the memory technology. When the new processor was launched, the only memory supported was RDRAM -- a move that brought criticism from some quarters because of the high price of RDRAM compared to DDR (double data rate) DRAM, a rival high-speed technology being supported by most major memory makers.

Support for RDRAM alone lasted for nine months, at which point Intel began to support cheaper but slower SDRAM (synchronous DRAM). It wasn't until December 2001 that, in response to customer demands, support was added for DDR.

The role that customers had to play in Intel's decision was also highlighted by Barrett in response to a question about whether the company would support RDRAM in future desktop products.

"I've been asked that question for the last couple of years and we have always said that the winning DRAM technology would be the one customers want, the most economic in volume production, and RDRAM has not been the most successful in that respect."

John Antone, president of Intel KK, the company's Japanese subsidiary, restated Intel's plan to continue support of RDRAM in current products, but also noted the company is open to other memory technologies.

"Certainly the products that we are making today, we expect to continue making for quite a long time," he said. "But it's more important to note that we are agnostic about the memory technology and we are going to continue to support those technologies that are in demand in the marketplace. That transcends RDRAM or any other technology that may or may not be popular today."

This is quite a turnaround for Intel. A year and a day earlier, Intel Fellow Pete MacWilliams told the Intel Developer Forum conference in San Jose, "We'd like to see RDRAM from top to bottom."

With the launch of the DDR chipset at the end of last year, memory-chip makers are now ramping up production of DDR memory and expect it to become the most commonly used PC memory this year. Speaking at a memory forum in Taipei a week ago, executives from three of the world's largest memory-chip makers, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Micron Technology Inc. and Hynix Semiconductor Inc., said they expect DDR shipments will dominate their business this year.

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Martyn Williams

Computerworld
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