We Like Speed, but Price Drives Memory Choice

That was just one theme explored during a panel discussion of next-generation memory technologies at the Microprocessor Forum here Thursday.

The esoteric debates over throughput of different memory types gave way to some pragmatic concerns.

"All [memory] suppliers will build and ship what we [consumers] want and are willing to pay [for]," observed Desi Rhoden, president and chief executive of the trade group Advanced Memory International, as he sought to simplify the discourse.

Customers have shown time and again what matters most, Rhoden noted: "The bottom line is price. Narrow or wide -- it simply must have the lowest price per bit."

That's one reason Double Data Rate (DDR) memory is destined to outpace other next-generation memory types, he said. While DDR will probably cost more than today's mainstream PC-133 SDRAM at first, it is expected to reach price parity sometime in 2001, he said.

While it's been on the market for some time, Rambus memory (RDRAM) -- DDR's high-speed memory competition -- continues to cost significantly more than SDRAM without showing notable performance improvements.

Rambus Speaks

While he remained remarkably quiet during some obvious jabs at his company, Avo Kanadjian, Rambus vice president of worldwide marketing, did use the panel to point out some of RDRAM's recent design wins in the consumer electronics space. Of particular note is the use of Rambus in Sony's new PlayStation 2.

A clear advantage RDRAM has over today's SDRAM is its greater degree of granularity, he said. While much of today's SDRAM comes in large packages of 128MB and higher, Rambus performance allows manufacturers to use significantly less memory to achieve good performance.

Granular or not, the battle between DDR and Rambus appears over to some. There are 28 chip set vendors planning to use DDR, Rhoden said.

DDR Arrives Soon

The first PCs with DDR using VIA Technologies chip sets will begin shipping in the next few months, said Eric Chang, VIA's director of product marketing. However, they probably won't be ready in time for introduction at the US Comdex computer trade show in November, he said.

In addition to desktop systems, DDR will also quickly find its way into servers and notebook PCs, Chang said. "DDR will be good for mobile because of low power consumption," he said.

DDR memory will consume less power than SDRAM, AMI's Rhoden said. Thanks to DDR's new voltage and power management capabilities, power consumption from the notebook's memory subsystem could drop as much as 50 per cent, he said.

Future Memory

Today about 80 per cent of the memory manufactured goes into PCs, Rhoden said. It's clear that communications devices and other consumer electronics will eventually make up a larger percentage of that total, he said.

Today's products have been in the works for a year or more; the next iteration is in the works, and the generation beyond that is still being nailed down, Rhoden said.

"We never stop moving," he said.

Anush Yegyazarian contributed to this report.

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