Whither DRDRAM?

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Over the past year and a half, one of the biggest battles for Intel has been selling the idea of systems with D-RDRAM to manufacturers and consumers. In October 1997, it was revealed that Intel would push to implement Direct Rambus DRAM technology on the PC in 1999. Many in the industry and in financial circles simply assumed that because Intel was putting their muscle behind it, D-RDRAM would succeed. Some financial analysts were touting Rambus as “the predominate main memory for the PC market in 1999”.

Intel originally planned to introduce D-RDRAM support in their Camino chipset by July 1999. Due to problems with the technology, which has been reported here and on many technology news sites, the Camino (i820) chipset was delayed until September. Now that September is upon us, Intel has added a little twist to the D-RDRAM spin.

When Intel first announced the Camino chipset, the only memory that was to be supported was Direct RDRAM. As industry displeasure grew and problems cropped up in achieving the 800MHz speeds that are required to make the technology attractive, Intel conceded that they may also support 100MHz SDRAM as well. One caveat of this was that the SDRAM would have to be mounted on a special RIMM module (called an S-RIMM), since the chipset would not support SDRAM DIMMs.

Throughout all of this, Intel maintained that PC133 SDRAM would definitely not be supported by Intel at all, that it provides absolutely no benefit over PC100 SDRAM, and causes headaches for manufacturers attempting to meet the timing specifications. Of course, at the same time manufacturers were complaining that D-RDRAM speeds above 600MHz were causing to much noise on the bus, and would not work properly.

In the meantime, Taiwanese chipset manufacturer VIA Technology, Inc. was spearheading an effort to make PC133 SDRAM an industry standard, and was able to get 10 memory manufacturers to support it. Intel continued to fight this trend, and threatened to pull VIAs license to make Slot 1 chipsets if they implemented 133MHz SDRAM support in the Apollo Pro chipset. Intel followed through with this threat in June, and brought a lawsuit against VIA. Though many have blamed Intel for trying to exact revenge on VIA for supporting PC133 SDRAM first, Intel denied this and continued to claim disinterest in further enhancements to SDRAM.

Lo and behold, Intel has now reversed themselves and will be supporting PC100 SDRAM via DIMMs on the i820 chipset, and will be officially supporting PC133 on a ‘future’ chipset. This information was provided at IDF, and reported by EBN last week. While the chipset will still support D-RDRAM, Intel believes that most manufacturers will not implement it until, perhaps 2001 when quantities of the memory are available at a ‘reasonable’ price. Intel continues to blame this situation on a lack of D-RDRAM availability.

On the other hand, the memory manufacturers we have spoken with indicate that interest in D-RDRAM is very low, and this is the reason they have not produced in larger quantities. With current prices of approximately $45 per chip, the only real customer at this time is Intel themselves. Most manufacturers simply do not believe that end users will pay upwards of $500 for a 128MB module, at least not willingly. If an alternative exists, the customers will avoid the more expensive solution.

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