Q3 2001 Industry Update

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DRAM

As mentioned on the first page, the DRAM market is really struggling. Hynix, which is the new name of the merger of the financially troubled LGS and Hyundai corporations, is relying on government assistance to stay in business, which has Micron up in arms. Apparently, the bailout of the Korean government several years ago stipulated that they could no longer subsidize failing companies, which Micron believes is exactly that is happening now. If Micron is successful in getting an injunction against DRAM imports from Hynix into the U.S., this could cause a very serious problem for the Korean company.

Infineon is also reportedly having some financial troubles, and has been talking with Toshiba about joint ventures or even a merger. NEC is also reportedly pushing back any plans for making additional infrastructure investments into Elpida, which is the joint venture between NEC and Hitachi. Even Samsung and Micron are not immune from the problems, though both seem to be in better financial shape than most others.

Of course, these problems for the manufacturers means incredible prices for consumers. DDR SDRAM has become as cheap, in most markets, as standard SDRAM, and 256MB modules can be purchased for $30 or less. In the meantime, technology marches on as several companies have announced samples of 333MHz DDR chips to be used on PC2400 (proposed JEDEC standard) system. Both SiS and ALi are claiming to already support these speeds, though it remains to be seen how quickly motherboard makers can make stable products.

The next generation memory standard, currently being called DDR-II is still being debated in standards committees, with JEDEC approving a preliminary specification earlier this year. The Advanced DRAM Technology consortium (ADT) is also working on specs for future memory technology standards, but as is usually the case it seems that politics is helping to keep progress at a snails pace. There are some reports that the ADT members, who are also JEDEC members, are working at odds with JEDEC. ADT is comprised of the largest memory manufacturers, including Micron, Infineon, Hynix, Samsung and Elpida, as well as Intel, who formulated the group last year.

In a move that surprised some, Intel and Rambus entered into a new 5-year cross licensing agreement that is said to remove restrictions from Intel, allowing them to develop am market chipsets using competing memory technologies – such as DDR. Intel gets to use Rambus technologies royalty-free, and Rambus gets access to Intel’s interface technologies, such as Infiniband. Despite some of the hopes of the staunch anti-Rambus faction, it is obvious that Intel has no plans to abandon DRDRAM in the short term. Next year, there are plans to introduce a 533MHz FSB for the P4 to utilize 1.06GHz DRDRAM (PC1066? – ugh!), and Samsung continues to develop less expensive methods of manufacturing the chips. Momentum, however, is on the side of DDR as it has matched or exceeded the market share of DRDRAM. With the reported performance of DDR platforms for P4, and faster DDR chips being introduced already, it is now unlikely that DRDRAM will end up as anything other than a niche memory solution.


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