Memory makers ready to ramp DDR SDRAM

Leading memory makers expect to quickly ramp up production of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) chips, an emerging high-speed memory standard that they believe will be used in a wide range of computers and other digital devices, company representatives said here Tuesday at the DDR Summit conference hosted by Via Technologies Inc.

DDR SDRAM is touted by many memory suppliers as a more cost-efficient alternative to RDRAM (Rambus DRAM), a competing high-speed memory technology developed by Los Altos, California-based Rambus Inc. and backed mainly by processor giant Intel Corp.

In 2001, DDR SDRAM is only expected to make up about 15 percent of total DRAM volume, but it will then increase quickly to around 40 percent by 2002 and could reach as high as 85 percent by 2004, said Farhad Tabrizi, vice president of worldwide memory product marketing at Seoul-based Hyundai Electronics Industries Co. Ltd.

The big question at the one-day conference was when the memory suppliers would be able to reach their stated goal of reaching pricing parity between DDR SDRAM and the SDRAM chips found in most of today's computers. One of the most aggressive backers of DDR SDRAM is Micron Technology Inc., and the company is dedicated to closing the pricing gap sooner rather than later, said Jeff Mailloux, director of DRAM marketing at the Boise, Idaho-based company.

New generations of DRAM have historically never been widely accepted by the market until they were sold at the same price as the previous generation, noted Mailloux, which is why the company wants to drive adoption of DDR SDRAM by reaching pricing parity as quickly as possible.

"While volume does drive cost, pricing drives volume," he said.

However, one major hurdle to overcome before the industry can reach the goal of pricing parity is that SDRAM pricing today is at a "very painful" level, providing little incentive for the suppliers to offer DDR SDRAM at "a loss," said Jon Kang, senior vice president in Seoul-based Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s memory technology and product division.

Nevertheless, by as early as mid-year, 128M bytes of DDR SDRAM could be found even in low-end US$599 desktop PCs, even if the price of such memory modules is still as high as $100, predicted Hyundai's Tabrizi.

Unlike RDRAM, which is not expected to make much of an impact beyond high-end desktop PCs, consensus among the officials speaking here was that DDR SDRAM will be used in a variety of devices, ranging from low-end desktop and notebook PCs to servers and workstations, as well as other digital gadgets and networking applications.

Even Samsung, one of the early backers and the largest supplier of RDRAM chips, expects to see system vendors adopt DDR SDRAM in a wide range of devices, and Kang said the company expects to rapidly ramp up production.

Meanwhile, having produced RDRAM chips since 1999, Samsung is finally reaping the fruits of its efforts as demand has taken off with Intel's launch of the high-end Pentium 4 processor, he said.

"As the only memory solution for the Pentium 4, Rambus will ramp very quickly this year," said Kang. Samsung expects RDRAM to make up as much as 30 percent of its total DRAM production this year, while DDR SDRAM will make up about 10 percent, Kang told IDG News Service.

But once Intel and other suppliers launch Pentium 4 chip sets that support SDRAM and DDR SDRAM for use in mainstream desktop PCs, the higher cost of RDRAM is likely to make it attractive only for end-users looking for the highest performance available, he added.

Intel in this year's second half is scheduled to release a Pentium 4 chip set code named Brookdale that initially will support SDRAM, with a DDR SDRAM version to follow.

Hyundai Electronics, in Seoul, can be contacted at +82-2-3459-5000, or via the Web at http://www.hei.co.kr/. Intel, in Santa Clara, California, is at +1-408-765-3484, or at http://www.intel.com/. Micron Technology, in Boise, Idaho, is at +1-208-368-4000, or at http://www.micron.com/. Rambus, in Los Altos, California, is at +1-650-947-5000, or at http://www.rambus.com/. Samsung Electronics, in Seoul, is at +82-2-727-3355, or at http://www.samsungelectronics.com/. Via Technologies, in Taipei, is at +886-2-2218-5452, or at http://www.via.com.tw/.

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