Rambus Looks Beyond the PC

Faced with uncertainty over the future use of memory chips featuring its proprietary high-speed interface in PCs, Rambus Inc. looks to carve a niche in networking hardware and expand its reach into the consumer electronics markets, a company executive said in an interview with IDG News Service here at Comdex.

Within the next two years the company hopes to see around 30 percent of its revenue come from licensing fees related to chips used in networking hardware, around 20 percent from consumer electronics applications such as game consoles and high definition television, and the remaining 50 percent from the PC market, said Avo Kanadjian, vice president of worldwide marketing at Rambus.

Rambus' main source of revenue are the licensing fees paid by chip manufacturers, such as NEC and Samsung Electronics, for use of the proprietary Rambus high-speed memory interface in DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chips. Rambus itself does not manufacture any chips.

Known as RDRAMs (Rambus DRAMs), the devices have been chosen by Intel for use in systems powered by its soon-to-be-released Pentium 4 processor. Recently, however, Intel has signaled that it will also introduce support for competing memory chip technologies. Currently, the vast majority of Rambus' licensing revenue comes from the PC business with the only sizeable exception being the RDRAM chips used in Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 2 advanced game console. "The PC is still our most important market," Kanadjian said.

The networking equipment business is a new market for Rambus, but Kanadjian expects revenue from that segment soon.

"(The networking business) is going to be very important," he said. "We're very, very committed to the networking business."

Networking hardware vendors, including PMC-Sierra and Vitesse Semiconductor, are designing Rambus DRAM chips into their products and the first commercial examples are expected soon.

"I believe that the first products that are going to ship with our DRAM are slated for the first quarter of next year," he said.

According to Kanadjian, networking equipment vendors are looking to RDRAMs as a replacement for high-speed SRAM (static RAM) chips, production of which is now falling off. The vendors favor the Rambus technology, he said, because the high-speed memory interface means vast amounts of data can be transferred in and out of the memory chip faster -- an important consideration in the high bandwidth world of networking.

"In graphics or communications applications, Rambus has its appeals," said Jim Sogas, vice president sales and marketing for Elpida Memory, the recently formed computer memory joint venture between Japan's NEC and Hitachi. NEC is an RDRAM manufacturer. "Certainly the super-high bandwidth in one chip is important for some applications," he said.

"Some communications system makers have interest for the 288Mbit Rambus chips," added Misao Higuchi, technical marketing department manager for Elpida Memory. The two said that networking vendors were looking at the company's Rambus chips but added that, due to concerns over volumes, hitting the consumer electronics markets may not be as easy as it seems.

"In the DRAM world everyone tries to leverage the volume. Because they don't want to pay big premiums and they don't want to have a hard time getting it," Sogas said. "(The) HDTV guys may be reexamining their decision. Maybe it was Rambus before but now it's 'let's go look again,' because they are concerned about what's going to be the volume product."

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