WINHEC - Debating the Role of Rambus

Is Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory too expensive and unnecessary to become a mainstream memory technology? Or is it an up-and-comer that will be everywhere soon?

"The dirty little secret of the PC hardware industry is most users really don't care about performance anymore," says MicroDesign's Michael Slater, speaking at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.

Most PCs are fast enough for what people do with them, and aside from high-end gamers, most users don't want to spend extra money for incremental performance gains, he says. Also, hardware has outrun the capabilities of today's software, and the PC market just isn't demanding the boost in bandwidth that RDRAM memory provides, Slater adds.

"Rambus is a wonderful technology," he says, but at best it will become a "significant minority technology."

Not surprisingly, a Rambus executive begs to disagree.

Rambus created the RDRAM technology and licenses it to memory manufacturers. Avo Kanadjian, Rambus vice president of worldwide marketing, says he expects RDRAM will achieve a large market share in the coming years.

Kanadjian points to projections from research firms Instat and Dataquest that show RDRAM achieving a better than 40 percent share of the memory market by 2002, and greater than 50 percent by 2003. Kanadjian says he is disappointed that Slater failed to discuss in depth the benefits Rambus will provide when Intel launches its next-generation processor, code-named Willamette, later this year.

However, Slater did note that Willamette will have a 400-MHz front-side bus that will better utilize the Rambus technology.

Price Points Remain

Slater also noted that longtime Rambus supporter Intel has shifted its support away from the technology on its low-end products. Intel Corp. continues to support Rambus as a high-end memory solution for current Pentium IIIs and its upcoming processor. The company is, however, pursuing other options, such as PC100 SDRAM, for lower-cost devices, Slater says.

Intel obviously expected the price of Rambus memory to drop by now, as the company originally planned to use the technology with its upcoming low-price integrated chip, code-named Timna, Slater notes. Intel changed the chip's design to use less-expensive PC100 SDRAM instead.

But RDRAM prices are dropping, Kanadjian says. He points to two comparably equipped Dell Computer Corp. systems with 128MB of memory; the one with RDRAM costs only $161 more. And that delta will continue to drop as more memory manufacturers ramp up RDRAM production, he says.

A quick Web search for the cost of RDRAM, however, found the best price on 128MB was $559 while the lowest price for 128MB of generic PC133 SDRAM was $91.

Kanadjian expects RDRAM will also find a home in low-cost Internet appliances and convergence devices such as Sony's PlayStation II. The developer contends that some applications can run adequately on less RDRAM than generic memory requires, which could save space inside small devices.

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