Dell Boosts Rambus on Desktop

SAN FRANCISCO (05/10/2000) - Dell Computer Corp. has unveiled a model in its OptiPlex desktop line that is among the first to deliver new Rambus Inc. memory technology to the "mainstream" desktop, with a price tag that is at least lower, if not exactly low.

Rambus dynamic random-access memory (RDRAM) generally runs faster than today's standard--and much cheaper--synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) and is touted by some as its eventual replacement. But RDRAM has rarely been available on PCs costing less than $1500 until now.

The $1149 OptiPlex GX200 is modestly configured. It runs on a middling 600-MHz Intel Pentium III CPU and has only 64MB of PC700 (700-MHz) RDRAM and an 8MB graphics card. A monitor isn't included in the price.

But the system's 10GB hard drive and 64MB of memory are a healthy size by the standards of the companies Dell is targeting with these units, says Mike Basore, the OptiPlex GX200 brand manager. Many will choose the base model for employees with less demanding computing needs, and add higher-end features for other users, Basore says.

The OptiPlex GX200's motherboard fits in minitower-style, medium and low-profile, and small form-factor cases, so companies can offer variety while maintaining a single "image." A standard hardware and software configuration helps simplify maintenance.

A slightly souped-up OptiPlex comes with a 667-MHz PIII, 128MB of RDRAM, and a 17-inch monitor, priced at $1656, Basore says.

Scrounging for Bargains

Rambus memory is harder to make and in shorter supply than SDRAM, so PCs configured with it have been priced at a premium of several hundreds of dollars. Most of the PC vendors selling systems with it are top-tier names like Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM.

Before Dell, only HP offered Rambus in a midprice PC. Its cheapest Rambus-equipped Vectra VL600 runs on a PIII-667 and comes with 128MB of memory, a 48X CD-ROM drive, and an 8MB graphics card. It lists for $1469, but the price doesn't include a monitor.

The closest comparable system that Compaq offers to the beefed-up OptiPlex is a Deskpro EN. That system runs on a PIII-600 and comes with 128MB of RDRAM, a 40X CD-ROM drive, a 16MB graphics card, and a 17-inch monitor, and costs substantially more at $2054. A comparable IBM PC300PL costs $1801 without a monitor.

Are lower prices in RDRAM components responsible for the price break? Basore won't say, but he notes that Dell's direct-sales method helps memory suppliers manage their inventories more cost-effectively.

"In general, as volume increases, we're going to be getting price 'goodness,'" Basore says. But the industry is expecting supplies of all types of RAM to tighten near the end of the year, he says.

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