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[ The PC Guide | Articles and Editorials | Industry Update: January 2001 ]

Memory Update

DRAM Market Share

JC's PC News 'n Links has a poll up asking visitors what type of memory they are running in their systems. I think the results, (shown here) speak for themselves - but I'll make my comments anyway. SDRAM is still dominant, and will be for at least the next 6 months. Though some are still running EDO/FPM, the primary use for it is in printers and such. DRDRAM? Forget it, the window is all but closed. DDR SDRAM? It hasn't even been officially available for a month, and already it has passed DRDRAM on this poll (admittedly, the margin of error is probably fairly high, however). 'Nuff said…

Technology Directions

Back in August of last year, I received a press release from Kentron Technologies, Inc. regarding a new technology known as Quad-Band Memory (QBM). The description of this technology was as follows:

"QBM is a technology that uses standard DDR memory along with Kentron's patented use of FET switches on a module (E-BUS) to double the bandwidth of DDR from 200MHz to 400MHz data rate. The subsystem exercises the QBM memory in a similar fashion to a Northbridge chipset in a system. The QBM technology will increase the bandwidth of the DDR module solution from 1.6GB/sec to 3.2GB/sec, which will be a dramatic improvement over the capabilities of other non-compatible, more expensive memory technologies. QBM operates at 100MHz clock achieving data transfer rates of 400Mbit/sec during reads/writes."

In November, another press release was received about Kentron becoming a member of Advanced Memory International, Inc. (AMI2), which is a coalition of memory manufacturers that are working to define the future memory standards, such as DDR and DDR II. Now it appears that Kentron will be presenting their design at the upcoming Platform Conference, so it seems likely that we could see this technology used to increase memory bandwidth in a few years.

DDR Focus

There are still some compatibility issues between modules and motherboards, so care should be exercised when purchasing products. This does not appear to be a chipset problem, nor a DDR problem, per se. What is at issue is that the timings are so critical that even a minor variation in signals will cause lockups or system crashes. Reports from those validating the platform indicate that some motherboard makers currently have more compatible implementations than others, with the usual suspects at the top of the list (i.e., ASUS, MSI, etc.).

As many have noted, Crucial Technology is offering PC1600 modules for the same price as SDR SDRAM modules. This is an intentional marketing strategy by Micron to ensure that DDR is accepted into the marketplace. Many have also been wondering when PC2100 modules will appear, and the current information I have is that they will appear on Crucial's website right about mid-February, barring any unusual issues. Prices for these modules should be only a few percent higher than, though it is not clear what 'a few percent' will actually amount to.

Rambus Focus

It appears that not only is DRDRAM floundering in the marketplace, but the Rambus IP claims are floundering in the legal process as well. While Rambus, Inc. has been signing license agreements with a number of memory manufacturers, Micron, Hyundai and Infineon are continuing their legal battles against the claims that Rambus owns certain patents on SDR and DDR SDRAM, requiring up to 5% royalties on the manufacturers to make the chips. Rambus recently reported that their costs to fight these legal battles is mounting rapidly, and to make matters worse, the European court cases scheduled to begin in December have been postponed indefinitely while the European Patent Office reviews the patents in question.

Previously, the European cases had been considered favorable to Rambus for two reasons: European patent laws and courts tend to be more favorable towards those claiming to hold the patents, and the fact that they would be tried before the U.S. cases, which Rambus backers hoped could be used to strengthen the case. Now that the cases have been postponed, there is a good chance that the U.S. cases will begin before the European cases, and what is worse, if the European Patent Office is reviewing the patents there must have been some compelling evidence to cause them to do so… or so it would seem. Of course, most of the information is not publicly available, so much of this is speculation in any event.

Pricing and Market Conditions

Spot market prices for SDR SDRAM are at an all time low. This is a great time for consumers with regard to memory purchases. Due to the slow holiday season, and the upcoming push for DDR, it is unlikely that we will see prices rise significantly in the near future. This is not good news, however, for manufacturers, as spot prices appear to be below cost for virtually all manufacturers - with 64Mb chips selling for under $3. What's more, with Micron virtually ensuring that DDR chips will be offered at prices very close to SDRAM prices for at least a few months, chances of prices going up soon seem fairly slim. However, if there does turn out to be a huge demand for DDR, the situation could change fairly quickly as the supply/demand issue comes into play, and manufacturers quickly convert to making DDR chips instead of SDR chips. This can be done fairly late in the manufacturing process, unlike converting over to DRDRAM production.

Next: Industry Update: December 2000

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