A funny thing happened on the way to the graphics memory market. Graphics cards, where once the price of memory was no object, have suddenly become cost conscious.
That has caused some graphics card makers to make a U-turn in their previously uninterrupted race to more advanced memories, including GDDR2, to suddenly come back to the workhorse DDR1 for their next-generation products.
Case in point: analysts said Nvidia Corp., after pioneering DDR2 last year for its top-of-the-line NV30 GeForce FX, will switch back to DDR for its next-generation NV35 processor, slated to be introduced next week. A spokesman for Nvidia, Santa Clara, Calif., declined to comment on unannounced products.
Even when Nvidia adopted GDDR2, arch rival ATI Technologies Inc., Markham, Ontario, remained with DDR1 memory for most of its processors. ATI did switch to GDDR2 earlier this year for its new Radeon 9800 Pro, although the company said its unified controller drivers can support either generation memory.
Matthew Godfrey, an analyst with Semico Research Corp., Phoenix, said graphics chip makers' renewed love affair with DDR1 is based on their ability to get a better price for high-volume memory, which benefits from the PC market's economies of scale.
The latest DDR1 graphics memory has high enough speed to meet the demanding data rates of the electronic game and PC-enthusiast markets -- yet costs significantly less than next-generation GDDR2 and GDDR3 memories.
The cost of memories has suddenly taken on a new aspect as graphics firms find that often their own product prices are getting more scrutiny in the market.
DDR1 graphics chips are also more widely available, with more sources in the market. Only a few suppliers are in production of GDDR2 chips but are said to be able to meet the limited demand for the first graphics card adopters.
Micron Technology Inc. has declined to make GDDR2 at all, preferring to wait until GDDR3 comes on the market.
Initially, GDDR2 chips were said to run hotter than the previous generation chips. However, Semico's Godfrey said the GDDR2 thermal issue had been taken care of, and the real barrier to greater graphics maker acceptance is the relatively high chip price due to low volume orders.
Graphics vendors are still committed to the next-generation memories. DDR1, although getting a renewed lease on life, has about reached the end of the road in memory speed. And as GDDR2 ramps up to greater production, prices should come down to make the new memory more cost effective.
In the meantime, the high flying graphics card firms have shown that they aren't immune to the pricing pressures that most of the electronics industry lives with every day.
The Closer Look column appears the first of each month.