Having set course to vanquish the DRAM market, Micron Technology Inc. is already mapping out its next conquest: the desktop graphics arena.
With an integrated DRAM manufacturing strategy at the ready, the memory-IC juggernaut will roll out an embedded-graphics accelerator for next year's PC, making its mark in yet another technology field, said Micron chairman, president, and chief executive Steven R. Appleton, in an interview this week.
Micron will launch the single-chip graphics accelerator in the second half of 1999, using embedded-logic cores obtained through its June acquisition of desktop graphics designer Rendition Inc. The device will be fabricated on Micron's standard DRAM production lines. The first embedded-graphics chip will generate a bus bandwidth of more than 2 Gbytes/s, according to Micron.
Appleton said the device will be the forerunner of a broader line of embedded-memory ICs that could lead to an integrated graphics accelerator and core-logic chipset.
"We're going to expand gradually in this area," Appleton said. "We have a lot on our plate right now. We want to be sure we're successful in all our new efforts before tackling too much more."
When introduced, the chip will likely be the first embedded-graphics IC designed specifically for desktop systems. The embedded approach has proven popular in notebook computers, with its smaller size and lower power, but because the integrated die is typically more expensive than separate discrete-logic and memory ICs, it has so far failed to attract a wider audience.
Micron said it will hold off from the laptop graphics-accelerator market for the time being because of the additional power-management engineering required.
Even before it bought Rendition last June in a bid specifically designed to pull in embedded desktop-graphics expertise, Micron was pursuing integrated-logic development with LSI Logic Corp., Milpitas, Calif. However, that two-year joint effort appears to have ended. "Both companies achieved their goals to understand better the technology involved," Appleton said. "We now appear to be moving in different directions as we start to enter production."
While the difficulties of embedding memory have kept many DRAM makers out of the market, Appleton sees adding logic-chip production in Boise as no big deal. Asked how, as a latecomer to an already intensely competitive field, Micron will win market share, Appleton asserted: "This is nothing new to us. We've had to do this in every market we entered, from DRAMs to PCs. We can be very competitive."
Micron is also broadening its market to distance itself from its rivals, which are chipping away at the edges of the main-memory market, according to Paul Dlugosch, product marketing manager for the company's new graphics-chip line.
In addition to its growing design arsenal, Micron has enlisted the aid of the U.S. government to ward off would-be competitors-among them Taiwan's DRAM makers, which have assembled a large manufacturing base.
Last month, Micron filed a petition with the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission alleging the island's manufacturers have been selling their DRAM in the United States at less than production costs in an effort to gain an unfair market advantage.
Appleton fired a few brickbats at Taiwan-based chip makers for continuing their expansion in an era of DRAM oversupply.
"The Taiwan producers' continued irrational, large expansion of DRAM fab capacity is completely unjustified in the current three-year market downturn," he said. "By contrast, Japanese companies are cutting semiconductor capital expenditures. The Koreans appear to be actually cutting back DRAM production in a strong sense of self-preservation."
Appleton said a decision by Taiwan to slow its growth could help the troubled market find better balance, As it stands, Taiwanese suppliers have a 4% to 10% share of the DRAM market, according to varying estimates.
"If Taiwan stops its irrational expansion of DRAM fab capacity, the major share of bit-rate growth in the next few years will be from die shrinks," he said. "But this adds only 30% to 40% bit growth a year, and we haven't had such low bit growth for 20 years.
"Since demand continues in the very high double digits, there is a good chance supply and demand will come into balance," he said.