As it ramps into the market this year, PC133 SDRAM will compete for sockets in the PC-server arena, where it could pose a threat to the success of the emerging Direct Rambus DRAM technology.
In the past two months, virtually every DRAM maker has rushed to unveil devices featuring the 133-MHz memory interface, betting that server OEMs will eagerly snatch up a modestly priced performance improvement.
"I expect the majority of PC and Unix-based servers will quickly adopt PC133 SDRAMs," said Jeff Mailloux, memory marketing manager for Micron Technology Inc., Boise, Idaho. "It's a no-brainer: Servers get a 33% higher memory speed at no extra cost, since PC133 won't carry any premium over PC100 SDRAMs."
Lane Mason, marketing manager for IBM Microelectronics' 256-Mbit DRAM program in Burlington, Vt., said 80% of servers already include some form of SDRAM, particularly in the low-end to midrange portion of the market, where a two-processor configuration is commonly used. Mason expects most OEMs to migrate quickly to PC133 memory as a springboard to even faster SDRAM chips.
"They'll use PC133 and new chip-sets to work out timing issues, and then move up to [next-generation] double-data-rate SDRAMs when they become available," he said.
Such a strategy would leave little room at the market's high end for Direct RDRAM, despite the fact that its creator, Rambus Inc., is pitching it as a solution for all computing segments. Several memory suppliers said they don't expect Direct RDRAM to penetrate the cost-sensitive server market anytime soon because of the higher price early Rambus devices will carry.
Rambus has always maintained that the initial Direct RDRAM chips would be designed into high-end desktops and eventually move into servers, competing at a higher performance level than PC133 SDRAM, said Subodh Toprani, vice president of marketing, Mountain View, Calif.
"People forget that there is a multitude of system technical issues for PC133. Timing must be coordinated from the processor bus to the chipset to the module and to the individual DRAMs-it is not an easy task."
PC133 SDRAM, on the other hand, stands a good chance of becoming entrenched in server applications, according to Will Mulhern, product marketing manager for advanced DRAMs at Santa Clara, Calif.-based NEC Electronics Inc.
And from there it's a fairly easy upgrade to even faster DDR SDRAMs. Indeed, if PC133 and DDR establish a beachhead in the server sector, the higher-speed DDR memory interface could eventually compete head-on with Direct RDRAM in other PC markets, Mulhern added.
Micron and NEC, among other major DRAM makers, are preparing for the unsettled market by including both DDR SDRAM and Direct RDRAM in their 1999 production plans.
Just as the memory industry is ramping both memory types, other segments of the manufacturing chain also will support both Direct RDRAM and DDR SDRAM.
The notable exception is Intel Corp., whose next-generation 133-MHz processor bus will support Direct RDRAM exclusively. But while Intel has said none of its chipsets supporting the Pentium or Celeron processors will be compatible with PC133 or DDR SDRAM, some third-party chipset makers are eager to exploit what they perceive to be a market opportunity.
Reliance Computer Corp. has introduced a PC133 chipset and expects soon to have a DDR chipset as well. The San Jose-based company says both chipsets will interface with Intel processors sold into the server market. In addition, because many server OEMs develop proprietary chipsets, it's likely that more companies will begin adapting PC133 and DDR SDRAM to the Pentium line.
Other third-party chipset vendors in Taiwan have plans similar to those of Reliance. Via Technologies Inc. will soon have a PC133 chipset on the market for desktop PCs that complies with the Intel Slot 1 cartridge architecture, according to Dean Hays, vice president of marketing for the Hsinchu-based company. And Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. last week became the second Taiwanese chipset supplier to secure a Slot 1 license, with rival Acer Laboratories Inc. (ALI), said to be in negotiations with Intel.
If it obtains a license as expected, ALI is widely believed to be readying Pentium III chipsets that will support both Direct RDRAM and PC133.