Though it has driven Intel Corp.'s DRAM design efforts for three years, Rambus Inc. is conspicuously absent from the latest Intel-sponsored effort to develop the memory interface of tomorrow.
The Next Generation DRAM Alliance, whose aim is to identify an architecture to serve the PC market in 2003 and beyond, includes the industry's five leading DRAM manufacturers-Hyundai MicroElectronics, Infineon Technologies, Micron Technology, NEC-Hitachi Memory, and Samsung Electronics. Combined, they control more than 80% of the market, according to various estimates.
Having worked alongside Intel to develop Direct Rambus DRAM-an interface that some observers expect will be used in half of all DRAM devices made in 2001-it would appear that Rambus had earned itself a seat at the table. However, according to sources close to the effort, Rambus executives so far have not been invited to participate in the group.
Representatives from Intel and Mountain View, Calif.-based Rambus declined to comment. An Intel spokesman would not acknowledge the existence of the DRAM alliance, except to say the company "is always interested in working with industry to advance technology in all semiconductor areas."
Industry observers said that the Direct RDRAM interface the two companies have been developing since December 1996 may not fit with the larger game plan the group is promoting.
According to observers, the alliance is still in its formative stage, but the broad target is to create an open memory architecture that meets JEDEC standards.
Bert McComas, an analyst with research firm InQuest, Gilbert, Ariz., said such an approach wouldn't work well with Rambus' proprietary business model, through which the company licenses its technology to DRAM makers for a fee and then collects royalties based on unit sales.
Moreover, sources say, Intel has been moving to support new generations of SDRAM and may be using the alliance to expand its scope in that direction.
The company this month is slated to sample its Solano chipset, representing the first time an Intel chipset will support PC133 SDRAM in a desktop environment. And as reported recently by EBN, Intel has scrapped development of a mobile-PC chipset that supports Direct RDRAM, in favor of an SDRAM-enabled device known as the Solano-M.
Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., also is said to be working closely with third-party chipset maker Reliance Computer Corp., San Jose, to develop a double-data-rate SDRAM chipset for servers.
Dave Pulling, RCC's vice president of marketing, said his company's product will enter production in mid-2000, at least a half-year before Intel's roadmap indicates it will field a server chipset independently. Sources said Intel's collaboration might include adopting or adapting RCC's chipset design in order to gain faster entry into the DDR-enabled server market.
Others said Intel is also developing a DDR chipset for desktop PCs, believed to be a variant of the Solano.