A week after three leading DRAM makers cited weak OEM demand for Direct Rambus DRAM, Rambus Inc.'s top marketing executive said the industry is nevertheless poised to adopt the technology.
Avo Kanadjian, vice president of worldwide marketing at the Mountain View, Calif., design company, said it's more likely that those seeing sparse demand for Direct RDRAM chips do not yet have volume production lines at the ready. "Some Rambus partners still need to qualify die shrinks and new [chip]-modification mask steps," he said, commenting on reports from Hyundai MicroElectronics Co. Ltd., Infineon Technologies AG, and Micron Technology Inc. that PC OEMs have expressed little interest in the high-speed interface.
"But other suppliers do have competitive RDRAMs, which they're shipping in volume to the market," he said, referring to leading Rambus vendors NEC Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., and Toshiba Corp.
In fact, Rambus only late last month qualified a new Direct RDRAM die shrink from Hyundai, Kanadjian said. "Obviously they want to be competitive in the growing Direct Rambus market," he said. "RDRAM prices continue to go down in an orderly fashion as production ramps up. At the same time, the PC market is shifting from sub-$1,000 models to higher-performance systems, where Rambus excels."
Kanadjian added that while Direct RDRAM predominantly plays in the $2,200-and-above PC-workstation market, Rambus memory will take off next year when price declines bring the packet-data memory chip to the $1,500 to $2,000 market. Intel Corp.'s new Pentium 4 processor, for example, for the first time will fully use Direct RDRAM's bandwidth, Kanadjian said.
"The dual-memory-channel Pentium 4 matches the 3.2-Gbyte/s processor bus with the 3.2-Gbyte/s data rate of the [dual-channel] RDRAM," he said.
Rambus also claimed that earlier comparisons of Direct RDRAM with SDRAM using Pentium III-based systems were distorted. "Pentium III has a 1.1-Gbyte/s processor bus, which couldn't take advantage of the 1.6-Gbyte/s single-channel or the 3.2-Gbyte/s dual-channel RDRAM capability," Kanadjian said. "It was an unfair comparison with PC133 SDRAMs, which only have a [peak] 1.1-Gbyte/s rate." He said Direct RDRAM has a future in HDTV and digital-TV set-top boxes. "Sony and Panasonic are using RDRAM in their HDTV sets and set-top boxes. As this market grows, we look for the TV market alone to use more than 100 million Rambus chips a year."
Kanadjian said price comparisons of Direct RDRAM with rival SDRAM are difficult because of the wildly fluctuating price of synchronous chips. "Next year we expect Rambus will be at less than a 20% premium over SDRAM," he said. "As RDRAM prices continue to go down, I foresee the premium will shift and the other memory types will be selling at a premium."
Kanadjian also refuted critics who claimed Rambus suffers a price disadvantage because of its larger size relative to SDRAM of comparable densities. He cited a Dataquest Inc. report that showed that chip size has little bearing on price when it comes to products in high-volume production.