It appears that Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will be the sole beneficiary of the first chipsets to support high-speed DDR400 PC memory.
Intel Corp. and third-party vendors said they have no plans -- at least for now --to offer DDR400 chipsets for Intel processors.
However, any competitive edge that DDR400 might give AMD would be limited to a niche white-box market selling to PC enthusiasts and power users, analysts said. Early DDR400 memory chips are expected to be high-priced because of low production volumes. Also, the lack of an industry standard is seen as a barrier to wider adoption of DDR400.
At least two chipset suppliers, Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. (SiS) and Nvidia Corp., last week said they will support DDR400 for AMD processors.
SiS is independently validating the DDR400 parts and its chipset in lieu of a JEDEC standard.
"The parts met all evaluation criteria, and we look forward to integrating DDR400 DRAM technology into our SiS846FX and SiS746FX chipsets [for AMD processors]," said Stephen Chen, vice president of sales at SiS, Hsinchu, Taiwan.
The company hopes to use DDR400 in its AMD product line to differentiate it from chipsets supporting Intel, according to Alex Wu, SiS' senior marketing director of integrated products.
The nForce 2 chipset from Nvidia, Santa Clara, Calif., supports DDR400 but has not started to ship in volume. The Nvidia chipset only connects with AMD processors.
Via Technologies Inc. is eschewing DDR400 support for either AMD or Intel MPUs, largely due to the lack of a JEDEC standard.
"We'd love to support DDR400, but there's no industry standard," said a spokesman for Via, Taipei, Taiwan. "That could cause problems for our motherboard customers."
Analysts believe the major market for DDR400 will be the upper end of customized white-box PCs bought by gamers and early adopters.
"This is a niche market and DDR400 will have a relatively small play," said Shane Rau, a Mountain View, Calif.-based analyst at IDC. "But it could have a spillover image benefit for AMD in increasing PC performance ratings at the high end."
Perhaps the biggest DDR400 roadblock is the cold shoulder Intel has so far given the high-speed memory. Intel's roadmap shows the upcoming DDR333 DRAM as the mainstay memory until 2004, when DDR-II is expected to come into the market.
"Until Intel endorses DDR400 for main memory, it will never become a major factor in the market," said Nam Hyung Kim, an analyst at iSuppli Corp., El Segundo, Calif.
Chipset makers may be keeping their options open on supporting Intel processors in the future. SiS said it plans to offer DDR400 support for the next Prescott processor when Intel introduces it in the second half of 2003. Some analysts also believe Via's latest KT400 chipset has DDR400 capability that is disabled or hasn't been announced.
Even Intel hasn't totally shut the door on DDR400. Kyle Fukuda, platform memory strategic planning manager, told EBN at the Intel Developer Forum earlier this month that the Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker "is investigating" whether DDR400 is feasible, although there are technical concerns about power consumption and heat dissipation. He also cited the lack of a JEDEC standard as a negative factor.
There are enough DDR400 memory chips available, however, to meet early demand. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is the predominant DDR400 producer and is yielding as much as 15% of its DDR production at the higher DDR400 speed grade, according to Tom Quinn, vice president of sales at Samsung Semiconductor Inc. in San Jose.
"We have more than enough DDR-400 parts to support customers now," Quinn said.
Samsung makes and validates its own DDR400 modules but needs the third-party chipsets to jump-start the market.
Quinn said Samsung hopes JEDEC will draft a standard to make DDR400 a mainstream memory for PCs. Yet there has been almost no movement within JEDEC to come up with such a specification. JEDEC deliberations are confidential, but sources in the standards body said the September meeting didn't address DDR400.
An inhibiting factor at JEDEC may be other DRAM producers that don't want to draft a DDR400 standard that, at this point, would largely benefit Samsung.
Additional reporting by Faith Hung