Intel Corp. is covering all bets on its upcoming Springdale and Canterwood core-logic chipsets by ensuring the devices support three memory speed grades--DDR400, DDR333, and the workhorse of the bunch, DDR266.
The chipsets, which are set to launch in the second quarter, will be shielded against possible shortages or pricing issues that might arise with the volume ramp of DDR400 memory by affording buyers the option of using either of the other two DDR memory speeds.
The added flexibility was part of the PC product briefings shared last week at the Intel Developer Forum, held here. Despite the added provisions, the company "is not really concerned about the supply of DDR400" at the time Springdale and Canterwood become available, said Pete MacWilliams, a senior Intel fellow and director of platform architecture.
"We'll be glad to see all the DDR400 chips at the
right price that the industry can produce, but we don't depend on any particular memory speed," he said.
The Springdale and Canterwood chipsets are designed for multiprocessor support beginning with the Northwood version of the Pentium 4, and later in the year extending to Intel's Prescott MPU. Both chipsets support dual-channel memory and Intel's upcoming 800-MHz frontside bus.
The Springdale is aimed at mainstream desktop PCs, while Canterwood is targeted at high-performance desktop workstations.
Intel's effort to accommodate multiple memory options could have a secondary effect by triggering a price and marketing battle among customers as system manufacturers and suppliers pursue different product strategies, according to analysts and chipmakers.
The range of memory alternatives could help OEMs and channel builders play DRAM suppliers against each other to secure better prices, said Sherry Garber, an analyst at Semico Research Corp., Phoenix. "If DDR400 has too high a price premium, systems makers will use less costly DDR333 with Springdale and Canterwood," Garber said. "It will be very difficult for DRAM suppliers to get the premiums they want."
Tom Quinn, vice president of marketing at Samsung Semiconductor Inc., San Jose, agreed. "It's going to be interesting to see how the different speed memories play out in the market. It gives OEMs a tremendous amount of marketing latitude, depending on which price points they want to promote."
Intel is also moving to tighten the DDR400 timing specs as part of the industry standard being drafted by the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association, according to industry sources. At Intel's request, JEDEC is proposing stricter timing parameters, which could make it even more challenging for producers to achieve high yields--although DRAM makers are said to be in favor of the new standard.
The result of the balloting process will be known in March when the JEDEC memory panel meets in Eindoven, Netherlands.
As Intel opened the door for more memory support in its chipset roadmap, several DRAM makers announced their DDR400 chips and modules have been validated by the company. This includes Hynix Semiconductor, Infineon Technologies, and Samsung Electronics.
Samsung's Quinn said the Korean chipmaker has been in DDR400 component and module production since the fourth quarter. The other Intel-compliant DDR400 vendors are sampling products now.
Elpida Memory, Micron Technology, and Mosel-Vitelic said they have Intel spec-compliant DDR400 chips available.
In addition to its higher frequency, the DDR 400's strength is its match as a multiplier of the 800MHz clock of Intel's frontside bus (FSB). Intel's MacWilliams, however, said that the chipsets' dual-channel memory architecture will deliver high performance even when using DDR333 or DDR266. "It's ideal to have a match, but not essential," he said. "The Brookdale 845 chipsets can support memories without matching an FSB speed."
Looking ahead, Intel should have chipsets supporting next-generation DDR2 memory when it is introduced next year, according to MacWilliams, who expects "it will take a few more years before DDR2 reaches mass production in all PC price points."
Bill Siu, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop platforms group, said the first processor to use DDR2 memory could be Tejas, slated to be rolled out in 2004 as the follow-on to Prescott. Intel's memory roadmap shows DDR3 debuting in 2006 or 2007.