A confrontation over memory module testing is shaping up between the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association and an independent lab that performs motherboard compatibility testing for Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp.
Computer Memory Test Labs (CMTL), Huntington Beach, Calif., said products submitted for its compatibility testing program will no longer be required to meet JEDEC design specifications. The lab's decision comes at a time when JEDEC is thinking of creating its own test program to certify that memory chips and modules comply with the industry group's standards.
CMTL president John Deters claimed that in the case of memory modules, JEDEC compliance "is no guarantee that they will pass compatibility tests on motherboards. There are many modules noncompliant to JEDEC specifications that perform well on the target motherboard."
He added that CMTL will now only require module makers to indicate which specifications the module meets before the lab accepts it for testing.
Desi Rhoden, JEDEC chairman, took an opposite view. He said that getting JEDEC approval has become even more important because a growing number of non-JEDEC-compliant modules that exhibit failures or degraded performance are showing up in the market.
"The only protection end users have is with a testing program that will certify modules will meet the full JEDEC specifications," he said. Some module manufacturers "are cutting corners to save costs by not meeting JEDEC specs" in order to sharply reduce their prices, Rhoden added.
Deters argued that the strict JEDEC specs are preventing innovative module makers from improving designs and engineering methods that would help differentiate their products. He said compatibility testing of modules when they are dropped into a motherboard ensures in a real-world environment that the products work properly.
Memory module makers that submit their parts for compatibility testing are waiting to see how JEDEC will implement its compliance testing program, if the group does go ahead with its plans. The chief concern among industry executives is the cost of JEDEC's testing program.
Arthur Sainio, senior strategic marketing manager at SMART Modular Technologies Inc., Fremont, Calif., believes JEDEC's compliance testing "could be beneficial as long as it isn't cumbersome and too expensive."
Sainio is also concerned that new JEDEC tests could in some ways duplicate the existing module validation programs of OEMs, motherboard makers, Intel, and others.
Bob Goodman, chief operating officer of Kentron Technology Co. Inc., Wilmington, Mass., said module makers are highly reluctant to absorb any additional costs for another test program, especially in the midst of today's market slump and price-competitive market.
"In the memory module business, no one wants to pay for anything because of the economy. Costs are very important, but so is quality," Goodman said.
"Some players within JEDEC might believe or may have information that says there are problems with modules coming from different sources. That's why this whole discussion is taking place. There are some quality and process issues related to some module makers in different parts of the world. It's one way to provide certification, if the modules abide by certain guidelines."
JEDEC and CMTL had contrasting opinions on the number of memory module makers in the market.
Rhoden claimed there are more than a hundred module companies worldwide, making it impossible to assure total product quality without a JEDEC compliance testing and certification program. However, CMTL's Deters said that "only about 25 module manufacturers and 15 motherboard makers make up most of the sales in the system-builder and retail markets. With so few manufacturers left, the markets have grown to depend on compatibility module testing and certification programs" offered by CMTL and others, he said.
A JEDEC task force is exploring how the group would set up a compliance testing program using a third-party independent lab. Next month, JEDEC's board of directors is scheduled to hear from the task force, and the JC42 memory committee will take up the matter at its meeting in June.
JEDEC's task force is still trying to determine how the testing program would be financially supported.