SAN JOSE, Calif. Fujitsu Microelectronics Inc. and Infineon Technologies NA Corp. will roll out two new application-specific DRAMs later this year, adding to the list of specialty memory parts each company is now separately gearing up to produce.
Fujitsu will announce by the end of the year another variant of its fast-cycle RAM (FCRAM) targeted at a fresh class of systems, said Fumio Baba, vice president of Fujitsu's systems devices group here. The company is currently sampling versions of FCRAM targeted at replacing DRAM in high-end routers and is shipping another variant of FCRAM aimed at replacing SRAM in cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs).
For the sampling parts, "We have more than 10 design wins in high-end routers and switches including both big companies and startups," said Baba. "It will take time for these designs to go into production, which may be delayed by the business downturn," he said.
Fujitsu is partnering with Toshiba on the development of FCRAMs. Both companies will sell compatible parts independently.
Similarly, Infineon believes it has identified a new niche for another application-specific memory type it will announce in about four months, said Peter Schaefer, vice president of memory products at Infineon (San Jose). The company is still in the early phases of deploying two other application-specific memories that will compete with Fujitsu's FCRAMs.
Infineon will sample in the next quarter Mobile RAMs, a DRAM variant using a chip-scale package and aimed at low-power operation for cell phones and PDAs. Production of the parts, which are in the standardization process at the Joint Electronic Device Engineering Council (Jedec), is slated for early next year. And the company is now courting design wins among router, switch and network-processor makers for its reduced-latency DRAMs (RLDRAMs), which should sample next quarter and hit production early next year.
Micron Technology Inc. said Wednesday (May 30) that it will partner with Infineon to co-develop a compatible family of RLDRAMs. The initial devices will target data rates of 600 Mbits/second/pin and higher. The companies did not indicate when they expect the first devices from the partnership to hit the market.
"Micron is committing to this technology because it will drive the development of the memory products our customers need to design their future data networking systems," said Jerry Johnson, Micron's director of strategic marketing, networking products.
"The industry is facing diversification," said Schaefer. "The industry is looking for different solutions for different areas. These specialty DRAMs are promising niches that will develop pretty fast," he said.
Schaefer estimates application-specific DRAMs could grow to take between 5 to 10 percent of the total DRAM market by 2004.
The trend is being driven as much by vendor push as market pull said Steven Przybylski, principal of Verdande Group Inc. (San Jose), a memory consulting business.
"With the degree of consolidation over the last few years, the top five memory makers now have 75 to 80 percent of the market, and what used to be the second and third tier of memory makers are groping for breath," Przybylski said. "As the PC shows signs of slowing and these second- and third-tier players turn away from it, there is more and more attraction to these specialty domains. Comms is a great one because it is generally growing, it is memory-intensive, and it is not as price-sensitive as the PC," he said.
By taking the application-specific approach to DRAMs for communications, "both Fujitsu and Infineon are trying to do the same thing in different ways," Przybylski said. The resulting market "may be a few percent, but it's a slice of a very big pie," and both companies are likely to eke out a share of this market, he added.
Infineon claims its RLDRAMs sport higher peak bandwidth and lower supply voltage and current consumption than Fujitsu's high-end FCRAM parts. However, Fujitsu, which is working in partnership with Toshiba, claims it has a head start on building its market.
"Maybe Infineon will be a competitor in the future, but we have samples and design wins today, so we are in a good position," said Fujitsu's Baba.
Slow shift to DDR
Meanwhile, in the mainstream DRAM space, Infineon's Schaefer said he expects a slow transition from SDRAM to double-data-rate (DDR) DRAM to begin in PCs this year, with a new version of Windows helping nudge the PC market out of its doldrums.
"We don't believe in a fast transition to DDR this year," Schaefer said, noting Infineon plans to release 256-Mbit parts for servers while others focus on 128-Mbit parts for desktops. Infineon will not try to match Micron, which has put DDR at price parity with SDRAM, he said.
"I definitely see a price adder for DDR over SDRAM. How much is difficult to predict, but DDR definitely has higher test costs," he said.
"We see overall PC demand picking up in the second half as Windows XP generates some new market dynamics. PCs have been in a difficult market for the last three quarters, but it's time for a refresh cycle now," Schaefer said.