TAIPEI, Taiwan Intel Corp. chief executive officer Craig Barrett signaled on Monday (July 30) that he was quite content to let synchronous DRAMs and not Rambus DRAMs serve as the dominant memory in Pentium 4 systems.
"The consumer will decide" the fate of Rambus, Barrett said at the beginning of a two-day visit to Taiwan.
In the short term, it seems like motherboard makers have already decided which memory they prefer. Taiwan's top-tier motherboard makers, such as Asustek Computer Inc. and Gigabyte Technology Co., estimate that SDRAM-based boards will represent 70 percent to 80 percent of Pentium 4 system shipments by the end of the year. Like many in the PC industry, Barrett believes Intel's 845 chip set, which will support SDRAM as main memory, will trigger sales by making Pentium 4 systems cheaper. "SDRAM obviously allows you to hit lower price points than RDRAM at this stage," Barrett said. "If that cascades the Pentium 4 family into the sweet spot of the market . . . then the consumer will have spoken."
Intel is expected to officially launch the 845 chip set, code named Brookdale, in September, but Taiwanese motherboard makers will be getting volume deliveries in early August and making product shipments by the end of August. Sometime in the first quarter of 2002, Intel is expected to launch a version of Brookdale that supports double-data-rate SDRAM.
The rollout of the SDRAM chip set marks the tail-end of Intel's rocky relationship with Rambus Inc. Barrett said he couldn't predict the popularity of Brookdale, but "clearly if the 845 chip set allows the Pentium 4 family to go to these lower price points and those are the high-volume price points in the market, then you'd expect it to ramp very quickly."
Rambus hindered the Pentium 4 from achieving high-volume price points, despite Intel's slashing of CPU prices and memory makers like Samsung Electronics producing cheaper versions of Rambus. Even newcomers to world of Rambus production view it as a specialized memory for high-performance, high-end systems. "We didn't expect that Rambus would become mainstream but we do believe that there will be a niche market with just a few players there," said Su Yuan-mou, an executive at Winbond Electronics, one of Taiwan's largest DRAM makers.
Barrett said he does not think Brookdale will affect Intel's relationship with Rambus. "We've said for an extended period of time that we will obviously continue to offer the RDRAM product," he said.
An executive at Asustek, which works closely with Intel, said in the second half of next year Intel "will smoothly phase out the 850 chip set featuring RDRAM support until there is very limited supply in the market."