AMD fires new salvo in memory wars

AMD demonstrates first Athlon system with DDR, as new memory technology prepares to do battle with Rambus

Chip maker AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) turned up the heat in the growing PC memory battle, with the first demonstration of an Athlon system with support for double data rate (DDR) memory. DDR competes with the more expensive Rambus memory (RDRAM), supported by dominant chip maker Intel.

AMD plans to roll out a new chipset, the AMD-760, supporting DDR in the second half of this year, at which time DDR memory modules will also be available. DDR and Rambus memory both increase overall system speed by greatly increasing the rate at which memory can be accessed. Memory speed is becoming a serious bottleneck as processor speeds have increased, recently hitting the 1GHz mark.

Unlike Rambus memory, DDR will debut with a fairly small price increase over the synchronous dynamic RAM (SDRAM) standard today. RDRAM will be around 300 percent more expensive than today's memory. AMD says the price difference has created demand. "Our OEM partners have requested that AMD develop next-generation chipsets that deliver high-performance platforms at competitive costs," said David Somo, vice president of product marketing for the Computations Product Group at AMD, in a statement.

Rambus memory has been available since November, but some analysts believe DDR will find a niche because of its low cost. A key element in the memory performance equation [for high-end PC users and workstations] is to deliver superior performance without adding significantly to system cost. DDR technology should to be the solution to deliver this combination," stated Bert McComas, principal analyst at InQuest Market Research.

There will actually be two flavours of DDR to start. The first, PC 1600, will offer a bandwidth of 1.6GB per second -- twice as much as today's standard 100MHz SDRAM memory. The second kind, PC 2100, delivers 2.6GB per second of peak bandwidth. Rambus delivers 1.6GB of peak bandwidth, while the current peak bandwidth of SDRAM is 800MB per second.

IBM has put its weight behind DDR, announcing it will utilise it in all of its servers when the technology becomes available. But IBM is interested in DDR for more than servers: It has designed DDR memory modules, known as DIMMs, or dual inline memory modules, that will be included in all its PCs and servers.

Intel has bet heavily on Rambus, saying it is the right technology for high-performance desktop PCs. To support that boast, it is pairing Rambus with forthcoming processors including its high-end PC chip, codenamed Willamette, and the low-cost processor, codenamed Timna. The two chips are expected in the second half of the year. Timna, however, will support SDRAM to start.

Also, although Rambus is in greater supply now than it had been at introduction, only Dell Computer is shipping in any quantities, analysts said. Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer have announced support, but have yet to ship any quantities.

John Spooner of ZDNet News US contributed to this report.

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