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Intel fast RAM plans may be put on hold

In an attempt to smooth the transition between today's fastest computer memory and the next generation, Intel Corp. may lengthen the transition period between the two, said industry experts on Friday.

The result could mean that mainstream PC users will not have access to cutting-edge computer memory - the memory that speeds applications - as quickly as originally planned, experts said.

The reason: With Intel (INTC) supporting both the old and new memory technologies at least in the near future, PC makers may stick with current technology, called Synchronous DRAM, until a technology road map becomes clear.

"It would make sense for Intel to work on an incremental upgrade strategy," said Peter Glaskowsky, analyst at semiconductor watcher MicroDesign Resources Inc.

Synchronous DRAM, or SDRAM, is the memory found in most mainstream and high-end computers being shipped today. "The original plan called for SDRAM to be phased out over one year-not a lot of time," said Glaskowsky.

The comments came after a report indicated that Intel's next spec for faster PC memory-dubbed the P133L -- will not call for exclusive support of a fast-memory technology known as Direct RDRAM.

The technology developed by memory design firm Rambus Inc. (RMBS) promises to triple, or even quadruple, the speed at which data moves to and from a PC's memory.

Instead, explained the report in the EE Times Online, a hybrid solution supporting both SDRAM and Direct RDRAM would be pushed to PC and motherboard makers.

Nonsense, said Glaskowsky. "[The report] doesn't make sense. For one, the two DRAM technologies are not electrically compatible," he said. "Every motherboard maker would have to put two sets of [interfaces] on each board." That would be far too expensive.

Still, said the analyst, giving OEMs time to adapt to the new technology would make a lot of sense.

"We clearly believe that our DRAM gives the best performance pop but our goal is an inexpensive PC, so we will consider all comers," said Intel spokesman Howard High.

Memory technology creator Rambus was more forthright. "PCs will ship in 1999 with the Direct DRAM," said Subodh Toprani, vice president and general manager of Rambus' logic products group. "We have not deviated from the schedule."