Intel laptops get faster memory while Rambus languishes

A new chipset from Via will let Intel-based laptops use fast DDR memory. A version for the competing RDRAM memory is unlikely to follow
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Intel laptops got a speed boost on Wednesday, as Taiwan's Via Technologies released the first chipset allowing the Pentium mobile chips to use a next-generation form of memory called DDR (double data-rate) DRAM.

The new chipset is another victory for the DDR standard over competing RDRAM. Analysts say that even though DDR is getting more expensive, and is now hardly cheaper than RDRAM, resistance to Rambus' memory type remains strong.

The Via ProSavageDDR PN266T couples Intel's Pentium III-M, Pentium III and Celeron chips, and Via's own C3 chip, with DDR226-standard memory, which is designed to allow the processor to access data stored in memory twice as fast as the dominant SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) standard. The chipset was announced on Wednesday and is shipping immediately in manufacturers' quantities (typically thousands of units).

The chipset follows Via's ProSavageDDR KN266, which added DDR to AMD's mobile chips.

As processor speeds rise sharply, the speed of memory has increasingly been seen as a bottleneck to overall system performance. The semiconductor industry came up with the DDR standard as a way out of the bottleneck, with Rambus creating its own competing RDRAM standard, backed by Intel.

However, the industry is moving toward an acceptance of DDR at the expense of RDRAM, according to industry observers, partly because of ongoing legal battles between DRAM makers and Rambus. "The DRAM industry as a whole is preferring a DDR solution to Rambus," said Andrew Norwood, senior analyst with Gartner Group.

In the case of laptops, Intel and others are focusing exclusively on DDR because RDRAM runs slightly hotter, a major design issue in the laptop market.

On the surface, RDRAM has been looking more attractive lately because the price of DDR has increased to the point where it is almost the same price as Rambus memory. However, Norwood says the price drop on RDRAM isn't necessarily a good sign.

"DDR has become more expensive because there is strong demand for the DDR part, and not enough DRAM companies have shifted their capacity, so there's a shortage," Norwood said. "Rambus is cheaper because people are finding it hard to give it away. It's due to the supply/demand issue rather than to the underlying cost structure."

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