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Intel, memory makers form group to determine future chips

Intel and five of the largest memory makers are cooperating to determine the technical standards for the next generation of personal computer memory.

Intel and five of the largest memory makers are cooperating to determine the technical standards for the next generation of personal computer memory, an effort designed to calm some industry turmoil.

Intel, Samsung, Micron Technology, Infineon, NEC and Hyundai will announce tomorrow in Korea that they have formed a committee to develop advanced DRAM technology (ADT), according to industry sources close to the group. DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, is the most widely used memory chip in personal computers.

The goal is to develop an architectural framework for manufacturers to produce high-performance memory processors that will be "cost effective," according to one source.

The cooperative approach may stem from the desire to avoid the conflict that has come with the emergence of PC memory based on designs from Rambus. PC processor giant Intel is promoting the high-speed Rambus technology for use in high-end systems, but its development and licensing has frustrated memory makers, motherboard manufacturers and PC companies.

Memory based around the ADT guidelines would not appear in the market until 2003 at the earliest. Right now, the ADT group does not have a memory design in place, according to people familiar with the group's plans. A new generation in memory technology typically comes out every four to seven years, say experts.

Rambus memory, or RDRAM, can boost PC performance and is expected to play a significant role in the PC industry in coming years, according to industry analysts. Inevitably it will be examined by the committee, and it's likely to be a contentious issue.

Rambus owns the technology underlying RDRAM and collects royalties from memory manufacturers and others. A number of companies have complained about the royalty payment, especially since, until recently, most memory makers were losing money. RDRAM chips, which are larger than standard SDRAM, cost more to manufacture and test, which drives up the price of PCs. The SDRAM design does not require the same sort of royalty payment.

To top it off, Rambus and Intel at various times have had to postpone components necessary for building RDRAM computers, resulting in costly and embarrassing delays for PC makers.

As a result, many PC companies have resorted to using standard SDRAM in computers that could easily, had things worked out, come equipped with RDRAM. RDRAM is designed to supplant SDRAM.

Rambus is not a member of the group right now, but conceivably could become one. Nonetheless, because the group is looking for "cost-effective" solutions, there is an indication that any sort of royalty plans will be different.