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Compaq tries on next-generation memory

The company introduces its first desktop computer using double data rate memory, becoming the largest computer maker so far to adopt it.

Compaq Computer on Wednesday introduced its first desktop computer using double data rate (DDR) memory, becoming the largest PC maker thus far to adopt the new, faster technology.

Houston-based Compaq is making the DDR memory, or DDR DRAM, available as part of its new consumer model, the Presario 7000z, which uses Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon chips ranging from 1GHz to 1.2GHz. The same model also includes as an option a Pioneer drive that can read and record both CDs and DVDs.

DDR memory promises to deliver higher performance to desktops and notebooks. Although processors and other PC components have seen dramatic leaps in performance year after year, memory has plodded along at a slower rate--an imbalance that has created data bottlenecks within computers. DDR memory can process twice the amount of data in the same amount of time as standard computer memory, called SDRAM.

Many in the industry have come to believe that DDR DRAM will become fairly prevalent over the next few years. Part of the interest stems from failure of memory based on designs from Rambus, called RDRAM, to grow in popularity. Rambus memory, it turned out, was expensive.

A slide in memory prices has recently made DDR less attractive. DDR DRAM is selling for about twice as much as SDRAM, according to price checks with computer dealers. New products typically carry a price premium early in their lives because of additional costs involved in testing and debugging.

New chipsets from Via Technologies have also improved the performance of SDRAM-based computers in recent weeks, thereby eroding the impetus to push forward, according to Bert McComas, principal analyst at Inquest.

"A lot of people can now wait because they are getting better performance" with SDRAM, McComas said, adding that PC makers likely won't adopt DDR memory en masse until it costs only about 10 percent more than SDRAM.

The 7000z starts at $1,299, including a 17-inch monitor. Models that include the recordable DVD drive start at $2,499. That's $1,000 less than Apple Computer's top-of-the-line Power Mac that includes the Pioneer drive along with Apple's iDVD software.

Compaq said the new computers will ship next week.

NEC France and Micron Technology launched systems with DDR memory in November, in combination with AMD's 760 chipset announced in October. Compaq had been expected to follow suit at some point early this year.