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Tech Industry

Memory standards fight for the future

Taiwan's Computex computer show displays a battle between two competing formats for next-generation memory: one supported by chip giant Intel, the other a less-expensive open standard.

The Computex computer show in Taiwan last week became a battleground between two competing formats for next-generation memory, one supported by semiconductor giant Intel, the other a less-expensive open standard.

Hynix Semiconductor and Infineon were among the companies promoting Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM, a relatively inexpensive open standard arrived at by the semiconductor industry body, the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association.

Hynix, formerly Hyundai Electronics Industries, said it was set to ramp up its DDR production as demand surges. "Our goal is to dominate the DDR SDRAM market this year," said Hynix's vice president of worldwide memory marketing, Farhad Tabrizi, in a statement.

Meanwhile Infineon, controlled by Germany's Siemens, said the falling price of DDR means it could replace SDRAM as the standard for PC memory by 2003. SDRAM holds about 90 percent of the memory market presently, with DDR and its competitor, Rambus DRAM (RDRAM), holding about 5 percent each. Infineon believes DDR will capture nearly 50 percent of the market in 2003.

RDRAM has long been supported by Intel, which designed its recently launched Pentium 4 processor to run only with Rambus memory. But until recently, RDRAM was so expensive that it was far less attractive than DDR, which does not carry the license fees that weigh on its competitor.

That situation is changing, however. For one thing, there are still few chipsets that support DDR--among them the C3 from Via Technologies, which also supports RDRAM. Industry sources also note that production volume of DDR is about double the growth of market demand, which could lead to oversupply problems.

In the meantime, RDRAM prices are dropping as the technology goes into mass production, though RDRAM is still roughly a third more expensive than SDRAM. On Tuesday, three manufacturers--Asustek Computer, Gigabyte Technology and Micro-Star International--introduced motherboards for Pentium 4 and Rambus that don't cost much more than SDRAM-based motherboards. Asustek vice president Jonathan Tsang said the cost of the motherboards was "competitive...versus SDRAM boards."

DDR and RDRAM are both trying to solve a problem that has arisen as PC chips have increased in speed, leaving memory speed as the main bottleneck to PC performance.

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.