AMD on Monday will come out with chipsets that allow computer makers to combine the company's Athlon processors with Double Data Rate (DDR) DRAM, a faster version of standard computer memory, or SDRAM, according to sources. Although it can substantially improve PC performance, DDR doesn't cost a great deal more to manufacture than SDRAM.
While supplies of the new chipsets and DDR DRAM itself will remain fairly limited this year, at least one major computer manufacturer will announce a computer incorporating the new parts, according to a source.
Over time, more machines will follow. Earlier this month, AMD executives said DDR DRAM-based computers would emerge in the fourth quarter.
DDR DRAM "is on everybody's production road map," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. "We're very early on in the DDR PC infrastructure."
DDR DRAM is the comeback kid in the memory world. In 1998 and early 1999, many computer companies and analysts said the future of PC memory belonged to chips based on designs from Rambus. Intel was planning to design its future PC components exclusively around Rambus memory. Memory makers were covering their bases by committing to both, with some hinting that DDR could become an interim step.
But events combined against Rambus. Memory manufacturers began to complain more frequently about the difficulty involved in making Rambus memory, while PC makers balked at the cost. Intel's chipset for creating Rambus-based PCs was delayed several times.
Rambus-based PCs finally arrived in late 1999, but in very small numbers. Meanwhile, AMD, which chose not to wed Athlon to Rambus, was gaining market share.
Benchmarks released by Intel in July showed Rambus provided little, if any, performance over cheaper SDRAM.
Earlier this month, Intel CEO Craig Barrett called the company's concentration on Rambus "a mistake" in an interview with the Financial Times. Now, most industry experts and executives agree that DDR DRAM will become the fast memory inside PCs and servers by 2001.
AMD will not be the first company to release a chipset that allows PC makers to incorporate DDR DRAM into computer. Taiwan's Via Technologies came out with a DDR chipset recently. However, Via's chipset hasn't been widely adopted in the United States.
Besides allowing PC makers to connect DDR to the Athlon, the new chipset will also let AMD increase its system bus speed to 266 MHz from 200 MHz. The system bus is the main conduit between the processor and the rest of the computer.
In turn, this will allow AMD to increase the speeds of its processors more readily. Rather than have each processor increase by 100 MHz, each new chip will be 133-MHz faster than its predecessor, said Mark Bode, divisional marketing manager at AMD.