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Micron enters graphics memory business

The No. 3 maker of DRAM chip is entering the graphics memory business, taking on heavyweights Samsung and Hynix.

Micron Technology is entering the graphics memory business, going up against heavyweights Samsung and Hynix.

Micron is targeting its memory at the upper mid-range of the graphics chip market
Micron is targeting its memory at the upper mid-range of the graphics chip market Nvidia

Micron, which recently vaulted to the No. 3 spot in global sales of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), is now aiming at the market for DRAM chips used with graphics processors from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices' ATI graphics unit.

The market for DRAM used with graphics processors is about 4 percent of the bits shipped into the DRAM market, according to Micron. DRAM is typically used as the main memory in PCs. This type of DRAM is also referred to as Synchronous DRAM, or SDRAM.

"Our upcoming 50-nanometer technology is very competitive when it comes to power consumption and performance," Robert Feurle, Micron's VP of DRAM marketing, said in a phone interview Thursday.

"I think it's a good point in time to begin discussions with big enablers Nvidia and AMD and get started with some design-ins," Feurle said.

Micron is making its debut with Double Date Rate 3 (DDR3) memory. This is the same type of memory used for the main memory of currently shipping PCs, which have gravitated from DDR2. In the future, Micron will look at making more proprietary graphics memory, referred to as GDDR3 and GDDR5. "No decision has been made yet but we're looking into that very seriously," Feurle said.

Initially, Micron is targeting the "upper mid-range" of the graphics processor market.

Micron says its DDR3 has a distinct power consumption advantage over GDDR3: standard DDR3 can go down to 1.35 volts. "GDDR3 is still running a 1.8 volts. We have a giant power savings advantage," he said.

Micron is targeting memory with speeds of 1600MHz "to get started with and going up from there," Feurle said.

The DRAM market overall has seen sliding sales, falling 20 percent in the first quarter from the fourth quarter and 44 percent from the year-earlier period, according to iSuppli. The problem is overcapacity, which has most notably brought Taiwan memory makers to their knees. In that country, some manufacturers have faced possible bankruptcy.

"Micron now has renewed its competitive vigor, mainly due to its acquisition of a 300mm fab from Inotera in Taiwan," iSuppli said recently. Fab refers to fabrication facility or factory.