128-megabit DRAMs due next year

Hitachi, NEC will begin producing 128-megabit DRAM chips in the first quarter of 1998.

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Hitachi (HIT) and NEC will begin producing 128-megabit DRAM chips in the first quarter of 1998 and hope to begin shipping in next year's second quarter.

The 128-megabit chip may end up being an interim chip, however, since it doesn?t follow the standard practice of quadrupling memory storage capacity for each new generation. In the past, the 1-megabit generation advanced to 4-megabit, which was then superseded by the 16-megabit chip.

A number of manufacturers are now de-emphasizing 16-megabit products and have moved on to 64-megabit DRAMs. Ordinarily the next step would be 256-megabit chips, but NEC, Hitachi, and others are electing to make 128-megabit DRAMs, according to a report yesterday in the online version of Nikkei Business Publications.

Texas Instruments, Fujitsu, Toshiba, and Oki Electric of Japan and Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Electronics of Korea also intend to make 128-megabit DRAMS over the next two years. The chips are slated for use in high-end computers, such as workstations.

The 128-megabit chip's initial per-bit price will likely be more than double the per-bit price of 64-megabit memory, just now making market inroads. NEC said it will supply 128-megabit DRAMs to an unnamed workstation maker for a price 2.3 times higher than 64-megabit DRAMs, Nikkei reported. But Texas Instruments Japan said it intends to sell these chips for less than two times the price.

The 128-megabit DRAMs are all expected to be high-speed synchronous DRAMs, or SDRAMs. Synchronous DRAM can keep pace with bus speeds as high as 100 MHz, while typical memory chips cannot even stay up with 66-MHz bus speeds. A bus is the pathway between the processor and another component, in this case memory.

UNIX workstation makers, who favor performance over price, will be the first to use the DRAMs, and will rely on the chip until the year 2000, when 256-megabit memory is expected to enter volume production.

PC makers, who are more cost-conscious, will probably wait until the end of 1999 to use the 128-megabit generation. Notebook PC makers, however, will adopt the new memory chip a half year earlier for use in thin models, Nikkei said.

In related news, Mitsubishi Electric upwardly revised 64-megabit DRAM production to 3 million units per month by the end of 1997, up from the 2 million per month set in May 1997, Nikkei reported today. Thus Mitsubishi will become a top producer of memory chips, joining NEC and Samsung.

Mitsubishi said it decided to step up 64-megabit DRAM production since it intends to shift away from its 16MB DRAMs, whose prices continue to fall. Interestingly, the company has said it does not intend to produce 128-megabit chips.