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Rambus memory technology delayed

Computers using the Rambus memory standard and the latest version of Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port have been delayed until late in the third quarter, Intel says.

PALM SPRINGS, California--Computers using the Rambus memory standard and the latest version of Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port have been delayed until late in the third quarter, Intel said today, a delay that will temporarily slow down parts of the Intel world.

Intel Fellow Pete MacWilliams said today that chipsets from Intel that support high speed memory based around the Rambus design will not be available until the late third quarter. While Intel earlier said that Rambus chipsets would be out in 1999, its first Rambus chipset, code-named Camino, was widely expected to come out in the middle of the year.

While the delay of the Camino chipset will not likely have any long-term effects, it will likely cause product delays and some disruptions for the summer.

Camino's delay, for instance, will obviously mean that PCs equipped with fast Rambus memory won't appear until late in the third quarter. Graphics chipmakers will also see a slowdown in their product releases. These companies are currently preparing graphics chips for AGP 4X, the next version of the high speed graphics port developed by Intel. The ability to take advantage of AGP 4X will only come with Camino, and Camino is no longer a mid-year event. Earlier in the day, graphics vendors said they were expected to released products in June.

"You can picture them together [Rambus support and AGP 4X] in 1999," said MacWilliams.

Intel will also have to wait a few more months until it upgrades the system bus that connects to the Pentium III. The Pentium III currently uses a system bus, which is the main data path for the processor, that runs at 100 MHz. The bus will next be upgraded to run at 133 MHz. The upgrade, however, comes with the Camino chipset. Camino will run at 100 Mhz and 133 MHz, allowing PCs to come with 600-MHz or 800-MHz Rambus memory.

The delay will also slow some of the benefits that are supposed to accrue with the Pentium III. "Coppermine" and "Cascades"--the code names of the next versions of Pentium III--may also be delayed. Coppermine, a desktop chip that will include 256KB of secondary, integrated cache, and Cascades, a Xeon chip with 512KB of integrated cache, may also be delayed until the release of Camino.

Coppermine represents a significant boost over the current Pentium III systems, said Michael Slater, an analyst of MicroDesign Resources. It is expected to run at 600 MHz, a number that may justify the Pentium III's higher price in consumers' minds. The chip will also be made on the advanced 0.18-micron process.

It is unclear whether Intel will release these chips toward the middle of the year, or wait until Camino is ready.

Still, it is by no means a crisis, said Slater and others. Intel has already committed to Rambus. Rambus also faces little competition. The effort to promote SLDRAM as a competitor to Rambus has largely fallen apart, said Mark Edelstone, semiconductor analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

In addition, few computers using Rambus memory were expected this year, said Edelstone. Only 4 percent of PCs are expected to adopt the memory this year. Still, a delay is a delay, and will have some effect on the parties involved.

"It definitely slows the ramp of AGP 4X," Edelstone said.