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1GB memory due in early 1999

Early next year, Hitachi plans to begin offering memory chip technology that would rival the size of many hard drives used today.

Early next year, Hitachi Semiconductor plans to begin offering chip technology that would allow a personal computer's main memory to store as much as one gigabyte of data--an amount rivaling the size of many hard drives in use today.

The company also said it would start selling next-generation 256-megabit dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips as soon as next month.

Hitachi's 1GB memory module would be about 30 times the size of today's PC standard. With such capacity, future PCs will be capable of handling such tasks as the most realistic 3D graphics and full-motion video applications. High-capacity memory chips will also be necessary for next-generation operating systems.

Hitachi said it has assembled its 1GB memory module from 36 256-megabit DRAMs. DRAM technology is used for main memory in all PCs today. As recently as last year, new notebook PCs came with hard drives about the same size as the Hitachi memory chip. Most PCs come with 32MB of memory, using 16 16-megabit chips.

Initially, the new memory module will be targeted for use in high-performance workstations and servers, Hitachi said. The chips are slated for volume production in the first quarter of 1999; everyday PCs won't see the technology for a while, as Hitachi will set the initial prices at over $6,000 early next year.

On the other hand, memory manufacturers and are now in the midst of a transition from 16-megabit to 64-megabit chips, and Hitachi's use of the 256-megabit chip signals memory technology is continuing to advance.

Incorporating 64-megabit chips, PCs are starting to ship with more standard memory. For example, Compaq Computer is shipping a new Presario notebook with Windows 98 and 64MB of standard memory. Many desktop PCs also come with 64MB of memory now. A computer with 64MB of memory would use eight 64-megabit chips.

Economics is driving the change. Japanese and Korean memory makers are eager to advance memory capacity because they can charge premium prices on advanced technology. The last three years have seen precipitous price drops on 16-megabit DRAMs, last year's mainstream technology, wreaking havoc on financial results for a number of Asian companies.

Generally, the sooner memory makers can make the switch to 256-megabit chips, the sooner they can ship a higher proportion of chips at premium prices.

A company spokesman said Hitachi will make several tens of thousands of the 256-megabit chips per month by the end of this year, and planned to increase monthly production to more than 500,000 units by late 1999.

Samples of the 256-megabit chip will be priced at 36,000 yen per unit (about $2,125).

Reuters contributed to this story.