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Faster DRAM product announced

A South Korean firm is one of the first to announce a high-speed memory chip for the second-generation "Deschutes" Pentium II processor.

    A South Korean firm today announced a high-speed memory chip built to take advantage of Intel's next-generation Pentium II architecture, called Deschutes.

    LG Semicon introduced a 16MB SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory) chip it said processes data twice as fast as current SDRAMs, which are the fastest memory chips being used in mainstream Intel-based PCs today.

    The announcement puts LG Semicon in the vanguard of memory makers shifting to a new high-speed standard, in response to a new data-transfer specification from chipmaking giant Intel.

    The inability of many consumers to detect any real difference in performance between high-end and midrange Intel processors is one of the most significant challenges faced by Intel--as well as large PC vendors. For instance, the difference in speed between similarly configured 166-MHz and 233-MHz Pentium systems is often negligible because both processors have to "talk" to the same, slow 66-MHz "bus." The bus, in this case, is a data path between the processor and memory.

    This had led Intel to push a bus specification called "PC 100" that calls for memory chips to be able to talk to the processor at 100 MHz or faster. This extra-fast bus will first appear on the second-generation Deschutes Pentium II systems.

    The rate data travels from memory to the processor is critical to PC performance because processors handle data much faster than memory, and system slowdowns can occur as the processor waits on data residing in the main memory chips. Slow transfer rates via the bus minimize the value of high-end processors that run at 200 MHz and faster.

    Presently most desktop and notebook PCs use EDO (extended data-out) RAM, but EDO cannot even keep up with the relatively slow 66-MHz bus speeds of the current generation of Pentium-class processors. Current SDRAM chips are faster than EDO and can keep better pace with the Pentium's 66-MHz bus.

    The disparity will grow when Intel releases its next-generation Pentium II Deschutes processor in early 1998 with the 100-MHz bus.

    "The PC 100 specification is an attempt to get manufacturers to go from slow to faster bus speeds," said Jim Handy, an analyst at market research firm Dataquest. Memory makers have little choice but to comply with PC 100, he added, because memory is a commodity, and almost 75 percent of DRAM is sold to the PC market dominated by Intel processors.

    All the major memory manufacturers are expected to begin announcing production of 100-MHz SDRAMs in anticipation of Deschutes. Only Micron, which announced a 125-MHz SDRAM in late August, has preceded LG Semicon.

    "1997 started the market's conversion to SDRAM," said Sherry Garber, vice president of Semico Research, a market and engineering research firm. SDRAM chips will grow from 30 percent of the memory market in 1997 to 53 percent in 1998, Garber added.

    Semicon, the smallest of the three major Korean memory makers, says production of its 133-MHz SDRAM modules will begin in the fourth quarter of 1997. Micron says it will begin volume production in the first quarter of 1998.