Platform Conference Wrap Up
By: Van Smith
Date: February 1, 2002
As we mentioned in our first day coverage, DDR333 (PC2700) is not expected to reach volume until the third quarter of this year when yields (the percentage of good chips to bad) should begin to exceed 30%. You might be wondering about current PC2700 DIMMs available from a few vendors. According to a talk given by VIA's Allan Chen, these modules are based on DDR333 DRAM parts, but placed on DDR266 PCBs. The combination yields noisy module performance.
Mr. Chen suggests that buyers demanding utmost system stability delay purchases for PC2700 DIMMs until module availability occurs later this year for memory based upon JEDEC's new DDR333 DIMM standard. This specification includes the new DDR333 PCB (Printed Circuit Board) design.
We also mentioned Rambus in our earlier Platform Conference article. The intellectual property company was demonstrating an overclocked Pentium 4 system running RDRAM at 1200MHz.
Although our conversations with Rambus have not always gone smoothly, we talked with soft-spoken Steven Woo about availability of 1200MHz RDRAM parts and modules. Dr. Woo told us, "We're currently targeting late 2003 for RIMMs, and PC1200 devices would be shortly before that."
In the past we have taken a significant role in blocking the acceptance of Rambus RDRAM to the desktop space, largely because Rambus has a history of making claims that are misleading or simply false. Although our forecasts for RDRAM penetration into desktop markets remain very pessimistic, as we have stated before, RDRAM has its applications in areas where low pin count is paramount and high bandwidth is needed.
Currently, DDR SDRAM Pentium 4 chipsets from VIA and SiS perform at roughly the same levels as the Intel i850. However, as soon as dual-channel DDR SDRAM enabled subsystems reach bandwidth levels equivalent to or greater than the i850, we expect that performance advantages will swing back towards DDR SDRAM making RDRAM even more marginalized.
It is our belief that if Rambus would have relied on engineers like Dr. Woo to do its marketing, the fate of the company would likely be much different. As it stands now, Rambus remains a pariah for many and that is a shame since some aspects of its technology are interesting.
Below is a photograph of several de-shrouded RIMMs, exposing the underlying RDRAM devices. Thanks to its serialized nature, RIMMs are highly configurable from a device count standpoint.
With DDR SDRAM likely topping off at DDR333 until DDR-II arrives in quantity around 2004-2005, Kentron's Quad Band Memory has a wide open window of opportunity to gain broad acceptance.
According to Kentron's roadmap presented at Platform Conference, QBM system availability should occur in Q3 of this year, with modules sampling around now. Both VIA and Intel have been rumored as potential early adopters of Kentron's technology.
QBM is fairly straightforward with interleaved access to two DDR Banks occurring at DIMM level.
The central module enabling technology for QBM is the QBM10 Switch.
The QBM DIMM connector is physically identical to the DDR SDRAM's connector. This leverages current connector inventories and parts infrastructure. Of course, the chipset will have to be designed to handle QBM signaling.
Prices for QBM will be appropriate for the mass market. A 256MB PC4200 QBM DIMM is projected to cost around $100 (US) when it appears later this year, at a time when "official" PC2700 debuts for something over $200 for the same sized DIMM. Kentron is positioning QBM for everything from high-end servers to video game consoles to graphics cards to, of course, mainstream desktops.
DDR SDRAM's Low Power Secret
While the computing industry has been boosted by DDR SDRAM's added bandwidth, it seems that it has been forgotten why companies like Transmeta are some of this technology's strongest boosters. Transmeta has backed DDR SDRAM because it saves power.
Transmeta's Bill Gervasi gave a long and entertaining talk on a new initiative dubbed "ecoPC" for "efficient computing PC." An "ecoPC" is a 1" thick, always-on device featuring Card Bus style external expansion slots, no fans and using less than 20 Watts maximum. There is an acute need for such devices in a world full of loud brown boxes.
One graph Mr. Gervasi delivered illustrated the power savings the computing industry enjoys by going to DDR SDRAM and its lower voltages.
As you can see from the graph above, DDR-II will be even more energy efficient.
Memory Market Forecasts
Semico presented the following graphic illustrating its market forecast for DRAM technology marketshare.
By the end of 2002, DDR SDRAM will make up major ground against SDRAM after erupting strongly last year. As do we, Semico sees RDRAM rapidly losing traction after this year.
For completeness, we include Rambus's own market forecast below. Interestingly, the Mountain View, California-based IP company sees DDR SDRAM rising to dominance even faster than Semico projects. Rambus also sees its share of the memory market only very slowly increasing through 2005.
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