IT Heavies Push DDR2

The next generation of computer memory will dominate the market by next
summer, if some of the biggest names in tech have their say.

Double Data Rate 2 (DDR2) SDRAM is launching, now running at 400 MHz with
533 MHz designs waiting in the wings. Chipsets with the technology are
scheduled to hit the markets in the next couple of weeks or months depending
on the launch plans of vendors like IBM, Dell,
or HP .

“This is just the start just like any transition it will take a while
before all chips and chipsets are validated and each platform will have to
decide what are the needs,” Stephen Leveque, IBM Program director xSeries
Architecture and Design, said during a webcast sponsored by the Memory
Implementers Forum titled “DDR2: The Ultimate Memory Solution. Leveque said
that IBM is planning on a heavy DDR2 rollout starting with its xSeries
servers. The memory technology is also designed for desktops, workstations
and mobile form factors.

But before they launch they’ll have to get their supplies from
manufacturers like Intel or Samsung, which joined IBM
in a collective support statement saying that DDR2 is the
only choice for smaller, faster and low-power systems.

The second-generation
technology improves on the original DDR designs by paring the time data
is sent on both the rising and falling edges of clock cycles without
increasing the clock frequency. In addition to Intel and Samsung, Hynix and
Micron Technologies are also working on DDR2.

“We are in the process of ramping up and DDR2 400 and DDR2 533 is ready for
production. We have validated the technology with all of our major suppliers
and the technical enabling is on track,” Intel Business Development Manager
Geoff Findley said.”

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel said it would support the advanced memory
on all of its future chipsets, starting with Grantsdale desktops and
Alderwood workstations; Lindenhurst and Tumwater server chipsets; and Sonoma
technology and Alviso chipsets for laptops.

The company expects to debut
many of these systems by the end of June with the rest appearing before the
end of the year. Intel also said it will support the new fully buffered
FB-DIMM server interconnect in 2005 and move its SDRAM production to the low
power DDR versions.

Samsung’s plan is to use its market momentum to keep on top of DDR2. Jim
Elliot. senior product marketing manager of DRAM at Samsung, said the
crossover point between DDR and DDR2 should happen by the summer of 2005, as
should the customer adoption rates.

“The switch from SDR [single data rate] to DDR took 2.5 years while we
expect the transition to DDR2 will take about 1.5 years,” Elliot said. ”

But despite all of the accolades, Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst
with Insight64, told the jury is still out when it
comes to how well the first batch of DDR2 systems run.

“The shift is really being done to accommodate DRAM suppliers to make
faster DRAM chips,” Brookwood said. “The initial chips will run with the
same bus speeds as the old chips — 400MHz. Once they move to 533 MHz then
there is a perceived idea that they will be faster. But before then, there
isn’t any performance benefit and some say there will be a performance
disadvantage because of the new architecture. In the long run, DDR2 will be a
benefit for people who buy their systems say 6-months to a year from now.”

The other barrier seems to be price. Whereas DDR SDRAM is only now
dipping in cost from its seasonal highs last month, DDR2 may have a harder

“That is potentially a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Samsung’s Elliot said.
“If people take a more aggressive stance and others are getting DDR2 feature
sets, then the penetration will happen quickly.”

Elliot also said that the current corporate IT replacement cycle is
expected to last as many as six quarters, giving companies ample time to
evaluate their options.

And where is the competition? Well certainly not from its original
source: XDR, a successor to RDRAM made by Rambus . The
potential challenger to DDR in PC main memory has been sidelined for more
consumer applications with fixed configurations, according to Brookwood.
Even Rambus itself conceded the race when it announced it would offer DDR2
interface cells
earlier this week.

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