New Memory Group Forged

SAN FRANCISCO — A group of semiconductor and computer makers on Wednesday forged a new online community to help develop next-generation memory technologies.

Once developed, the new components are expected to improve scalability and balance performance in servers and client hardware.

Spearheaded by Intel , Hewlett-Packard and Dell , the Memory Implementers Forum is focused on developing memory technologies including DDR2 and Fully Buffered-DIMM (FB-DIMM).

The group, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting after this week’s Intel Developer’s Forum, is free and open to any company that makes memory. Provided they sign a waiver, members can access plans, technical documents and a product catalog.

The consortium is bound to clash with the integrated Northbridge technology found in AMD chips. An AMD spokesperson told the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based firm has no immediate plans to join the new group.

As a memory technology, DDR2 architecture is used for desktop, server and notebooks. Intel has been working to validate DDR2 modules for its client and server platforms. At its developers forum, the chipmaker said it has slated the technology for its next-generation “Prescott” chips and “Grantsdale” chipsets.

The new fully-buffered DIMM specification is being developed by the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council), and is expected to be offered as a standard module for DRAMs based on the DDR2 architecture as well as next-generation DDR3 architecture.

The fully buffered DIMM is for server applications. FB-DIMM transitions the memory channel to a serial interface and replaces the DIMM register with a memory buffer. FB-DIMM connections should enable systems to scale the number of memory channels available to a server system.

Group leaders say the two technologies represent the next wave in memory. Intel Senior Fellow Pete MacWilliams said production of DDR2-enabled platforms is expected to ramp up in 2004 and the introduction of FB-DIMM interconnect technology should come in 2005.

But industry-watchers say the movement does present some problems, such as Intel’s plans to integrate the memory controller on-chip.

“By requiring a separate DDR-DDR2 controller vs. AMD’s integrated Northbridge solution, Intel both slows system performance and modestly increases system cost,” American Technology Research analyst Rick Whittington said in a newsletter this week.

Likewise, Whittington said that AMD’s integrated memory controller and Hyper Transport may not “provide enough marketing hype to counter Intel’s position and secure design-wins.”

“These two functions are pretty arcane for most people and could be difficult to leverage. AMD’s marketing has not been terribly effective this past year and Intel’s is historically terrific,” he said.

Already the advantage is leaning towards Intel’s architecture. Dell said it would ship DDR2 in its next generation of Xeon servers. HP pledged similar support for its ProLiant servers.

Other companies have joined the Intel/Dell/HP bandwagon including: ATP
Electronics, Buffalo Technology, Corsair Memory Corporation, Denali
Software, Elpida Memory, Hynix Semiconductor, IDT Corporation, Infineon, Kingston Technology, Micron Technology, Nanya Technology, Samsung and WinTec Industries.

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