Rambus Unveils High-Performance Mobile Memory

Rambus, the once high-flying computer memory designer, has announced what it’s hailing as a breakthrough for smart phones and mobile devices. The announcement touts higher performance within an acceptable power envelope for small devices. An earlier alliance with Intel several years ago failed to deliver and Rambus earned a reputation for suing its own customers.

The Mobile Memory Initiative is meant to offer memory designs for mobile devices. Rambus claims this new memory will deliver 16 times the bandwidth of today’s technologies at a fraction of the power consumed by today’s devices.

Rambus (NASDAQ: RMBS) achieved this by modifying its existing XDR memory interface. XDR is used in consumer devices like televisions and the Sony PlayStation 3, but for the mobile world, it was modified to use minute amounts of power.

The result is an interconnect that can offer up to 4.3 Gbits/s per link and support up to 32 links in the future.

That’s a lot of performance to squeeze into your iPhone. And Michael Ching, Rambus’ director of marketing, admits that, as a whole, those devices don’t need it. Yet.

“The next generation of multimedia smartphones, the ones that are capable of not only displaying but recording video, particularly high definition video, do need high performance memory solutions that fit within today’s standard power dissipation levels,” he told InternetNews.com.

This memory isn’t just for smart phones, but for netbooks, portable gaming consoles like Sony PSP and Nintendo DS and portable media players.

Most of the work is done on the controller, so memory does not have to be altered or redesigned. As such, Rambus expects the pricing from customers will be comparable to regular DRAM.

Bob Merritt, principal analyst for Convergent Semiconductors, said that reputation problems aside, Rambus could make a go of things. “I’m happy to see them working in this area because that’s an area that needs help overall, and they’ve proven they have the talent to make it work,” he said.

But it will be driven by device manufacturers going to memory suppliers, added Merritt. Rambus is going to have to find customers to go to memory manufacturers to demand this product and be willing to pay for it, which he thinks they will.

“In the general sense, I think there is quite a bit of desire, particularly in consumer electronics sector, for something that consumes much less power. Consumer electronics is one where Rambus’s interface IP has shown the most value,” he said.

It will be a while before Rambus makes its way into any smart phones or mobile devices. Ching said the sampling and testing cycle will be about two years.

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