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Intel faces Rambus quagmire

Ronald Hanaki
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Looks like Intel’s decision to make a (DDR) SDRAM chipset (Brookdale) won’t go unchallenged by Rambus. From e-inSITE:

“If Intel is building a chip which has a memory interface other than a Rambus memory interface, and if that memory interface infringes our patents, then Intel is not licensed to use our patents for that application and that chip,” said Geoff Tate, Rambus’ chief executive officer in a conference call to analysts and investors Thursday.

“The agreement with Intel was driven by their desire to license our technology for Rambus-compatible chips,” he said. “At the same time, like many companies, Intel asked for a very broad patent license and we refused to give them such a license for any competitive memory interface technology.

Rambus did give Intel limited rights to use its patents in logic chips that do not include a memory interface, Tate said.

“In the case of logic chips that don’t have any memory interface on them … we did give Intel, as a very unique case … the right to use our patents … on things like, say, front-side buses or other kinds of I/Os, as long as they aren’t memory interfaces,” he said.

Well, the presidency will not be the only thing contested in the courts. This might explain Intel’s recent cancellation of the proposed i830 Almador chipset. Rambus is also sounding upbeat about their chances in the market thanks in no small part to the Pentium 4 / i850 couplet. From EBN:

Kanadjian added that while Direct RDRAM predominantly plays in the $2,200-and-above PC-workstation market, Rambus memory will take off next year when price declines bring the packet-data memory chip to the $1,500 to $2,000 market. Intel Corp.’s new Pentium 4 processor, for example, for the first time will fully use Direct RDRAM’s bandwidth, Kanadjian said.

Rambus also claimed that earlier comparisons of Direct RDRAM with SDRAM using Pentium III-based systems were distorted. “Pentium III has a 1.1-Gbyte/s processor bus, which couldn’t take advantage of the 1.6-Gbyte/s single-channel or the 3.2-Gbyte/s dual-channel RDRAM capability,” Kanadjian said. “It was an unfair comparison with PC133 SDRAMs, which only have a [peak] 1.1-Gbyte/s rate.”

Politics is war by other means. The more provocative question is that as the RDRAM cost to performance ratio improves, will AMD choose to use RDRAM?

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