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Intel: Thanks, but no thanks for the memory

Intel changes direction over Pentium 4 support for SDRAM/DDR SDRAM.

Intel is making it clear that it’s core business is selling microprocessors, and that pushing memory interfaces won’t stand in the way of that goal.

In an announcement in July, the chip manufacturing giant announced that it was developing a chipset that would allow OEMs to use PC133 main SDRAM with the forthcoming Pentium 4, despite its previously stated support for Direct RDRAM.

The company stated that microprocessors were its business focus, and that they would "support whatever memory our customers want".

It also announced that it would look into development of a chipset that would be compatible with DDR SDRAM.

Climbdown

The move is seen as something of a climbdown by Intel over it’s Direct RDRAM standard.

The company had previously claimed that the P4 chipset would only support Direct RDRAM, as it did last year with the Pentium III chipset.

Direct RDRAM costs over double the price of SDRAM, and there is still some uncertainty over availability of Direct RDRAM at the 800MHz speed range.

This, coupled with increased competition from arch rivals AMD, whose DDR SDRAM-supporting Athlon processors will be available in volume from the start of next year, and it seems that Intel had little choice.

“It finally ends the ‘holy war’ on memory that Intel started by trying to force Direct Rambus on the PC industry,” said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with InSight64.

“At last Intel is totally agnostic on memory. They started to let the market determine the type of memory for Pentium III and Celeron, and now they have decided to do the same for Pentium 4.”

Six Months Headstart

The move will take time to implement, with any new chipset not expected to arrive until mid-2001, while Direct RDRAM-supporting P4s will be available from the end of this year.

This gives AMD a six months headstart on Intel with it’s own DDR SDRAM, but Intel could also face problems with the speed, or lack thereof, of SDRAM.

The P4 processor is a radical departure from it’s predecessor Pentium’s and it’s dual channel data rate of 3.2Gbyte/s is way ahead of PC133’s 1Gbyte/s data rate. This could leave the chipset severely handicapped.

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