Being that this is Platform Conference, itís only natural to have a slew of memory companies at the show. Despite the surprising nature of an appearance by Rambus, itís good to see diversity, as itís usually all about DDR. In truth, Rambus does have really good technology; itís just too bad using its technology costs an arm and a leg. Even so, DDR333 was the talk of the show this time around and while it is indeed fast, itís not as cool as Micronís SyncFlash memory.
Micron is developing and perfecting SDRAM (DDR soon to come) modules based on a type of Flash RAM with a standard SDRAM interface. Because itís not volatile, Flash memory can be used to store information and have that information be retained even when power is switched off. Combine this attribute in standard system memory and you have very fast solid-state storage
Not one to leave without a show, Micron had a demo system with a stick of 32MB SyncFlash RAM in a standard VIA chipset motherboard using an existing chipset with Windows installed right into RAM. There were no hard drives, no CD or floppy drives Ė everything was executing right off of system memory. Micron provided a reset button on the system to toy around with just for you to see how fast the system boots into Windows. We think it was around 4 or 5 seconds before the system reached the desktop from BIOS load.
The benefits of SyncFlash are obvious and there are many situations where SyncFlash would prove to be very useful. With SyncFlash, you can install programs into system memory and because programs are executed in RAM, thereís no load time and programs simply execute where theyíre stored. SyncFlash modules can be installed along with regular modules so no changes are needed to the motherboard physically. Micron says that only minor BIOS tweaks are needed to support SyncFlash.
There are indeed downsides to SyncFlash like its write speed. Since Flash memory isnít very fast at writing data, youíre likely not going to want to store vast amounts of data onto it; youíll still need to rely on conventional memory for the short term. SyncFlash is currently limited in capacity by price. Itís much more expensive to produce a 128MB SyncFlash module than it is to produce a 128MB PC2100 module.
Rambusí future on the PC
Intel, while still supporting RDRAM in Xeon systems, looks like it will begin to let DDR RAM phase out RDRAM on desktop systems. This is a big blowback for Rambus since the desktop market generally speeds adoption of new hardware faster than other markets. DDR, now at 333MHz, is catching up to PC800ís bandwidth. Rambus did demo some PC1060 RDRAM over in its booth but they seemed to be high grade overclocked RDRAM rather than a true fabrication. In comparison, Corsair is now selling what it calls XMS memory, which are DDR modules that use very fast Micron chips which allows FSB overclocking to reach 166MHz.
RDRAM going the way of the Dodo
Looking at the picture of DRAM revenue above, it looks like Rambus may be back to supplying memory to console makers and other embedded system integrators. We hope Rambus will develop a more cost effective solution down the road.