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DRAM makers home in on graphics

Posted: 08 Oct 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Micron? ATI Technologies? JEDEC? Hynix? Infineon?

DRAM makers are bearing down on the graphics market and expect in 1H of 2003 to launch a GDDR-III memory chip designed from the ground up for high-performance graphics applications.

DRAM vendor Micron Technology Inc. and ATI Technologies Inc., the Toronto-based graphics chip designer, told EBN last week that GDDR-III is the first memory device of its kind and will feature data rates of 1Gbps to 1.5Gbps. That is up to two times faster than DDR-II SDRAM, which has yet to enter volume production but may already be too slow for heavy-duty graphics processing, according to some observers.

Michael Litt, ATI's senior strategic marketing manager, said his company collaborated with DRAM suppliers to develop an open standard for GDDR-III that would exist outside the standards established by the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association.

"Graphics companies are speed fiends and need far faster memory chips every year," said Litt. "We cannot wait for the two to three years it takes JEDEC to approve a new standard. By that time, any new DRAM standard from JEDEC would be obsolete for graphics."

"JEDEC does a very good job on developing standards for [PC] system memory, but these deal with modules, chipsets, and system interfaces that are not needed in graphics. And system memory has a two- to three-year lifecycle, while graphics memory is a nine-month cycle," he said.

Open standard

Litt emphasized that GDDR-III "is not a pseudo-proprietary chip. All major DRAM suppliers helped develop the standard and can produce it. Although ATI led the industry initiative, GDDR-III will be available on the open market to any graphics company," including ATI rival Nvidia Corp.

Nvidia said that it, too, is working with DRAM suppliers to get GDDR-III to market as soon as possible. "If we can get enough DRAM makers to build GDDR-III, it should become very affordable," said Tony Tamasi, Nvidia's senior director of desktop product management. "The very high speed will definitely be welcomed by graphics companies."

Terry Lee, executive director of advanced technology and strategic marketing at Micron, said the Boise, Idaho, company will start producing GDDR-III in Q2 of 2003.

"I think DDR-II will have a very short life in the graphics market," Lee said. "It just does not take graphics customers as far as they want to go in their insatiable appetite for speed."

Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc. is also planning to be manufacturing GDDR-III in 1H of 2003, said Farhad Tabrizi, VPof worldwide marketing.

Martin Peisi, senior director of graphics and specialty DRAM at Infineon Technologies AG, said the Munich, Germany, company expects to sample its GDDR-III chips in 2H of 2003 with a production ramp shortly thereafter.

Scalable clock

The initial GDDR-III chip will be 256Mb in density with a 500MHz clock and a 1Gbps data rate. The clock is scalable to 750MHz, yielding a 1.5Gbps data rate, said Litt.

While GDDR-III evolved from the DDR-II specification, it is a totally different chip, according to manufacturers. The device will use chip-scale packaging (CSP), but in a 144-ball BGA configuration, compared with DDR-II's 84-ball CSP.

GDDR-III uses an open-drain I/O technique, unlike the push-pull I/O of PC memory, to help achieve the higher speed and simplify graphics- card design, Litt added. The chip also uses an on-die line termination tied into the open-drain design. And while both DRAM versions use impedance-matching controllers, GDDR-III employs a simpler design because the point-to-point chip-attach architecture is more lightly loaded than conventional PC memory.

Litt said GDDR-III may find a market in other applications besides graphics, such as networking and consumer electronics, both of which need high-speed memory.

JEDEC is working on its own DDR-III standard for the PC. Sources within JEDEC said five DRAM makers - Elpida, Hynix, Infineon, Micron, and Samsung - have divided up major portions of a future standard, with each vendor proposing a draft specification for its part of the design. These will be consolidated into an overall draft, perhaps as early as JEDEC's next quarterly meeting in December.

The JEDEC DDR-III standard is targeting an initial 1Gbps data rate, similar to GDDR-III. But sources believe the PC memory version will not be finalized until long after GDDR-III has entered volume production.

- Jack Robertson

EE Times

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