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Rambus goes fabless with DDR4 server memory chipset

Posted: 19 Aug 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RDIMM? datacentre? server memory?

Twenty five years ago, Rambus brought about the development of the RDRAM (Rambus DRAM) technology. Now looking to make a comeback in the memory technology business, it introduces a DDR4 server memory chipset designed for RDIMMs and LRDIMMs.

Seizing the opportunity in a growing market of enterprise servers and data centres that is screaming for dramatic performance improvements both in bandwidth and capacity, Rambus rolled out a server memory interface chipset.

The new product is a standard DDR4 server memory chipset for RDIMMs (registered dual in-line memory modules) and LRDIMMs (load reduced dual in-line memory modules).

Rambus' move is significant for three reasons.

First, it's the first time for Rambus to enter a fabless chip business. With this new chipset, Rambus isn't pursuing IP licensing it's known for. Rambus will be engaged in "everything from designing, producing and selling chips," Ely Tsern, vice president and chief technologist, memory and interface division said.

Second, Rambus is jumping into this segment not as a competitor, but as a partner with other big semiconductor players in the server market.

"We were encouraged by large CPU vendors like Intel Corp. and memory chip suppliers like Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron," said Tsern. This draws a stark contrast to the litigious relationships Rambus held more than a decade ago with all these companies. Rambus, then, went after the world's leading memory chip vendors not just for memory patent infringements, but for forming a cartel that fixed memory chip prices.

Module buffers

Module buffers are a bottleneck in optimising memory speed and capacity for server CPUs using DDR4 in data centres.

Third, Rambus sees the move as the Rambus 3.0 business model. After years spent diversifying its IP and technology licensing business into such new areas as lighting and cryptography, the company is getting back into the memory business. Rambus hopes to leverage its technical expertise in high-speed memory interface designs, in order to solve the memory bottleneck issues of data centres.

Rambus said its new DDR4 RDIMM and LRDIMM chipset make a big difference in server-based memory performance by delivering increased speed, reliability and power efficiency. Rambus is demonstrating its server DIMM chipset at the Intel Developer Forum scheduled this week (August 18-20) at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco.

Rambus in competitive landscape

In its new move, "Rambus is becoming a fabless chip vendor, rather than the market opportunity itself," said Mario Morales, VP of the semiconductor research programme at IDC.

Playing in a different field

Rambus' competitors in the server memory interface market are only a handful of companies: IDT (San Jose, Calif.), Montage Technology (Shanghai) and Inphi Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.)

Asked what Rambus can offer that its competitors can't or haven't, Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy said, "I think Rambus will offer a higher level of performance and quality with an eye towards future memory speeds." He added, "DDR4 is very technically challenging, and in particular, server vendors and server memory providers need higher capacities with improved performance."

Mario Morales, vice president of semiconductor research programme at IDC said, "The significance of this move is that Rambus is becoming a fabless chip vendor, rather than the [market] opportunity itself." Speaking of the specific segment Rambus is going after, Morales estimated its market size roughly at $200 million. "It's pretty small," he said.

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