Intel Opens Way to SDRAM

845 chip set for P4 gives PC makers a more popular and less expensive alternative to RDRAM.

After months of packaging its top-speed Pentium microprocessors with the Rambus-based 850 chip set, Intel Corp. last week delivered a chip set that will pair its premier product with the memory technology preferred by most IT managers.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company said it hopes the move to SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) will boost sales of Pentium 4-based PCs.

The release of the 845 chip set will enable PC makers to package Intels Pentium 4 with SDRAM, the most popular memory used in computing today, rather than RDRAM (Rambus DRAM), a more costly technology that few system managers have embraced.

The Pentium 4 debuted in November and was packaged with the 850 chip set, which Intel contends provides the best performance by pairing its top-speed chip with the fastest memory technology available.

But Rambus memory, long promoted by Intel as its preferred solution, has faced resistance from DRAM manufacturers that contend SDRAM is less costly to produce and that are also opposed to paying royalties to Rambus Inc. for its memory technology.

As a result, RDRAM costs more than twice as much as SDRAM while providing what many users contend is only a negligible performance boost.

At the launch of the 2GHz Pentium 4 last month, a senior Intel executive said that many enterprise users will only embrace the Pentium 4 once it is packaged with SDRAM.

"The Intel 845 chip set is targeted at the stable mainstream where the majority of business will be buying based on an SDRAM architecture," said Louis Burns, general manager of Intels Desktop Platforms Group.

In a statement last week, Burns said, "I fully expect that this will become the next high-volume mainstream platform for IT departments worldwide."

Coinciding with Intels release of the 845, PC makers last week announced a slew of commercial systems based on the new chip set.

Among the computer makers releasing enterprise PCs were Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM are also expected to soon release systems built using the 845.

With the new chip set, PC manufacturers are also able to offer lower-priced Pentium 4-based systems, resulting in PCs priced closer to $800, "the sweet spot" of the market that accounts for the highest volume of sales.

"Pentium 4 entering mainstream desktops is an important milestone," said Jeff Clarke, vice president of Dells Client Product Group, in Round Rock, Texas. "Pentium 4 has been available for some time but only on high-end systems. Weve been anxious to help our corporate and individual customers migrate to this important technology."