Rambus starts selling DDR RAM interfaces

Los Altos (CA) - In a surprising move, Rambus has announced that it will start producing DDR interfaces. While the company claims that this move is a natural expansion of its business, it is an interesting twist that Rambus now intends to sell its interfaces to the companies it has been suing for patent infringements for several years.

In late 2000, Rambus saw a bright future: Intel had selected Rambus DRAM as de-facto memory for its Pentium 4 processor (Willamette). Despite doubt of the high price of RDRAMs and emerging DDR technology, Intel repeatedly emphasized its supported and invested heavily in memory manufacturers who licensed Rambus' technology.

By spring of 2001, Rambus expectations were down from "80-90 percent market share" to "22 percent". And Intel's support was fading. The company openly discussed its DDR-based Brookdale chipset, which became available in early 2002. Rambus was pushed into a market niche of high-end computing, network and media processors as well as game consoles such as Sony's Playstation. Lawsuits against DDR RAM manufacturers, which - according to Rambus - were infringing on patents continued, but did not stop the success of DDR.

Rambus now believes it can get a share of the growing DDR pie by enhancing existing interface technologies. Rambus' strategy is based on the idea that memory controllers, like those made by Intel and SiS, have a "memory interface" that must talk to DDR DRAMs over a set of bus wires. The physical circuits that electrically connect to and drive the wires and the associated logic is often called the memory interface.

With memory speeds ramping up over the past few years, it's getting harder for logic and circuit designers to meet design requirements and keep pace with newer memory technologies. Rambus believes that it can bring its knowledge, since the company has been signaling at high speeds for several years.

The interfaces will include a complete feature set which helps manufacturers to reduce time to market of new memory modules. The Rambus DDR interfaces also feature an optional mode which allows connection to either DDR or XDR DRAM.

There is no doubt that Rambus will need to figure out how to make friends with firms it had been suing. Considering the fact, that the firm filed anti-trust suits against Hynix, Infineon, Micron and Siemens - all potential customers of the interfaces - just last week, this might be a tough deal. But marketing and selling DDR interfaces certainly could be strategy to bring Rambus in a game where the large unit numbers are and room for revenue growth exists.