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Rambus... R.I.P. 
Dr. John
  The chips are beginning to fall for Rambus Inc. of Mountain View California.  After a report that Intel was dropping the memory standard as soon as possible, the stock fell by 20% today (Halloween 2000).
  The world began to unravel for Rambus less than two weeks ago when Intel CEO Craig Barrett admitted in an interview that Intel's contract for exclusive use of Rambus DRAM memory was a mistake. Indeed, considering all the problems that Intel has had with the switchover to Rambus memory, it is somewhat amazing that it took them so long to realize it was a mistake. But when you are really big, you develop the big mo.... momentum that is. It's not easy to turn a team of hundreds of engineers, and thousands of support personnel around by 180 degrees.

Intel is obviously getting ready to cut their losses and move on. But their problems are only beginning. Not only have they wed the new Pentium 4 with Rambus DRAM for at least the next six months, but initial benchmarks indicate that the Pentium 4 is not even as fast as the Pentium III. This completely negates the claim that Rambus memory was required to make the Pentium 4 as fast as possible. As a fallback, Intel is working on a new, updated version of the Pentium III, with a die-shrink to 0.13 microns, to fill in the gap between its Celeron line and the Pentium 4 line. This new version, code-named Tualatin, is scheduled to be released in the Spring, which is probably too late to help Intel.

On top of this, the initial Pentium 4, code-named Willamette, will only work with Intel's new i850 chipset. Within six months, the i850 chipset will be replaced with a newer, pin-incompatible chipset known as the i850e (Tehama-E chipset). This new chipset will only work with a newer version of the Pentium 4, code-named Northwood. Northwood Pentium 4 chips will not be compatible with the original i850 chipset, and therefore, purchasers of early Pentium 4 systems will not be able to upgrade their computers to the Northwood version of the Pentium 4 without replacing their motherboards. We expect that such considerations will probably hurt initial Pentium 4 sales, especially in light of AMD's high-speed offerings.

Now back to Rambus. You would think that in the same week that the PlayStation 2 debuted in America that Rambus would be riding high. Closing the deal for the Sony PlayStation 2 was one of Rambus' biggest success stories. Of course landing the contract with Intel was even bigger. Now that the Intel partnership is unraveling, Sony may be the last hope that Rambus has to stay in the memory-royalty business. For those of you who are not familiar with Rambus, they do not make any memory at all, they designed a certain type of new memory, and licensed the design out to actual memory manufacturers. One of the things that got them in lots of trouble with their memory making colleagues was their tendency to sue other companies for infringing on patents for products that Rambus did not even design. Rambus has been doing this for the last year because they claim that they own patents covering virtually all types of modern synchronous memory and memory controllers. This claim is highly debatable, but that has not stopped them from suing most major memory manufacturers.

This practice of suing other companies for patent infringement on products that Rambus did not design even led Intel's CEO Craig Barrett to say "We hoped we were partners with a company that would concentrate on technology innovation rather than seeking to collect a toll from other companies." Indeed many industry watchers had been warning Rambus that their tactics might backfire. Well it's clear now that they did backfire. Without Intel, Rambus is friendless in an unfriendly industry. At a time when Rambus had hoped investors would be talking about how great the PlayStation 2 was selling, most are instead talking about the large dip in the stock price, and the rather poor position that Rambus finds itself in with Intel.

If you thought that your choices for a new PC were confusing, just wait. Things are going to get even more confusing over the next six months. Pentium-4 systems with Rambus memory will be competing against Athlon-2 systems using DDR SDRAM, but they will also be competing against Duron systems with SDRAM, and Pentium III systems with both SDRAM and DDR SDRAM. Of course Celeron systems will still be available with SDRAM. But then Intel will introduce the newer Pentium III based on the 0.13 microns fabrication process (code-named Tualatin), and it will go on newer motherboards with a chipset that is code-named Almador. This will probably work with DDR SDRAM.  Confused yet? Well it's not going to get any better anytime soon. All this confusion will probably tend to focus consumers attention on AMD Athlon and Duron systems, which present a simpler product lineup.

All is not said and done with the Rambus story yet. Anything can happen in this