Column: It's a con

Watch out for that dodgy DRAM

Well, we have been saying it for ages, but now, the reality of the situation has hit the memory market. There is a shortage of memory, especially older technology products. In these lean times the "wide boys" hit the market with a passion. Normally most buyers would not touch their products with a barge pole, but market forces ensure that those hunting a bargain will always fall for a bit of product on the cheap. If most respectable memory distributors are charging x for a product, its not because they think they can inflate the price, its purely because genuine first rate product costs that amount of money, granted they might put a few more points on the price, but what you order is what you get. Some of the products that we are expected to quote against as a legitimate memory distributor are laughable, the fact they work in the first place is not far short of a miracle, the fact that they won’t work in a few weeks' time is often a reality. All semiconductor manufacturers produce their product on silicon wafers, they are not always perfect and there is a fallout of product that does not meet the rigid specifications expected. This product should not be confused with partial DRAM, there are several companies that buy partial product legitimately, as they incorporate intricate asic devices that enable the module to function as a full spec device, they may have a few extra chips on them, but they are guaranteed to work by the manufacturers, and warranty replacement is not too much of a problem. They are not full spec modules, but then again they are not sold as such, they are sold as a cheaper alternative to full spec product. The people that do buy it are happy with their lot. The cowboys, will use DRAM that has fallen out of specification, normally through bad timing, or other non conformant parts that do not meet the rigorous demands of the JEDEC standard. These chips in times of old used to be called game chips. They were good enough for your $5.00 games machine, but you would not want one operating your life support machine. Let's equate it to the designer shirt that a friend brings you back from Hong Kong. It looks the business, it's fully wrapped in the correct bag, the label says it's real, but when you wash it, you would be lucky if it fitted your two year old son. It’s bogus, and it's a complete and utter waste of money. Yet there are plenty of people out there that still insist on buying this rubbish! I’m not saying that all UK memory distributors are charging the going rate and all imports are rip offs, but if you have never heard of the DRAM manufacturer's name on the chip and you cannot find their web site with less than 10 clicks you are in trouble. A full spec DRAM looks like a full spec DRAM, however some proportion of the game chips do as well. To alert you as a buyer, here are a few tips; Any DRAM that has a very matt light grey appearance, or has had its surface etched, then probably a new and false identification has been given to the chip. The contents have to be suspect, because there is no reason on this earth to justify this process. Why would somebody want to scrub a name out? Yet people still buy it, or expect distributors with genuine product to match the price. The latest scam is to use 3v product for EDO and Fast Page modules, since there are very few manufacturers concentrating on this product. You will get what looks like a normal module but with some gaily coloured voltage regulators attached. Fortunately for us mere memory distributors, voltage regulators are about the only devices that don’t come in black. These are trendy fluorescent pink, orange and green, you have to be blind to miss them, yet people still buy them. There is only one thing that annoys me more than some joker telling me he can get Fast Page Mode product from the Far East for $5 less than my ex stock price, and that’s when he tries to return it to me one week later for an RMA. By all means import what you like but don’t come running to me when your Granny’s triple bypass goes wrong because you sold the hospital some "Wormtech Corporation International Global Computer" memory chips, when you could have had the real thing for a few dollars more. ® Alan Stanley is general manager of Dane-elec in the UK.

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