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Rambus real loser in PC133 wars

Intel's 'evaluation' tough pill to swallow

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The admission by Intel yesterday that it is now "evaluating" the PC133 synchronous DRAM standard will cause many in the industry to breathe a sigh of relief. (Story: Intel changes mind on PC-133) Although Intel has consistently denied through the course of this year that it would support PC133, its own customers and the rest of the industry had already voted with their feet. Sources began to tell of problems with Direct Rambus yields, speeds and prices right from the beginning of the year, and at a so-called "plugfest" Intel held in June, its major partners HP, IBM and Compaq all pleaded that it reconsider its decision. But at last February's Intel Developer Forum, the company vehemently denied it would ever back PC-133. If Intel had backed PC133 right from the start, as it did with the PC100 DRAM standard, it would have made life far rosier for the OEMs and motherboard manufacturers. At the Computex trade fair in Taiwan last June, the PC133 consortium, with Via holding the banner high, seemed to have convinced most motherboard manufacturers that this was the way forward. Many motherboard manufacturers were, privately, furious that Intel was still pushing Direct Rambus. And in private, even Rambus partners like Apacer, an Acer subsidiary, were admitting that there were problems with the modules. Mosel-Vitelic, the biggest Taiwanese DRAM company, openly criticised Direct Rambus when it announced its own PC133 part. Intel also had a problem, but with the Camino i820 chipset, which it was forced to admit earlier this year. That chipset is now slated for a late September release, and was supposed to be the tinder that would ignite the Rambus flame. The chip giant will now have to re-engineer both its i810 and its Camino i820 chipset to support PC133. This will probably not be particularly hard. Our information from insiders at Intel is that there have been contingency plans for such an event right from the beginning of the year. The real loser is likely to be Rambus, although Intel comes out of it not only with egg on its face but with some financial damage too. It is an investor in Rambus and part of the reason it put money into both Samsung and Micron was to push the Direct Rambus standard. Intel has also antagonised many of its partners, who may now well feel tempted to go for an alternative chipset such as Via's (released yesterday) or other third party players. Yesterday, Rambus shares fell by a staggering $14 on news of Intel's volte face. It closed at $98 5/8 on Wall Street. ®

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