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Intel investigates Rambus XDR memory

PlayStation 3 tech a possible successor to DDR 3?

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Intel is once again exploring Rambus memory technology, this time the memory developer's XDR offering, currently used in Sony's PlayStation 3 games console.

Rambus yesterday announced it had signed a "memo of understanding" with the chip giant to "explore possible uses for... XDR". The company said it will "dedicate certain technology and design resources to the effort and the evaluation will be done on Intel’s silicon process technology".

All of which suggests Intel is quite serious about XDR's possibilities. Nothing's certain, of course, and Rambus was keen to stress to suddenly eager investors that "Intel was only evaluating the technology for possible future uses and has no specific product plans for the XDR memory technology at this time".

XDR is a high-speed memory technology that runs at between 3.2GHz and 4GHz, well in excess of today's DDR 3 memory, and delivering up to 8GB/s of bandwidth. The next generation, XDR 2, is set to clock at up to 8GHz for 16GB/s bandwidth.

The memory technology is coupled with FlexIO, Rambus' XDR-oriented memory bus, though Intel doesn't appear to be interested in that - at least neither Rambus not Intel have said as much explicitly.

Intel has favoured Rambus' memory before, specifically Rambus RDRAM, which it saw as the successor to single data-rate SDRAM. Intel pushed RDRAM hard, only to have cheaper DDR 2 memory win the popular vote and become the standard.

Could XDR be the next step for Intel? It's possible. The company's next-generation chip architecture, 'Nahelem', incorporates an on-chip memory controller. It also introduces a new system bus, QuickPath, so Intel will certainly be interested in memory technologies that can deliver comparable speeds.

DDR is likely to be part of the plan, for backward-compatibility reasons, but Intel may well want fast alternatives too, that it'll pitch as high-performance gaming PCs.

Intel is also working on discrete graphics chips too, don't forget, so even if XDR isn't part of the Nehalem programme - initially or in its subsequent 32nm revision - the Rambus tech could still appeal to the chip giant.

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