High-performance RAM technologies are set to debut this year in high-end PCs and workstations, while per-megabyte prices are likely to remain at their current low levels, according to chip experts and PC makers.
The big news will be the debut of Rambus DRAM, which runs at 600MHz and higher, more than four times faster than the top limit of the already impressive Synchronous DRAM that became dominant last year.
That means much better software performance and improved speeds when running faster peripherals such as DVD drives and hard disks. RDRAM also transfers data more efficiently and can be upgraded one chip at a time, providing more capacity options than SDRAM. Intel has endorsed the technology and says its next-generation CPUs, slated for late 1999, will support it.
But motherboards and supporting chip technology will have to be redesigned to accept RDRAM, possibly slowing down its acceptance. Look for PC makers to introduce the memory only in their most expensive servers and workstations. "It probably won't be a huge part of the market this year," says George Iwanyc, senior analyst at Dataquest. "100MHz synchronous DRAM will probably maintain its dominance."
Some sub-$US1000 PCs will continue to limp along with the much older dirt-cheap EDO RAM, which runs at only 40MHz, while a few low-end vendors will try to add value by building in 66MHz SDRAM chips. Mid-priced $1000 to $2000 systems will come with 100MHz or 133MHz SDRAM that will run better thanks to the availability of system buses that can keep up with them, according to analysts.
Memory capacities of new systems will continue their upward march, and 96MB or 128MB will become standard, says Kevin Knox, research analyst at the Gartner Group.
But don't look for any big drops in per-megabyte costs. Jim Handy, principal analyst at Dataquest, expects DRAM costs to stay level for two years. However, Handy says, many manufacturers are selling RAM at a loss, which will likely bring a shakeout followed by a possible shortage in 2001. And recent sharp increases in the value of the yen may bring higher prices in the short term, said one PC product manager.