SDRAM may be marred by crippling compatibility problems

SDRAM may be marred by crippling compatibility problems

IS managers who buy PCs today will be in for some memory-upgrade headaches down the road.

Memory suppliers admit that synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) - the next-generation memory touted to solve the PC-memory bandwidth problem - will complicate and even jeopardise traditionally routine upgrades.

For example, the problem will occur when IS managers look to bolster SDRAM-based systems, which are now hitting the market, with more memory to accommodate a new OS. Because of a lack of standards, users may have trouble finding compatible SDRAM memory modules. And even if memory-compatibility issues are ironed out, IS managers need to be aware that the systems they buy today may not adhere to tomorrow's standard.

Different memories

The technical problem is that tighter timing requirements and the lack of a standard interface between the CPU and SDRAM memory can make it difficult, expensive, or even impossible to upgrade SDRAM-based systems, memory-industry executives said.

As a result, memory buyers will have to choose modules certified to run with a particular PC make and model. Unlike today's EDO DRAM, SDRAM may not be available in low-cost commodity packages.

Intel has championed the transition to 66MHz SDRAM this year and 100MHz SDRAM next year - and eventually to Direct Rambus DRAM - to increase PC performance for visual computing.

But system OEMs can implement SDRAM main memory differently, said Bob Fusco, senior product marketing manager for memory products at Oki Semiconductor. This means users will need different module types for systems from different vendors, and even different modules for newer machines from one PC com-pany, he said.

One problem is that some OEMs implement serial-presence detect and some do not. If a user plugs a memory module without the feature into a system that requires it, the system thinks there is no memory and won't even boot, Fusco said.

As a result, memory-module suppliers might have to manufacture different part numbers for different OEMs, which - as is the situation with today's notebooks - complicates buying compatible memory and increases cost.

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