A division of the German electronics giant Siemens AG has claimed to be among the first to ship 256MB SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory) chips, heralded as the next major leap in RAM capacities.
The expensive chips will go first to high-end workstations and servers, where they will multitask graphics programs and ease the growing load on Web servers.
Infineon Technologies, a relative upstart in the RAM business, will quickly be joined by better-known names like Hyundai, Micron, Mitsubishi, NEC, Samsung and Toshiba, according to analysts. Samsung claimed to begin shipments in March, and Micron says it will show samples to customers this month. Most vendors have offered 128MB chips since late last year.
"This is a pretty normal transition that occurs every three to four years," said George Iwanyc, senior analyst at Dataquest. "But the only people who would be interested in this density will be server and workstation vendors. For the mainstream PC market, you're really still looking at 64MB."
Slow, steady adoption
At roughly one US dollar per megabyte (the chips are stacked in modules), the older chips are less than half the initial price of the 256MB variety, but that will change as manufacturers learn to make the new chips in volume less expensively. Dataquest expects 256MB SDRAMs will have negligible market share until 2001, when they'll reach 12 per cent, Iwanyc said. They won't pass 64MB chips in popularity before 2002, when the greater-capacity chips are expected to account for 34 per cent of shipments.
The capacity leap is likely to bolster today's 40 per cent annual growth in the typical memory configuration of new PCs, Iwanyc added. But unlike previous chip-density transitions, 128MB and 256MB SDRAMs might first enter the mainstream on notebook PCs rather than desktops, said Sherry Garber, vice president of market researcher Semico. That's because these chips double or quadruple the amount of memory in the same space, a big plus in space-constrained notebooks.
Desktop users won't completely miss the benefit of early 256MB SDRAMs: Web performance should improve as sites increase server memory capacity, said Chee Ho, Infineon's director of product marketing for North America.