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Mystery chipset maker set to launch Rambus, Pentium 4 part

Rival coming for Intel's i850

An unnamed chipset company has, as near as damn it, licensed Rambus' RDRAM technology in order to offer an alternative to Intel's i850 chipset, which it hopes to announce in less than two weeks' time.

So claim industry sources, according to a report on CNET, which wonders if the deal - which said sources suggest is pretty a much a done thing, requiring only a few finishing touches - might not be a significant boost for the memory technology developer.

We're not so sure. It largely depends on the identity of the would-be licensee, which the sources either aren't saying or CNET has agreed not to reveal.

The most likely contender would appear to be Acer Labs, which not only has a Pentium 4 licence but a right to use RDRAM. But if it already has Rambus' sanction, why do the sources talk so much of negotiations?

Alongside Acer Labs, SIS and ATI have Pentium 4 licences and could well be talking to Rambus to add official RDRAM support. VIA doesn't have an official Pentium 4 licence - according to Intel, at least - but could be negotiating with Rambus. However, given VIA's past enthusiasm for DDR SDRAM, we don't see it switching over just now.

ATI is a distinct possibility, since it's keen to differentiate its upcoming integrated chipset from rival Nvidia's nForce. The Nvidia part supports AMD's Athlon and DDR. ATI, on the other hand, is expected to support the P4 - opting for RDRAM would set it even further apart from nForce.

One other possibility is a third-party who is talking to both Intel and Rambus. Certainly, the sources don't appear to say whether the unnamed company is talking to Rambus or Intel - if it's both of them, neither will mention who it is until the deal is done, so we can't cross-check their respective lists of licensees to help us narrow down who it might be.

Whoever the mysterious Rambus backer turns out to be, we're not sure it will come as much a boost to the memory platform. Intel's PC133-based i845 chipset appears to be winning support, and for those mobo makers and PC vendors who want superior performance, there are DDR chipsets from VIA, Acer and SIS, along with Intel's tried-and-tested i850.

As P4 sales ramp up, Rambus will benefit too, and a further RDRAM chipset will at least bring more of those sales to the platform than Intel's offering could alone. Memory pricing, on the other hand, continues to favour the single and double data rate SDRAM parts. ®

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