LONDON Intel's long-standing relationship with Rambus Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) and its high-speed memory access technology appears to have been soured by Craig Barrett, Intel's chief executive officer, who criticized Rambus heavily in an article in the Financial Times.
In the article Barrett is quoted as saying: "We made a big bet on Rambus and it did not work out."
An Intel spokesperson said Barrett's opinions have been consistent for the last six months, and this is despite the fact that Intel still has a contractual obligation that its Pentium 4 processor should support the Rambus interface.
This obligation leaves the possibility that problems with the Rambus high-speed memory interface could contribute to Intel woes next year much as they have in the last two.
Recalls of about a million PCs last year and more than a million motherboards this year are ascribed to difficulties implementing the Rambus interface. And the cancellation of Intel's Tinma, a processor that only supported Rambus-style memory, is thought to be partly due to cost of the Rambus interface as well as the non-appearance of a sub-$500 personal computer market.
Finally Rambus earlier this year started suing DRAM makers alleging that other types of memory infringe Rambus patents. These are the same companies that are necessary to license and implement Rambus technology and things quickly escalated to include most leading DRAM manufacturers.
Barrett said later in the FT article: "We hoped we were partners with a company that would concentrate on technology innovation rather than seeking to collect a toll from other companies."
The toll collector gibe would seem to be a reference to Rambus's attempts to sue other DRAM makers, although it was not fully explained in the article. But it could also be seen as the Intel pot calling the Rambus kettle black coming, as it does, from a company that has grown rich collecting tolls on the architecture of the PC. It can now be seen that most of Intel's recent problems have been related to attempts to implement the Rambus technology and to dictate the architecture of the PC.
Rambus was formed with a view to licensing methods to pipeline and stream data out of out DRAM chips to DRAM makers. The technology was considered interesting but only became widely significant when Intel announced plans to build processors that used the Rambus interface, effectively telling DRAM makers and PC builders what the next PC architecture would be.
Intel's dominance of the PC processor market and the plummeting prices for conventional DRAMs made Rambus the means by which it sought to dictate terms to its rival semiconductor makers and OEMs in 1998.
However in 1999 and 2000 the problems implementing the Rambus interface and the high costs associated with ha ve set Intel tripping over those ties to Rambus. Ties Barrett seems determined to break.
Barrett is quoted in the article as saying: "In retrospect it was a mistake to be dependent on a third party for technology that gates our performance." That's not exactly humble pie. It's more like Barrett saying that if Intel owned Rambus, the technology could be made to work at an affordable price point.