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The hype about DDR-II SDRAM memory is about to begin, but the real situation seems to be opposite to what we are going to be said by marketing departments of the world’s leading technology companies. Being quite expensive and bringing no evident speed benefits this year, DDR-II (or DDR2) memory is not considered as a mainstream type of memory in 2004 by the vast majority of mainboard makers and system builders.

DDR-II SDRAM (or DDR2 SDRAM) modules work at 1.8V supply compared to 2.6V memory voltage for conventional DDR modules. The new DDR-II memory sticks will use FBGA memory chips for better stability, thermal efficiency, enhanced scalability and better overclockability. Additionally, DDR-II DRAMs have some micro-architectural innovations, such as, Off-Chip Driver calibration (OCD), On-Die Termination (ODT) as well as larger 4-bit pre-fetch, additive latency, and enhanced registers. Though, the main advantage of the DDR-II is frequencies beyond DDR’s 400MHz!

Even though DDR-II memory is fairly more sophisticated than DDR, it is not likely to bring us totally special computing experience already this year. Putting the hi-tech improvements of DDR-II memory aside, right now this sort of DRAM can give the industry a relatively limited set of benefits. Generally speaking, DDR-II can provide lower power consumption and heat dissipation, higher density of high-speed chips and higher potential speed (e.g. 533MHz). On the other hand, there are a lot more disadvantages DDR-II brings us: higher latencies and lower performance on mainstream clock-speeds, higher price, as well as new types of chip packaging and memory modules PCBs.

A Japanese memory maker Buffalo recently started selling its DDR-II PC2-3200 modules (DDR2, 400MHz). The initial price for 256MB module was reported to be $455, 512MB modules cost around $915. Even taking into account the fact that the modules are something exclusive and prices in Tokyo are higher than in the rest of the world, the quoted prices for the first batch of DDR-II are just too high for desktops and workstations. Keeping in mind that 512MB quality DDR modules cost about $160 nowadays amid pretty limited supplies of DDR-II chips and consequent resistance for substantial DDR-II price drops, it does not make much sense to expect DDR-II and DDR prices to be more or less equal in 4 to 7 months time at least.

Intel Corporation understands the importance of memory price factor and its next-generation performance-mainstream and mainstream system core-logic products from the Grantsdale family (i915P, i915G, i915GL) will be able to support both DDR and DDR-II slots on the same mainboard allowing system builders or end-users to choose memory type that suits better for the particular application. VIA Technologies’ PT890 chipset – expected to be industry’s first DDR-II-supporting platform – will also be capable of handling two types of memory on the same mainboard.

According to a report from AnandTech, mainboard makers will either install four 184-pin slots for DDR memory on Grantsdale mainboards, or a couple of 184-pin slots of DDR and a pair of 204-pin slots for DDR-II modules. X-bit labs’ sources said that quite some among the first batch of mainboards based on VIA PT890 will sport 4 slots for conventional DIMM modules and none for innovative DDR-II DIMMs. Even Intel’s high-end server and workstation chipsets E7710 (Lindenhurst) and E7515 (Tumwater) are projected to work with both DDR and DDR-II memory.

In fact, only Intel’s i925X-based (Alderwood) applications are expected to be DDR-II only, therefore, DDR-II can hope for a market share in very expensive workstations or entry-level servers. Alderwood will presumably be able to take advantage of x86 64-bit extension technology found in the next-generation Pentium 4 and Xeon (Nocona core) microprocessors.

Generally speaking, dual-channel 533MHz DDR-II SDRAM (PC2-4300) memory will not be able to unleash its whole potential in typical personal computers, as there are no processors with 1066MHz processor system bus expected to come this year. CPUs with 800MHz PSB have enough bandwidth provided by dual-channel 400MHz DDR (PC3200) systems, for that reason, only overclockers should consider PC2-4300 memory as an option to gain performance on home PCs. Other end-users are likely to be fully satisfied with DDR memory and performance benefits provided by Intel’s and VIA’s new chipsets.

Summing up all the mentioned factors, it is pretty clear that DDR-II memory will not be a mainstream offering this year.

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