Since its inception in 1990, DRAM technology company Rambus’s business model has been an unusual one, focused on the creation and licensing of technology as opposed to selling finished chips. It’s this emphasis on technology design and licensing that has led to Rambus holding a number of major DRAM patents, and also their resulting infamous legal fights with DRAM manufacturers over DDR technology. That said, with their legal battles settled earlier this decade we haven’t heard much from Rambus in the DRAM space as of late; after a run in the PC space with RDRAM and a design win in the Playstation 3 for XDR DRAM, the company has seen little success licensing further DRAM designs.

Meanwhile with the DRAM market having unified behind JEDEC standards – DDR4, GDDR5, and HBM – Rambus’s influence has been limited to that of a smaller player, though one still holding a selection of major DRAM patents. As a result there has been some speculation over just what the future would hold for a company whose newer DRAM designs have been ignored. With the 2015 Intel Developer Forum kicking off this week we finally have the answer to that question: Rambus will be making the transition from an IP licensing business to a true fabless semiconductor firm, designing and selling their own products.

For their entry into the world of chip design and sales, at this week’s IDF Rambus is announcing that they will be designing and selling DDR4 DIMM chipsets. The chips, which will trade under the R+ chipset family, will be for Registered DIMMs (RDIMMs) and Load Reduced DIMMs (LRDIMMs) for server usage, with Rambus producing both the Register Clock Driver (RCD) chip for RDIMM/LRDIMM, and the data buffer chips for LRDIMMs.

As we have covered in the past, RDIMMs and LRDIMMs allow servers to expand the amount of memory they can address and to do so at higher speeds. By interfacing with an RDIMM’s RCD to better organize address and command signals, a CPU memory controller can handle more DIMMs and more memory per DIMM than standard unbuffered memory. LRDIMMs in turn take this one step further by attaching buffers to the data bus of each RAM chip on a DIMM – essentially changing DIMM bus operation to a type of serial mode – yet again increasing the amount of memory servers can address and the speeds they can work at. The tradeoff is of course DIMM cost due to extra chips, and depending on the configuration performance as well, but in return servers can accept far more memory than what a standard unbuffered bus would allow.

Rambus for their part sees a place for themselves in the current DIMM market for supplying the register and buffer chips used for DDR4 RDIMM/LRDIMMs, as DDR4 imposes further limitations in order to reach its greater speeds. This in turn is where Rambus is looking to capitalize on their experience with high speed memory, as they believe it gives them a leg up in producing DDR4 chipsets for both speed and reliability. The company’s first chipset, the RB26, will be compliant with DDR4-2666 specifications, and eventually Rambus wants to take it to DDR4-2933.

Meanwhile, although Rambus is producing their own DIMM chipsets, they will not be producing their own DIMMs or DRAM. Rather the company will be offering their chipsets for sale to the DIMM vendors – Hynix, Micron, Samsung, etc – for those companies to use in building their respective RDIMMs and LPDIMMs. Ultimately such DIMMs would end up in the hands of server manufacturers and operators for their respective systems, with Intel’s latest Xeon processors being the catalyst.

Going forward, Rambus is aiming to turn this into a regular business for the company. Besides the RB26 chipset, which is sampling low and will be in production in Q4, the company is also already in the process of developing future generations of chipsets to further boost performance and reduce power consumption.

Finally, as for Rambus’s foray into fabless manufacturing, given the difficulties the company has seen in getting their DRAM technology adopted, the move into making chipsets for DDR4 is an interesting and somewhat unexpected one for a company who has traditionally only licensed IP, but also a logical one in their current situation. Though the company officially hasn’t thrown in the towel on their own DRAM standards, embracing the JEDEC standards rather than competing with them is the safer move given the momentum behind DDR4 and other standards. Meanwhile transitioning from pure licensing to selling their own chips is going to be a big – and undeniably risky – step for Rambus, but again owing to their background and history, it’s the move that makes the most sense as it means they aren’t wholly reliant on licensing to other companies to bring their designs to life, for all of the benefits and challenges that entails.

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  • timbotim - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    I for one shall be avoiding their products, as I have managed to do so with another company which acted in a disrespectful manner to the tech community. How their patents were ever granted still escapes me to this day.
  • Michael Bay - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    That "enchanced system reliablity" in concept phase is quite funny.
  • minijedimaster - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    There must be some decision makers at intel and sony that own stock/shares of Rambus or something.... I don't see how these guys still exist. DIE ALREADY
  • prisonerX - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    Wow, these scumbags are still in business?
  • vred - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    Rambus: patent-trolling before it was a trend.
  • prisonerX - Monday, August 17, 2015 - link

    They were true "innovators"
  • snoukkis - Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - link

    Seems they are brushing up their image. Even their Wikipedia article was fixed by replacing mentions of trolling in the introductory paragraph with vapor about their future achievements. =)
  • meacupla - Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - link

    I'm surprised they haven't done what other tarnished brands have done and changed their name already.

    I'd change their name to Trollbus, umadbus or plagiarism.
  • Pissedoffyouth - Thursday, August 20, 2015 - link

    lol umadbus
  • 'nar - Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - link

    Quite honestly if they where "Taco Bell" in "Demolition Man" I would never go out to eat.

    They are not trying to help anyone by providing a service, they used the service to manipulate the system and take from everyone else. Even if they have changed, the company still deserves to die. Reporting on their technology gives them undeserved recognition.

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