Volume production of DDR2 memory chips has begun. This is a faster performing follow-on to double data rate, synchronous dynamic RAM (DDR SDRAM), today's high performance system standard. DDR2 memory also draws less power than DDR memory. The memory can transfer more data per second than DDR memory. Servers using this memory, along with high speed CPUs and faster busses, will be capable of supporting more networked users and of running applications faster.

Micron Technology is building DDR2 memory modules up to 4GB in size and shipping them to Intel and to PC manufacturers. Samsung is also manufacturing DDR modules.

Servers need CPU chips, buses and memory modules to run in balance. Recently memory modules have been slowing down relative to CPU speeds. This means CPUS are often idle, waiting for the memory to deliver instructions and data. This effect has been noted with the hyperthreading version of the Pentium 4. Speeding up the memory to synchronise better with processors has the effect of removing a hobble on the CPUs, enabling the servers to do more work.

Dean McCarron, a principal analyst at Mercury Research, said that the situation is better with improved memory-CPU speed synchronisation and more bus bandwidth. CPUs can currently run up to 3GHz or so, with buses in the 500-800MHz area and memory can run at a wide variety of speeds.

Intel is planning top-to-bottom support for the new PCI Express bus in its enterprise chipsets, beginning in 2004, and new Intel storage and communications products incorporating PCI Express are expected at the same time. The enterprise chipsets planned for 2004, with support for PCI Express technology and DDR2 memory, include both four-way and two-way Xeon versions.

Intel-based servers and desktops using the new memory and bus can be expected in the first half of next year. Advanced Micro Devices is also expected to pick up on DDR2 next year, as are a number of other brand-name memory manufacturers and chipset makers.

Mike Sadler, vice present of worldwide sales, Micron, said, "What we're doing is helping to enable higher performance and lower power consumption in all the computer platforms next year."

It's likely that the new year will see customers faced with a server refresh cycle and a need to judge whether the increased network user support justifies purchase of new systems. The new systems might be expected to cost more as DDR2 memory is 15 per cent more expensive than equivalent DDR modules. The PCI Express bus might also be expected to have a premium price. Pentium 4 hyperthreading is also higher than ordinary P4 chips.

On the other hand competition is intense enough that the increases may get lost in the wash, particularly if AMD responds early to Intel.