One can’t help but stare nostalgically at the three game consoles prominently displayed at the entrance of Rambus HQ in Sunnyvale, California. Packed with various flavors of Rambus memory, the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation® 2 (PS2) and Playstation® 3 (PS3) were responsible for defining a new generation of consoles and significantly raising the performance bar for future gaming systems.
Craig Hampel – who is the recipient of well over 200 patents – remembers working on them all during his 21-year career at Rambus. After all, it was his inventions and associated memory solutions that played a critical role in helping advance 3D realism across a number of gaming platforms. More specifically, he helped design three generations of memory architecture responsible for increasing bandwidth nearly 100 fold, effectively facilitating the rapid rise in performance of computing and consumer products.
“RDRAM played a significant role in defining what was possible in a video game. Now I’m not just talking about photo quality realism for the sake of graphics alone,” Hampel told Rambus Press during a recent interview in Sunnyvale.
“Rather, it helped push the limit in terms of rendering more accurate, physics-based effects, such as interacting with running water and depicting realistic vehicle impacts, complete with explosions and scattering debris.”
Hampel recently returned from France where he led Rambus’ Paris research center for nearly a year, with a focus on developing software, cores, interfaces and tools to secure SoCs. Now back home in Silicon Valley, the industry veteran is working on a number of memory related projects, including advanced solutions for the prolific mobile space, where bandwidth, capacity and energy efficiency are all considered critical design elements.
“The significant role DRAM plays in mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones should not and cannot be underestimated,” Hampel explained.
“Although gaming consoles were well known for pushing the edge of memory technology, the mobile sector is equally demanding in some respects, especially if we are talking about balancing performance – latency, bandwidth and capacity – with power consumption.”
As a recent NPD Group survey confirms, over 70% of US gamers use their phones to play various mobile titles. DRAM helps facilitate smooth gameplay by enabling handsets to access any part of its system memory directly and instantly, rather than in a slower, sequential manner.
While optimizing mobile DRAM to extend device battery life and boost performance is of particular interest to Hampel, the Chief Scientist is quite enthusiastic about other segments of the memory and interface market, including next-gen servers and advanced networking technology.
“We have a long history of working with companies across multiple spaces to achieve higher memory bandwidth and capacities. In fact, we estimate roughly 12 billion devices equipped with DRAM carry some form of Rambus DNA,” he said.
“From my perspective, closely collaborating with customers helps improve application awareness. This grants developers the opportunity to optimize their code, while allowing us to evolve and alter how our memory responds.”
For Hampel, memory has never been more relevant, especially with the current market segmentation offering a plethora of opportunities both for manufacturers and technology licensing companies such as Rambus.
“However, the mobile space is particularly interesting right now,” Hampel emphasized.
According to a recent TechNavio report, the increasing adoption of mobile devices worldwide is accelerating demand for DRAM, with the global DRAM market forecast to grow at an impressive CAGR of 4 percent between 2013-2018. A DRAM market report authored by Research ® Markets reported similar findings, noting that after PCs, smartphones are the major application device for DRAM, which is also contributing to the development of smartphones with high memory capacities.
“I think it’s important to remember that without advancements in DRAM, today’s mobile devices wouldn’t offer anywhere near the speed, performance and application flexibility we’ve all come to expect,” added Hampel.
“I’m personally looking forward to optimizing memory for the next generation of mobile device that offer new graphics and performance capabilities. In five years, I believe the highest volume main memory will still be DRAM, as none of the alternatives currently match the performance (latency and bandwidth) or power efficiency of DRAM.”