Almost from day one in the semiconductor industry, memo ry chips have been the so-called technology drivers. Cutting-edge production techniques were developed first to etch smaller transistors for memories and then spilled over into other types of chips. That's why the Japanese became chipmaking champs after they dumped dynamic random-access memories on the U. S. market in the early 1980s and forced most American producers of DRAMs to throw in the towel.
Japan's reign may be coming to an end, however. In scrutinizing the gap between when leading-edge technology shows up in DRAMs and then in microprocessors, market researcher Dataquest Inc. finds a slow but steady decrease. Given the Jan. 19 news that Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have teamed up to develop next-generation microprocessors, plus what Intel Corp. is spending on chipmaking technology, Dataquest says these U. S. "brain" chips for computers could overtake Japan's DRAMs in technical sophistication as early as 1995. It predicts circuit-line widths by then of 0.35 micron in microprocessors, vs. 0.4 micron for DRAMs.