The upcoming shift from Double Data Rate 3 (DDR3) RAM to its successor, DDR4, will herald in a significant boost in both memory performance and capacity for data center hardware and consumer products alike.
The DDR4 memory standard, which the Joint Electronic Devices Engineering Council (JEDEC) expects to OK this summer, represents a doubling of performance over its predecessor and a reduction in power use by 20 percent to 40 percent based on a maximum 1.2 volts of power use.
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"It's a fantastic product," said Mike Howard, an analyst with market research firm IHS iSuppli. "Increasing the amount of memory and the bandwidth of that memory is going to have huge implications."
DDR4's significant reduction in power needs means that relatively low-priced DDR memory will, for the first time, be used in mobile products such as ultrabooks and tablets, according to Howard.
Today, mobile devices use low-power DDR (LPDDR) memory, the current iteration of which uses 1.2v of power. The next generation of mobile memory, LPDDR3, will further reduce that power consumption (probably by 35 percent to 40 percent), but it will likely cost 40 percent more than DDR4 memory, said Howard. (LPDDR memory is more expensive to manufacture.)
Designed for servers
The impact that DDR4 will have on the server market could be even greater.
Intel, for example, is planning to start using DDR4 in 2014, but only in server platforms, according to Howard. "Server platforms are the ones really screaming for this stuff, because they need the bandwidth and the lower voltage to reduce their power consumption.
"So while Intel is only supporting DDR4 on their server platforms in 2014, I have a feeling they're going to push it to their compute platforms as well in 2014," Howard continued.
The draft of the DDR4 specification and its key attributes were released last August.
"With DDR4, we're certainly ... seeing some larger power savings advantages with the performance increase," said Todd Farrell, director of technical marketing for Micron's DRAM Solutions Group.
Both Samsung and Micron have announced they're preparing to ship memory modules based on the DDR4 standard. Samsung's memory modules, expected to ship later this year, purport to reduce power use by up to 40 percent. Both companies are using 30-nanometer circuitry to build their products, their smallest to date.
By employing a new circuit architecture, Samsung said its DDR4 modules will be able to perform operations at speeds of up to 3.2Gbps, compared with today's DDR3 speeds of 1.6Gbps and DDR2's speeds of up to 800Gbps.
Another benefit from the arrival of DDR4 will be greater density and the ability to stack more chips atop one another. Micron's DDR4 memory module is expected to ship next year, but test modules have already shipped to system manufacturers.
"For DDR3, we see stacking going up to four chips (4H), [but] for DDR4 this clearly will go up to eight chips stacked on top of each other (8H), which means that, using a 16Gbit memory [chip], manufacturers will be able to produce 128Gbit memory boards," Farrell said.