Farrell described the jump from DDR3 to DDR4 as greater than any other past DDR memory evolution.
"It's hard to pick just one [attribute]. DDR4 is one of these devices where you're getting a lot of benefits at once. Power reduction is key. But at the same time we're reducing power, we're getting a substantial increase in performance. They kind of go hand in hand," Farrell said.
For example, if you run DDR4 at the same bandwidth as DDR3, you can achieve a 30 percent to 40 percent power savings. Running at its maximum bandwidth, which represents a doubling of performance, DDR4 will use the same power as its predecessor.
Does power improvement matter?
Historically, memory power consumption has not been considered a big issue because at the motherboard level, processors were responsible for most of the power use in a system.
"Moving forward, as we see a tremendous amount of power reduction -- especially in tablets -- at that point, if the memory power doesn't reduce with it ... all of a sudden the memory is setting your battery life," Farrell said.
I/O signaling has been improved for added power savings. The I/O uses an "open drain" driver, meaning it only uses power when it writes a zero and not a one at the data bit level. Previous DDR memory used power when writing both zeros and ones.
"Our DRAM controller doesn't drive current to a one," Farrell said.
Another power-saving feature with the DDR4 standard will be a reduction in refreshes. In DDR3 memory boards, refreshes occur periodically -- and more frequently as the temperature of a device rises. DDR4 memory is being tuned to take advantage of mobile device cooling capabilities. For example, as mobile devices like tablets and laptops go into sleep mode, they cool off. As they cool, DDR4 memory modules will refresh less often, thus using less power.
Additionally, DDR4 can be optimized for server use. For example, higher reliability can be configured using a Cyclic Redundancy Check for the data bus to verify the integrity of the memory. The command address bus also has parity built directly into the DRAM module. Traditionally, parity was achieved through the use of a separate register or another chip on a buffer DIMM.
Memory prices plummet, then stabilize
Even as the arrival of DDR4 memory nears, prices for DRAM remain soft, though the market is expected to pick up steam this year.
Last year, IHS iSuppli reported there was an oversupply in the DRAM market as demand came in lower than expected.
ISuppli has released figures showing that DRAM pricing declined to its lowest point at the end of 2010, the latest period for which it has released data. In December 2010, the contract price for a 2GB DDR3 DRAM module stood at $21, less than half the $44.40 the same module cost just six months earlier.
The price dip isn't restricted to DDR3. Pricing for a DDR2 DRAM module dropped to $21.50 in December 2011, down from $38.80 in June 2010, according to iSuppli.
This year, iSuppli said it has a much more optimistic outlook for DRAM prices. "DRAM prices have stabilized (and look to stay firm), and the dynamic of the world economy looks much more positive in 2012," it stated in a report last month.
After seeing major price declines in 2011, memory manufacturers cut output, bringing supply more in line with demand.
"Prices have been essentially flat in the commodity memory market since December, specifically DDR3. It is really weird," Howard said, adding that market consolidation should help firm up memory prices this year.
For example, Japan's Elpida Memory filed for bankruptcy in February. This week reports circulated that Micron is in talks to acquire Elpida.
"So it looks like there is going to be some really meaningful consolidation in the industry, and that's pointing to a much better balance between supply and demand," Howard said. "We're anticipating prices for commodity products increasing in the second half of the year."
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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