Intel set to bring next-gen DDR4 DRAM memory to computers later this year
By Agam Shah
Intel will add support for DDR4 memory to its high-end computers in the third quarter, sources familiar with the company’s plans said.
The new DDR4 memory, which has been under development for more than five years, will speed up computer performance while reducing power consumption. It will also mean a progressive slowdown in the adoption of DDR3 memory, which currently goes into most laptops, tablets and servers.
The adoption of DDR4 by chip makers at the motherboard and chip level is the first step to bringing the new memory type to computers. DDR4 chip support will come with Intel’s next-generation Xeon server processors code-named Grantley, which will be based on the Haswell architecture, to be released in the third quarter, sources said.
DDR4 could then make its way to laptops and PCs in 12 to 18 months. Lenovo has said it will launch new types of servers based on the Grantley chips in the third quarter.
DDR (double data rate) DRAM (dynamic random access memory) is the main volatile memory used in PCs, servers and mobile devices today. It does not retain information once a device is turned off.
Intel declined to comment on DDR4 memory support on its chips.
A step up over today’s memory
Modules of DDR4 memory on gaming boards with Intel’s chips were demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum in September. Intel’s high-end desktop processors for gaming are also expected to support DDR4. An Intel spokesman said the company is working “with the industry” to bring support DDR4 to its high-end systems, but did not provide a date.
Laptops will be faster and get longer battery life with DDR4 memory, though the current DDR3 DRAM is considered sufficient in most cases. DDR4 provides 50 percent more bandwidth than DDR3, and 35 percent more power savings.
The new form of memory could prompt Apple to upgrade its Mac Pro, which just started shipping with the Intel’s latest Xeon processors based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, which supports DDR3. System builders have already been testing boards with DDR4 memory.
Mobile devices won’t get DDR4 memory anytime soon since tablets and smartphones are just getting equipped using low-power DDR3 (LP-DDR3) DRAM. Memory standards-setting organization JEDEC is still developing the mobile DDR4 specification, and Samsung last week announced an LP-DDR4 module for mobile devices.
Early adopters will pay a hefty premium for DDR4, but the prices will fall as adoption grows. Analysts expect a 30 percent price premium on DDR4 memory over DDR3, which could drop to 10 percent in 2015.
Some of the first applications for DDR4 will likely be in high-end database and ERP (enterprise resource planning) programs, which are increasingly utilizing in-memory processing. The memory will also be beneficial for complex calculations in supercomputers.
”It will only get used in places where the performance is necessary,” said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. “It won’t be in low-end web servers.”
The adoption of DDR4 was delayed as DDR3 DRAM prices stabilized last year. Higher margins prompted memory makers like SK Hynix and Samsung to continue making DDR3 instead of moving over production capacity to DDR4, which would have been more expensive to make. Memory makers also delayed DDR4 after demand for PCs fell. In addition, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices delayed DDR4 adoption after the emergence of ultrabooks, which use low-power DDR3 memory.
The last gasp for DDR?
Companies like Samsung, Micron and Kingston demonstrated DDR4 memory after the DRAM specification was finalized in September 2012. Samsung has already started manufacturing the memory for commercial use, and Micron’s Crucial business unit is demonstrating DDR4 memory at the International CES show being held this week in Las Vegas.
The DDR4 bus clock speed will top out at 3200MHz, an improvement from 2400MHz for DDR3, and 1.2 volts will be supplied for DDR4 compared to 1.5 volts for DDR3. DDR4 reliability is considered higher because of more debugging and diagnostic tools to prevent data errors.
DDR4 is expected to be the final iteration of DDR DRAM. There is a move to others forms of non-volatile memory that can retain data. Alternative forms of memory under development include phase-change memory, RRAM (resistive RAM) and MRAM (magnetoresistive RAM). Memory makers like Micron are also stacking chips to deliver faster throughput, and Nvidia plans to stack memory chips in its upcoming graphics chip code-named Volta.
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