Business, Enterprise, Hardware

DDR4 Moves Closer to Production at IDF 2013


While we walked the floor at IDF last week, we managed to find some interesting things, like we seem to do every year. Last year, funny enough, we saw the first DDR4 chips, modules as well as a DDR4 wafer at Samsung’s booth on the showcase floor.

This year it looks like Samsung and all of their partners and competitors are showing much of the same, but with a bit more detail. We visited SK Hynix’s booth, Samsung’s booth, Micron’s booth, Crucial’s (Micron’s consumer division) booth, G.Skill’s booth and Kingston’s booth. All of these companies had something to show in regards to DDR4 in one way or another.

Samsung’s booth showed much of what they showed last year but with a whitebox demo. The problem is that their demonstration of working DDR4 modules is that it was literally a white box and we could not see anything inside of it. As such, I decided that it wasn’t even worth going over there to take pictures of a big windowless white box. Both G.Skill and Crucial had actual modules being shown, but without any live demo. We even got to hold some of the DDR4 DIMMs from Crucial and snapped some pictures of their different DDR4 modules, including their high-end gaming Ballistix modules (black). At the Micron Crucial booth, they had a very informative infographic that explained the improvements of DDR3 over DDR4 (below).

Below, from top to bottom are Crucial’s various DDR4 DIMMs, which if you look closely you can see do not have straight edges where the pins are located. The pins on the DIMMs actually get longer as you get close to the center of the module because it helps improve the amount of insertion force when putting the DIMMs into the slots. The first DIMM is just a regular DIMM, the second is a high-end gaming DIMM that will likely be clocked much higher than 2133 MHz. And the last and bottom DIMM is a DDR4 SO-DIMM for laptop and microserver applications.

Do note, DDR4 will in fact bring a lot of improvements to DRAM in general with higher densities and even lower voltages. Being 1.2v will make DRAM and IMCs more sensitive to voltage fluctuations, meaning that motherboard manufacturers will have to be more careful about how they power their RAM slots as well as CPU manufacturers will need to consider how their IMCs scale in terms of frequency capabilities and voltage settings.

Following Micron’s booth, we took a look at Kingston’s demo, which I found to be the most informative and interesting since they were the only booth other than Samsung running a live demo of DDR4. Admittedly, the pictures we took didn’t reveal much, but based on the amount of RAM slots they were running combined with being DDR4 capable, one can deduce that this was a Haswell-EP platform based alpha prototype board.

Interestingly enough, Kingston opted for a 2133 MT/s stated speed instead of a 2133 MHz speed spec. The two are technically interchangeable, but I haven’t seen MT/s used as a measurement of speed on DRAM, only on PCIe interfaces. We will see if this continues to be true once we start to see production modules from Kingston and other manufacturers. Micron did the same if you look up at their infographic, so it does seem like the whole industry is moving in that direction. We got the explanation for this was that the JEDEC standards body is using the MT/s measurement instead of MHz and that’s why everyone is moving along with MT/s instead of MHz.

Looking at a single 16GB module from Kingston, we can see that they are going to enable some crazy memory bandwidth with DDR4. We can also see that Kingston is using SKhynix’s memory chips in their modules to enable these 16GB modules that do 2133 MT/s at such a low voltage. Keep in mind that this system was running 192 GB of memory and Kingston showed on the windows screen that it was in fact running 192GB of RAM which is the limitation that Windows 7 allows.

Overall, it is exciting to see more DDR4 developments occurring in the industry and we can’t wait to see DDR4 land in the enterprise space late next year and in the consumer space in early 2015. Hopefully we’ll see some DDR4 developments from AMD during their developer conference later this year as well.

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