Technically Speaking: What DDR4 Memory Means For Computing

DDR4 Memory Spec

The PC industry hasn't seen an updated memory spec in a while, and it was long past due. That upgrade came last week, as the memory standards group JEDEC revealed that it had published a spec for DDR4 SDRAM, defining "features, functionalities, AC and DC characteristics, packages and ball/signal assignments," that builds on the DDR3 spec, first published in 2007. The DDR4 spec applies to SDRAM devices from 2 GB through 16 GB for x4, x8 and x16 buses. Here's a look at some of the particulars.

Double Data Rate

First and foremost, DDR4 memory doubles the maximum transfer rate of DDR3. The new spec supports a per-pin data rate of up to 3.2 giga transfers per second (GT/s), twice that of its predecessor's eventual maximum of 1.6 GT/s (the ceiling was raised over time). And, DDR4's max could likewise go higher, as necessary, to accommodate faster components and bus speeds. So far, the only processor roadmap we've seen in support of DDR4 has been Intel's, with its Haswell server processor slated for 2014; consumer-platform support isn't expected until sometime in 2015.

Meanwhile, JEDEC member company Samsung announced in July that it had begun sampling the "industry's first" 16-GB DDR4 RDIMMs, and that it will also offer a 32-GB module; and Samsung, Micron and other companies already offer smaller-denomination DIMMs that comply with the spec.

Lower Power

The DDR4 spec defines memory that operates on 1.2V, compared with DDR3's 1.5V and 1.35V low-voltage spec. According to Samsung, its DDR4 RDIMMs consume about 40 percent less power than DDR3 memory modules operating at 1.35V. We're not sure what math they used to arrive at that finding, but in a world increasingly mindful of power consumption and rising energy costs, 1.2V is better than 1.35V.

More, Wider Memory

While DDR3 supported DIMM sizes between 512 MB and 8 GB in as many as eight banks, DDR4 quadruples memory top-end by doubling the module maximum to 16 GB (with a 2-GB minimum) in as many as 16 banks. That's math we can handle. What's more, DDR4 can arrange memory banks into as many as four groups, providing faster burst access to memory and separate read, write, activation and refresh operations for each group.

Incidentally, memory speeds of DDR4 will start at 1,600MHz and balloon to 3,200MHz. DDR3 mobiles are available mostly at frequencies between 800MHz and 1,600MHz, although the spec supports 1,866MHz and 2,133MHz memory, according to a comparison chart published by memory maker Micron.

Ramping Up

If DDR3 provides any indication, it could take two years or more before DDR4 becomes mainstream. Introduced in 2007, DDR3 didn't even register significant market share until 2009, when it held about 24 percent of the market. According to a 2011 report by market researcher iSuppli, DDR4 might gain as much as 12 percent of the market by 2014, but could eclipse DDR3 the following year. DDR3 currently enjoys more than 90 percent of the market, which will continue through 2013.

Clearance Sales

Hynix, Micron and Samsung all have announced that they've begun or are close to producing DDR4 modules. As supplies begin hitting the market late this year or in early 2013, DDR3 prices will continue to fall, as they have been all year. For resellers, bargain-basement memory prices could mean an increase in sales to satisfy pent up demand as DDR4 memory fills the channel and platforms catch up.