RAM is one of the most crucial component in a PC. Sadly, it is also the most neglected one. It comes in different makes, with different latency, bandwidth; and now-a-days RAM catering to the budget conscious people; and to people who want to overclock their RAM to attain maximum performance. But with DDR 2 RAM available, and tweaked to the max, what's the next generation technology that would replace it? Also what about the static RAM and RAM used in servers, where are they heading? We look at the available RAM options, what you need to know about them, alongwith the upcoming technologies that would replace current generation RAM.
Static or dynamic RAM?
RAM is categorized mainly as Static or Dynamic RAM. The major difference between the two is that dynamic RAM needs to be refreshed many times per second by the processor or it loses all the stored data, whereas static RAM retains data even it is not refreshed by the processor. The major benefit of static RAM is that it doesn't create overhead on the CPU, by eliminating the need for refreshing regularly. Up till now we have seen various avatars of both dynamic and static RAM to fulfill the needs of the growing IT sector.
The commonly known dynamic RAM are Fast page mode RAM [FPRAM], Extended Data out RAM [EDO RAM], Synchronous Dynamic RAM [SDRAM], Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM [DDR SDRAM] and Double Data Rate 2 Synchronous Dynamic RAM [DDR2 SDRAM] . The commonly known static RAM are Mobo cache, used in computers to function as cache memory, and Quad data rate RAM (a form of static RAM), used in switches and routers. What's coming? Well there are a couple of new technologies, any of which can become the mainstream component for powering future generation of computers.
|The key trend in RAM over the past 4-5 years has been a huge increase in data transfer rates|
RAM for Communications
QDR SRAM [Quad Data Rate SRAM] has been used in switches and routers for past 7 years and provides data rates above 200 MHz . The SRAM provides data throughputs of 11Gbps as they use separate input and output ports for read and write and these ports have separate differential clocks allowing for four words transfer on each clock cycle. Various products from Cypress and Samsung are available. QDRII+ RAM was announced last year along with DDR2+. These RAM have high performance architecture and operate at speeds upto 500 MHz, which is more than twice of what existing products offer. SRAM delivers a bandwidth of 72Gbps while using a 165 pin FBGA (fine pitched ball grid array) package. These are used mainly in the next generation of switches and routers to enhance communication capabilities by giving the density and performance required to expand network capabilities.
The return of RAMbus
RAMbus Incorporated is the manufacturer of RDRAM, which at one point of time was considered a replacement for SDRAM. It formed an agreement with Intel to be the primary memory technology of all Intel products. However, RDRAM was not able to make a mark for itself due to various problems such as high latency, heat emission and high cost of manufacturing. So, RDRAM faded away, but RAMbus did not die and has come back with XDR DRAM.
|Elpida's XDR RAM chips use 90nm process technology to provide bandwidth of 8 Gbps|
This new memory module has a high performance architecture based on the RAMbus RDRAM. It improves on the high latency problem of RDRAM, significantly improving bandwidth while reducing the number of ICs required. The XDR devices will feature programmable on chip termination, adaptive impedance matching, dynamic request scheduling and zero overhead refresh. Also, XDR uses Octal Data Rate transfers to transfer eight bits of data per 400MHz clock cycle which results in 6.4Gbps bandwidth speed for a 16bit bus instead of 3.2Gbps bandwidth provided by a DDR RAM for a 64bit bus. Samsung and Elpida are already manufacturing XDR RAM and now Qimonda has joined in to mass manufacture XDR RAM for game consoles, set top boxes and PC graphics market. The Playstation 3 has shipped with 256 MB module of XDR RAM onboard to achieve maximum performance, whereas RAMbus has started development on XDR2 RAM with which they are targeting 8.0GHz data rates, enabling a single DRAM device with 16 Gbps of peak bandwidth.
Successor to DDR2
DDR3 SDRAM is the one that is the hot favorite of many and touted as the leader of the next generation of RAM. DDR3 is based on 90nm fabrication technology and would be using 'Dual gate' transistors to reduce leakage of current, leading to almost 40% less power usage in comparison to DDR2. As DDR3 modules are expected to transfer data at a clock rate of approximately 800 MHz instead of 400 MHz, the clock rate of DDR2, it is expected to attain up to 1600 MHz single clock bandwidth as compared to 1066 MHz bandwidth of DDR2 RAM. Also the prefetch buffer of DDR3 is 8-bit wide in comparison to 4-bit buffer available in DDR2, which leads to double bandwidth and decreased heat production. A newly introduced automatic calibration feature for the output buffer enhances the ability to control the system timing budget during variations in voltage and temperature.
|How they Compare|
|Clock Frequency||100/133/166/200 MHz||200/233/333/400 MHz||533/677 MHz|
|Data Rate||200-400 Mbps||400-800Mbps||800-1600Mbps*2|
|Prefetch Bit Width||2 bits||4 bits||8 bits|
|CAS Latency||2, 2.5, 3 clocks||3, 4, 5 clocks||5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 clocks|
|Driver Caliberation||No||Off Chip Driver Calibration||Self Calibration with ZQ Pin|
|System Assumption||4 slots (8 loads)||2 slots (4 loads)||2 slots (4 loads)*2|
However DDR3 does have a disadvantage of having a higher CAS (column address select) latency. But this can be overlooked, due to the higher bandwidth provided by DDR3 memory modules. Intel has already announced that it would develop the architecture to support DDR3 RAM when they become available late in 2007. AMD too has announced a joint venture with SimpleTech Inc, to get ready for DDR3-based SDRAM, expected to be available by 2008. So, DDR3 has already established itself as the successor to DDR2.
|How much RAM is enough?|
|Technically the more RAM you have the better, but then everyone is not willing to spend huge sums of money. So how much is enough? It depends on the OS and the type of work to be done. Even though the minimum required RAM for XP is 256MB, it is suggested that at least 512MB RAM should be installed to achieve optimum performance. If you are a hard core gamer or a power user running CPU/graphics intensive work such as 3ds Max, then a minimum of 1GB RAM is recommended. But for Vista the minimum RAM should be 1GB, whatever version you choose.|
RAM for servers
Up till now, DDR2 RAM has been used in most of the servers, but things are changing with the arrival of FB-DIMM RAM. It has already been adopted by Intel for their latest Xeon 5000/5100 series servers, whereas AMD's new processors based on the K8L architecture will have support for FB-DIMM RAM Even Apple is using this RAM in its Mac Pro workstations. These RAM use an Advanced Memory Buffer (AMB) between the memory controller and the memory module. Instead of the parallel bus architecture used in DRAM, they use a serial architecture connecting the memory controller and the AMB, which in turn allows for error correction and more memory bandwidth than DDR2 and DDR3. The architecture also allows for more memory width without an increase in the pin count; however it suffers from a higher latency in memory request similar to that in DDR3. But these provide the required bandwidth needed by servers and thus higher latency can be overlooked. Additionally, GDDR3 memory is used in current generation graphics cards to boost video performance. Recently ATI shifted onto GDDR4 memory in their X1950 series of graphics cards. There are talks of GDDR5 memory being released in 2007, but this is yet to be confirmed from the manufacturers. Overall, this year could be a defining stage for next generation RAM.
The average time interval between storage peripheral receiving a request to read or write a certain location and returning the value read or completing the write.
The capacity to move data on a bus or a channel to another point in a given time. It is expressed in bits, bytes, or Hertz (cycles) per second.
A single transaction occurring between the system memory and the CPU.
A small, fast area memory holding recently accessed data, designed to speed up subsequent access.
The time taken in sending a request to read a memory location by the memory controller and the time taken to send the data to output pins.
The rate at which a computer's internal system clock operates.
The number of pulses emitted from a computer's clock in one second. The speed of the clock is measured in Megahertz (MHz).
Dual In-line Memory Module.
Front Side Bus is the data channel connecting the processor, motherboard and RAM. FSB is described in terms of its width in bits and its speed in MHz.
Minimum amount of time required for a memory to complete a cycle such as read, write, read/write, or read/modify/write.
The amount of time required for the output data to become valid once the read and address inputs have been enabled; generally called access time.
Single In-line Memory Module.
Time expended from the moment data is entered for storage to the time it is actually stored.
It is a memory cache located on modern RAM modules which stores data before it is actually needed.