This is my first post about the new DDR4 SDRAM.
We all know that new CPU and GPU architectures roil the market pretty much every year, sometimes more than once a year. But system memory is different and all the PC’s performance is based on the system memory.
DDR3 SDRAM (the third generation of double data rate synchronous DRAM) was introduced way back in 2007. What took so long? The main reason is that memory manufacturers compete more on price than performance. Unlike CPU and GPU markets, where two companies donate the market, memory standards are developed by a committee: the Joint Electronic Devices Engineering Council (JEDEC). If you want a standard to develop slowly, do it by committee.
What exactly is DDR4?
DDR4 SDRAM (the fourth generation of double data rate synchronous DRAM) is the latest variant of memory in computing. DDR4 is able to achieve higher transfer rates, efficiency and decreased voltage. Samsung manufactured the first DDR4 memory console in 2011 but this technology is expected to hit the consumer market sometime in 2014.
DDR3 generally requires 1.5 volts of power to operate and can support transfer rates only from 800 to 2133 MT/s (million transfers per second). But DDR4 needs 20 percent less i.e. just 1.2 volts and can support transfer rates from 2133 MT/s to 4266MT/s. DDR4 also supports a new, deep power-down mode that will allow the host device to go into standby without needing to refresh its memory. Deep power-down mode is expected to reduce standby power consumption by 40 to 50 percent.
Less power draw means less heat and longer battery life, so laptops and servers are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the jump to DDR4, systems will be cool and efficient.
Mid-range and high-end laptops routinely ship with 8GB to 16GB of memory, so the 20 percent reduction in power consumption is more important for extending battery life than reducing utility bills. The LCD panel remains the biggest power draw, and the CPU eats its share of juice, but every little bit helps.
Smartphones and tablets will benefit from DDR4 memory, too. Its Snapdragon 810 mobile processor uses low-power DDR4 memory, and devices using this chip are expected to ship in the first half of 2015.
Finally, DDR4 uses much higher-density chips, so each memory stick (DIMM (dual inline memory module), technically) will pack a lot more memory. Where you might buy DDR3 memory in 1- or 2GB kits for desktops and notebooks, expect to see 4- and 8GB kits with DDR4. And for high-end servers, each DDR4 DIMM could deliver 64- or even 128GB of memory.
Do you need DDR4 memory?
Before you get too excited about DDR4, note that it hasn’t even reached bleeding edge status. You can’t buy DDR4 memory today, and your existing hardware wouldn’t be able to use it if you could. But it’s a safe bet that it will be expensive when it does come to market. The DDR4 memory’s prices are about 40- to 50 percent higher than DDR3 memory. So if you were to buy 16GB of DDR3 memory at the average price of $140, the same amount of DDR4 memory would set you back around $210.
DDR4’s lower power requirements and the corresponding reduction in waste heat will be this technology’s real draw.
An investment in DDR4 will also entail a motherboard upgrade, because you’ll need a new chipset. Intel’s upcoming X99 chipset will support DDR4 memory, along with a new Extreme Edition of its Haswell CPU (codenamed Haswell-E). And it’s precisely that power-user segment that would consider paying $1000 for Intel’s best processor.
If that doesn’t describe you, you don’t need to worry about jumping into a major upgrade anytime soon, or even postponing your next PC purchase until models with DDR4 come out.
That’s not to say DDR4 will be a waste of money. It’s just that in its early days, it won’t deliver significant benefits to anyone beyond the earliest of adopters.