Corrected to correct Gb
TORONTO — Two memory makers, one an established incumbent and the other a startup, are taking two separate approaches to deliver new 8 Gb DDR3 DRAM modules.
Micron recently introduced a monolithic 8 Gb DDR3 SDRAM component based on its latest-generation 25 nm DRAM manufacturing process. Brett Williams, the company’s senior business development manager, says the new component expands the capabilities of DDR3 for customers that aren’t ready to transition to DDR4.
Williams says the foremost reason for customers to stay with DDR3 for the near future is DDR4 is still more expensive, and many enterprises don’t see making the move as necessary yet -- the performance boost or power reduction don’t merit the significant price difference.
The main market for Micron’s monolithic 8 Gb DDR3 SDRAM is the enterprise datacenter segment, says Williams, which will benefit from a reduction in cost thanks to the improved density of 8 GB on a single die pack. This market is seeing increasing demand for larger memory footprints thanks to more data intensive workloads, which means higher density modules.
While Micron has announced the industry’s first monolithic 8 Gb DDR3 SDRAM component, I’M Intelligent Memory, a Hong Kong-based fabless DRAM manufacturer, recently introduced what it says are the first 8 Gb DDR3 components with a single chip-select using existing 30 nm manufacturing technologies.
Thorsten Wronski, president of sales and technology at Memphis Electronic AG, the company that is distributing the memory on behalf of Intelligent Memory, says the company came up with the idea of combining two 4 Gb devices in a 30 nm process using proprietary techniques to make them work like one monolithic 8 Gb chip within the JEDEC standards.
Wronski says other manufacturers have made multiple die stacks before, but always in a way that each die was separately accessible through its own set of control-lines. The difference with Intelligent Memory chips is they have just one set of control lines. Intelligent Memory’s 8 Gb DDR3 components make it possible to manufacture 16 GB unbuffered DIMMs and SO-DIMMs, fitting into any laptop or PC on the market.
Wronski says practically any processor of any manufacturer on the market works with the new memory, except for most Intel processors as its memory reference code (MRC), a piece of software code in the BIOS, can only understand DDR3 chip-sizes of 4 Gb maximum.
In the meantime, he says, ASUS has confirmed it is possible to upgrade its X79-Delux, Rampage IV Black Edition and other ASUS X79 platform motherboards with eight pieces of Intelligent Memory’s 16 Gb DDR3 modules using its own BIOS and MRC, and most Intel LGA-2011-socket CPUs such as Sandybridge E or Ivybridge E can be used on these ASUS X79 motherboards. He notes that other motherboard manufacturers, including ASRock, Supermicro, AIC, and Portwell, have verified and approved the 16 GB modules for numerous motherboards based on AMD, Tilera, and Intel’s C2000 Avoton series.
Jim Handy, principal analyst with Objective Analysis, says it’s difficult to build an 8 Gb part cost-effectively unless you use a 20 nm class process, so the fact that Micron’s new memory component was manufactured using a 25 nm process is pretty advanced.
As to how Micron’s monolithic 8 Gb memory compares with Intelligent Memory’s offering, Handy says they are two different products with different target markets, as the startup is targeting niche markets and early adopters for its new memory, while Micron’s monolithic DDR3 is aimed at a broader commodity customer base. The primary appeal of a monolithic device, he believes, is that it consumes less power.
Handy says Intelligent Memory will also face challenges getting market acceptance, for the simple fact that it’s a new entity in the competitive memory market. In addition, lack of support from Intel will also limit its market, as Intel wrote its BIOS not anticipating that there would be 8 Gb parts as soon as this, and it's not likely to take the time to verify memory from a manufacturer that has yet to establish itself.