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Evolution of Memory Performance: A DDR3 Story

Evolution of Memory Performance: A DDR3 Story


Introduction

Playing the Memory Game

And so the cycle begins anew...

The evolution of Random Access Memory (RAM) is just like any other silicon chip progression in the PC industry; trying to attain faster speeds and higher bandwidths with lower power consumption and more cost savings. When it was obvious that DDR memory technology peaked, Intel took the lead to usher in DDR2 memory technology along with the NetBurst microarchitecture and 915P chipset family. This was almost four years ago, though many may not even remember DDR2's entrance at the time because of latency and performance issues. AMD was also at their peak at the time with their Athlon 64 and the successful introduction of the Socket 939 platform, which proved that DDR was far from dead, matching and outperforming most DDR2 platforms at the time.

It wasn't until mid-2006 where DDR2 memory finally took off with two very significant events in the PC industry. AMD launched their AM2 platform to synchronize the industry towards DDR2 and thus obsolescing DDR. Intel unveiled their Core 2 Duo processors and a new chipset, the P965, which brought about higher FSB across the board and natively supporting high-speed DDR2-800 (400MHz) memory. These events sparked the true growth spurt of DDR2 memory, going from the lackluster bandwidths of DDR2-533 and CL5 latencies to high performance DDR2-800 memory and ultra low CL3 latency timings. These of course still correspond to the official JEDEC specifications for DDR2 memory.

Unofficially, vendors began to truly advocate overclocking with extreme enthusiast products that were way beyond JEDEC specifications. As it stands, the highest performing DDR2 memory today have reached DDR2-1266 (633MHz) and even DDR2-1300 (650MHz). NVIDIA, with their launch of their nForce5 series of chipsets introduced a new memory standard called EPP (Enhanced Performance Profiles or otherwise marketed as SLI Memory), which made use of un-utilized SPD ROM space to set extreme memory timings when used in conjunction with the chipset.

However, even the mighty DDR2 beast reached its zenith in 2006 with crashing prices and the hint of newer things to come. We began to see prototype DDR3 memory in major technology trade shows like CeBIT and Computex in 2006 promising extreme speeds twice of DDR2-800 and in 2007, Intel proved again to be the catalyst for bringing DDR3 into the mainstream through their new 3-series chipsets, mainly, the P35 which was released into the wild in May.

With Intel now back in the lead of the CPU race, DDR3 is getting a lot more hype than DDR2 did when it was launched. Also, the burgeoning overclocking industry also means DDR3 will be well anticipated for its higher bandwidth capabilities. However, as what we mentioned right at the beginning, this is just another cycle resembling the DDR2 situation. With DDR3's high bandwidths come high latencies. AMD, while knocked off their throne, will only embrace DDR3 late 2008 if their schedule for Socket AM3 is realized. Their reasoning is the same. DDR2 still has plenty of life in them today and by the time they are ready for DDR3, the technology would have matured to truly see its benefits. Will DDR3 really suffer the same slow evolutionary phase as DDR2? In this article, we try to take a look at some of the aspects that would dictate its fate, and that's its performance and the chipset.