Everything You Always Wanted to Know About SDRAM (Memory): But Were Afraid to Askby Rajinder Gill on August 15, 2010 10:59 PM EST
It’s coming up on a year since we published our last memory review; possibly the longest hiatus this section of the site has ever seen. To be honest, the reason we’ve refrained from posting much of anything is because things haven’t changed all that much over the last year – barring a necessary shift towards low-voltage oriented ICs (~1.30V to ~1.50V) from the likes of Elpida and PSC. Parts of these types will eventually become the norm as memory controllers based on smaller and smaller process technology, like Intel’s 32nm Gulftown, gain traction in the market.
While voltage requirements have changed for the better, factors relating to important memory timings like CL and tRCD haven’t seen an improvement; we’re almost at the same point we were a year ago. Back then Elpida provided a glimpse of promise with their Hyper-series of ICs. The Hyper part was capable of high-speed, low-latency operation in tandem. Unfortunately, due to problems with long-term reliability, Hyper is now defunct. Corsair and perhaps Mushkin still have enough stock to sell for a while, but once it's gone, that’s it.
The superseding Elpida BBSE variant ICs and a spread of chips from PSC now dominate the memory scene, ranging from mainstream DDR3-1333 speeds all the way to insanely-rated premium DDR3-2500 kits. Some of these parts are capable of keeping up with Hyper when it comes to CL, but do so by adding a few nanoseconds of random access latency due to a looser tRCD. Given that read and write access operations make up a significant portion of memory power consumption, this step backwards in performance may be a requisite factor for reliability – perhaps something was found by Elpida during the production lifetime of Hyper ICs that prompted a re-examination, leading to a more conservative recipe for data transfer/retrieval.
Today’s memory section comeback was fuelled by the arrival of a number of mainstream memory kits at our test labs – many of the kits we were using for motherboard reviews are no longer for sale so we needed to update our inventory of modules anyway. Corsair, Crucial and GSkill kindly sent memory from their mainstream line-ups. The original intent was to look at a few of those kits.
However, during the course of testing these kits, our focus shifted from writing a memory review (showing the same old boring graphs) to compiling something far more meaningful: a guide to memory optimization and addressing, including a detailed look at important memory timings, and an accounting of some of Intel’s lesser-known memory controller features. As such, this article should make a very compelling read for those of you interested in learning more about some of the design and engineering that goes into making memory work, and how a little understanding can go a long way when looking for creative ways to improve memory performance…
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JarredWalton - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkOh, it's missing a lot more than just voltage information. :-) There are rebates on most memory kits right now, for instance. Still, I felt it was useful to highlight where the current "best deals" tend to fall.
I personally wouldn't touch the ultra-expensive $150+ stuff, but up to $115 has potential at least. For a lower voltage kit, G.Skill has an ECO line rated at DDR3-1600 7-8-7-24-2N and 1.35V for $103. Worth a look at least....
JarredWalton - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkNote: I screwed up my table above. DDR3 is two bits per clock, so the base clocks are all twice what I listed, which means latency for CAS is half what I listed. Sorry. Got things confused with GDDR5. :-) The relative latency is still the same, of course, which is the main point.
JarredWalton - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkSide note number two: And of course, CAS Latency isn't the be-all, end-all. According to benchmarks by Raja, DDR3-2000 at 6-9-6 timings often trails RAM at 7-8-7, as the tRCD difference becomes more pronounced in some cases.
Rajinder Gill - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkSorry I should have said 7-7-8 vs 6-9-8. This happens when the number of random access requests are high (fewer back to back reads). Benchmarks like WinRar and Super Pi (synthetic) are mainly the ones that show this.
Drag0nFire - Friday, August 20, 2010 - linkI've had great experience with the ECO line. Put the 2x2 kit you mentioned in two computers so far, and it's been great. Feels like a steal to get such high speed and low voltage at such a great price.
kalniel - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkThanks for taking the time to write the article - the cycle time-line figures are very helpful, but I'm struggling to understand it correctly.
Take fig. 5. There doesn't seem to be a Read to Precharge Delay. If we follow the recommendation of CL+tBurst = tRCP + tRP then won't there be a delay of 4T after the Data Read Burst before the RAS Precharge starts, giving a Row Cycle Time of 26 rather than 24?
kjboughton - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linktRTP may very well be 4T but the minimum RAS Active Time (tRAS) is 18T. The precharge is precluded from occuring until this period has expired making the clock at T + 18 the first opportunity to precharge the bank. Add to this the RAS Precharge (tRP) and you have the Row Cycle Time (tRC = tRAS + tRP) - the minimum time any single row MUST remain open before it can be closed (and before another page in the same bank can be accessed).
Does this help?
kalniel - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkI thought the Read to Precharge Delay was there precisely to ensure you waited the minimum RAS active time before precharging the bank. Are you saying that the tRTP doesn't apply if you've already finished tRCD+CL+tBurst within tRAS so can start precharging as soon as minimum RAS active time is achieved?
In other words, tRTP doesn't have a bearing on a single burst per page, but is there to help synchronise auto-precharge reads within the same page?
My ignorance may be beyond redemption!
kjboughton - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkRead to Precharge Delay (tRTP) is the minimum wait time from a READ (column access) to bank PRECHARGE.
RAS Active Time (tRAS) is the minimum wait time from an ACTIVATE (row access) to bank PRECHARGE.
Both times must be satisfied before the bank can be precharged. Perhaps I wasn't quite clear enough on this point. I hope this clears things up.
kalniel - Monday, August 16, 2010 - linkI think I've got it now, thanks. My brain saw the relevant diagram and screamed 'Cthulu' instead.