Vi står inför nästa stora skifte på minnesfronten med DDR5. Den ny standarden tar ett rejält kliv upp i prestanda samtidigt som den introducerar många nya tekniker. Vissa i syfte att leverera än högre prestanda, andra för att motverka de oundvikliga effekterna fysikens lager ställer till med när kretsarna ska krympas till tidigare prognostiserade omöjliga nivåer.
Med blott några månader kvar till lansering sätter vi oss ned med världens största leverantör av DRAM-moduler, Kingston Technology, för att reda ut frågetecknen. Vilka är fördelarna med DDR5, vad innebär obligatoriskt ECC-stöd och integration av spänningsreglering direkt på modulen? Vi får även en inblick bakom kulisserna om rådande osäkerheter, vad det kan innebära för övergången till DDR5 och inte minst dess tillgänglighet.
Med oss är teknikexperten Adrien Viaud, Senior Technology Manager, med säte i Storbritannien och som varit med Kingston sedan år 2000. Vi har också sällskap av norrmannen Jan Terje Kleiven, Business Development Manager för Norden och Baltikum, på säljsidan. Han har varit med Kingston sedan år 2000 och har enligt egen utsago sålt datarelaterade produkter sedan hårddiskar på 40 MB.
Jacob Hugosson, SweClockers: There's no doubt datacenters and servers are screaming for more bandwidth. Can you give any examples of consumer applications which will benefit from DDR5 from day one?
Adrien Viaud, Kingston: As a consumers you'll gain a lot in terms och memory throughput and frequency going from DDR4 to DDR5. JEDEC set the floor for DDR5 at 4 800 MHz and with overclocking you'll be able to go beyond that. In terms of applications it's always difficult to say, but one good example for a consumer is Winzip, Winrar or any compression software for that matter. Those sorts of applications are very memory-bound and we can expect a dramatic effect on performance. This is quite a unique example, I think for most applications it won't be a big jump from day one.
Looking at the datacenter space the choice isn't obvious. The main question is whether it makes sense to spend more money on the architecture and platform to use the very fast speeds DDR5 deliver. What you need to look at is the application layer. Will the application layer user that extra throughput, will the added latency in DDR5 hamper performance. What you need to bear in mind is as you increase frequency the latency is also going to go up. So even here it's all about if that extra performance is worth the cost.
Jacob: What about gaming?
Adrien: Maybe in games you will get a few extra FPS when you overclock the [DDR5] memory. One particular scenario where it will help is when you have an integrated GPU on the processor, like and AMD APU, which in general are extremely bandwidth-starved. That is a scenario where overclocking the memory will get you a lot better graphics performance in games. To be clear here I am talking about the integrated GPU, not a dedicated GPU.
Jacob: All DDR5 modules will come with on-die Error Correction Code (ECC), the former previously being a rare sight on consumer platforms. How come it's being introduced now and not with DDR4 or earlier?
Adrien: This is a confusing feature I would say. You are right and there's two things I'd like to say. DDR5 offers ECC on-die. On-die ECC is different than a memory module ECC that's being used in workstations and servers. So it's very important to understand the distinction between the two.
First, when you shrink the lithography, when you shrink the process you are cramping more and more tiny little transistors next to each other. This applies to GPUs, CPUs, NAND memory used in SSDs and DRAM used in memory modules. This creates potential challenges with increased risks of a bit flipping, an unintentional state which switch from 0 to 1. This can lead to data corruption. So what happens with DDR5 is this feature called on-die ECC which is on the actual DRAM chip itself, that will fix those potential flip-bits.
Second, this is different than traditional ECC which uses an extra memory chip on each module which of course still will be better. On-die ECC is a necessity and all about mitigating the problems with shrinking the transistors and at the same times increasing the frequency. As we are moving to sub-10 nanometer with DDR5 we'll need help at the chip level with ECC.
Jacob: To follow up on that, would you say that the lithography for DDR5 will be smaller than DDR4 from the get-go?
Adrien: The chip density we will use will be 16 gigabit (2 GB) which we actually started to use with DDR4 1,5 years ago. So DDR5 will start directly at those 16 gigabit. They will both probably use the same level of lithography and then DDR5 will transition to lower ones in the future.
Jacob: Another new big features is that the voltage regulators are moving on
to the DIMM itself. Why is that and what are the benefits?
Adrien: As you know a memory module has a lot of different components. There's the DRAM chips, the register, the SPD and so on. Moving the PMIC [Power Management Integrated Circuit] on to the DIMM will help with power distribution, improve signal integrity and decrease noise. Basically it's being done for the same reason as having on-die ECC, to mitigate the problems with shrinking the transistors. Today the PMIC is on the motherboard and with DDR5 pretty much everything related to the memory will be moved on to the module itself.
One thing you have to think about is once you're moving components on to the memory module, especially something like the PMIC, heat is going to increase. So for anything linked to overclocking, like higher frequencies and increased voltages, we have to bear that in mind and counter it with better heat dissipation like a heatsink. Often when you add an feature there's also a downside.
Another upside of moving the PMIC on to the module is that it will reduce cost and complexity of the motherboards. This can potentially reduce the end-price for consumers.
Jacob: With the PMIC moving on to the module will that be a cost-adder to end-users? Let's say comparing DDR4 to DDR5 per gigabyte, is it a given that the latter will be more expensive to produce because of that extra component?
Adrien: It's a safe assumption. The more components you put on a PCB that cost is going to pass on to the customer. As we're still in an evaluation phase we don't have a clear idea how big that cost-adder will be. But then, when the PMIC moves from the motherboard to the memory maybe we'll see motherboards at a lower cost. It's difficult to know for sure at this point moment in time, but for sure DRAM module cost will increase as we integrate the PMIC on to the memory PCB.
Jacob: What you're saying is that the system cost will even out and be the same?
Adrien: Yeah, maybe even a bit lower.
Jacob: So the voltage regulators are moving on to the DIMM for signal integrity. Again, why this generation and not with DDR4 or earlier?
Adrien: Just like with on-die ECC it's all linked to the shrinking of the process. With increased transistor density comes increased challenges with data integrity. This is one of those things that they [JEDEC] decided to use to optimize the signal integrity. I assume they've done tests with and without the PMIC on the DIMM and realized that without it there was a higher risk of data corruption, that would lead to a blue screen of death or worse. So that's why it's part of the design of DDR5.
Jacob: With the PMIC moving on module I assume it's up to the memory manufacturer to pick which to use. Can you go crazy with a really high-end PMIC for overclocking or are there standardized components that you need to adhere to?
Adrien: You're right. At the end of the day on an overclockable module you will want to apply higher voltage, and a memory module will have to be able to cope with that. So for modules aimed at overclocking we'll definitely be using higher grade PMIC components that will be able to handle that higher voltage.
Jacob: A recurring question with DDR5 is that it will have two independent 32-bit channels per module instead of a single 64-bit. Seeing as both result in the same width, what is the advantage of two narrow compared to one wide?
Adrien: Essentially you're going to have two independent 32-bit sub-channels and that will increase efficiency and lower the latency when moving data between the module and memory controller [of the CPU]. On simple terms this will give you better performance compared to DDR4 [at the same frequency] which have a single 64-bit channel, despite both having the same bus width.
Diving deeper the burst length of each channel is being double from 8 bytes to 16 bytes, meaning that each 32-bit channel will deliver 64 bytes per operation. This means, compared to DDR4, DDR5 will deliver two 64 byte operations in the time it takes for DDR4 to deliver one. Essentially this double the effective bandwidth for DDR5.
Jacob: The ceiling for DDR4 according to JEDEC standard is 3 200 MHz and the floor for DDR5 is 4 800 MHz. Can we expect higher clocked modules from day one?
Adrien: I can't officially comment on anything from Kingston, like speeds, latencies, voltages and what's going to be released. What I can say is that I am pretty confident we'll be able to find chips that can go faster than 4 800 MHz. I think the main question is whether people will be able to get the motherboards, the CPUs and all that. It's due to be released by the end of the year, but who knows. Currently it's difficult to purchase gadgets, like the new Playstation 5, Xbox Series and all that. It's currently difficult to source components. So who knows.
Jacob: DDR4 have been out for 8 years and is a really mature technology, which you've had a lot of time to tweak. Would you say that the first generation of DDR5 will surpass high-end DDR4 modules in terms of performance?
Adrien: Today I think the fastest memory module we have is 5 333 megatransfers (MT/s) per second, or megahertz. So we start with JEDEC speed at 4 800 MHz, but I think it's safe to assume that we'll be able to go faster than 5 300 MHz. I mean if we can do 5 333 MHz with DDR4 up from JEDECs ceiling of 3 200 MHz, yeah. As I mentioned I can't tell you exactly what speed we'll get at, but we will be able to come out with faster modules than that.
Jacob: Should we expect a quick transition from DDR4 to DDR5 in the consumer segment or will they co-exist for a foreseeable future?
Adrien: It's always up to the processor manufacturers, like AMD, Intel and Qualcomm, when they decide to pull the switch. I think there are a lot of factors that will be deciding things for the transition. We rely on the motherboards and the CPUs to be released to be able to release our products. Even if we have working modules today there's no point in releasing the products if there's no compatible motherboards and CPUs out there. They are the deciders, we follow their lead.
The second factor is supply and demand. You know how quickly the semiconductors can product chips. Earlier we were talking about the PMICs, we need those components to come in and to be available to build those DDR5 modules. And we need them to be available at a reasonable price. There's no point trying to sell something if its four–five times more expensive than DDR4.
I think normally those kind of transitions happen two to three years after there's a new memory standard, because it takes time for the prices and components to drop in price and become affordable. When a new technology is adopted or released it costs and the intake is slow. So it will obviously take time for it [DDR5] to become the mainstream. I'd say in three years you'll see both DDR4 and DDR5 on the same level in terms of sales.
Jacob: Will DDR5 be more expensive than DDR4 per gigabyte (GB) on launch? If so, when do you expect to see price-parity?
Adrien: DDR5 is definitely going to be more expensive. It's impossible for us to predict when price-parity will happen. Often with new technology you're looking at a 30–40 percent price premium over existing. It's going to take time, but slowly as components are getting widely available, as factories are churning out more DDR5 related motherboards, CPUs, memory chips and components, then it will start to go lower and lower and lower. As I was saying it's always about the price point.
I actually had a discussion with a datacenter company in France yesterday and I asked them when they are going to switch. And they're currently undecided. They're not really seeing a benefit when they include price into the mix. They've done their tests and since their applications aren't that memory bound they're only getting a bit more performance, it doesn't make sense for them since the transition would be too expensive to justify. So they'll probably get a few platforms at first and slowly as the price goes down transition to more and more DDR5 based platforms.
Jan Terje Kleiven, Kingston: There's also a difference this time compared to DDR3 to DDR4. Now we are under a critical shortage of electronic components worldwide. Around 80 percent of all car manufacturers have people on furlough because there's no chips available – even if they're using DDR3. I think this time we may be seeing a bigger price-gap than 30 to 40 percent because of the lack of components. You know 10 cent electronics, we're not talking about chips and controllers, we're talking about stupid things we've never thought about before are completely missing.
When I am talking to embedded assemblers in Norway and Sweden they're putting in purchase orders for 2023. That's all DDR4 and yesterday we even got a request about DDR3. We can't get enough DDR3 for the European market. When we get our allocation of DDR3 modules from global planning at Kingston on Monday morning we sell out immediately. The same situation with DDR4. And then you have to make sure system integrators, the Kompletts, the Inets, the Jimms in Finland, etc. who are our key partners all get enough modules to assemble computers. Then we have datacenter which are buying so much. We simply can't get enough.
There's also a lot of uncertainties with the ongoing trade wars and tensions. When you talk about Amazon and Google, they're both afraid to open new datacenters in the far east because of the Biden policies. So more datacenters are moving back to the US. Manufacturers are thinking of moving lines from Asia back to the US, because otherwise they may not be allowed to sell to Google or Amazon if the products have to be assembled there [in the US]. So there's a lot going on there.
We also have the trade war between Japan and South Korea that barely no one has heard or talked about! Here we're talking about the liquid for cutting the wafers into individual dies. The price for this liquid have gone up with 30 percent. There are so many "unknowns" out there right now. I've been in hardware for 30 years. I've been brokering memory, I've been brokering hard drives since 40 megabytes and I've never seen or experienced anything like this in the market before. Of course we'll have DDR5, it will launch, but DDR4 will likely stick around for a very long time.
Adrien: Maybe the current market condition will delay the release, because we've heard some processor manufacturers are struggling to ship out processors. I won't name any names, but if you Google it you can see they're foreseeing a shortage of processors and ... as we said, if you don't have any processors or motherboards it's going to delay new technology [like DDR5].
Jan: This is a completely unique situation which will hurt some, while some will gain. This is going to be a very, very interesting market to be in for the next at least 5 years I guess. There are people who are worried if they're not going to get enough chips and how all of this will end. Will the datacenters, who are so big now, buy directly [from the chip manufacturers] or maybe even build their own factories for christ's sake. If you don't have data today you're nothing. You'll lose. Everything is about storage, data and bandwidth.
Last year Kingston had a revenue of 12,8 billion USD, so we are a very solid player in the market. We have our own factories where we assemble our modules and a lot of big partners, many which we can't name. In this time I am especially happy to be working for Kingston Technology and not any of the smaller companies. We're now in the game where big money talks and if you are too small, you may not get enough of those good chips. So it's going to be interesting, really interesting, for us as a company.
Jacob: Those are some very good answers to give context to the transition to DDR5, amongst other things that are going on globally and politically right now.
Jan: Now you're also seeing in Europe there are people investing to take the lead in manufacturing here. Recently we saw Bosch open up a new factory in Dresden in Germany. I think it's one of the coolest factories, search for it online and look it up. The Audis, the Mercedes, the BMWs, all of them need chips. I think a new car today have around four and a half thousand sensors. And with 5G, if you want autonomous cars driven that understands the difference between a stop sign compared to a digital signature in the window, you are going to need a lot more. In two years perhaps cars will have eight–ten thousand sensors.
Adrien: You know that there's a problem when politicians and head of countries are starting to get involved. You heard the US, you heard Angela Merkel, saying what's going on? It's going to be challenging, very challenging. As Jan said, when we get our quota from global planning on Monday we've sold everything pretty much instantly. So the rest of the week we are like, okay let's get ready for the next week, haha.
Jan: I am just hoping that southern Europe sell their quotas [to us] so i can tell my sales people to call our customers here in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway where we have people screaming for parts. The interesting thing about the Nordics, the Danish are a little bit behind the rest, is that we are extremely good on gaming and therefore are really big players. If you look at the average selling price (ASP) on a gaming PC sold in Sweden, Norway and Finland compared to Germany and further south – we are twice that. I mean when they're building computers with 480 gigabyte SSDs we are buying 2 terabyte SSDs. When they are buying 8 gigabytes of memory we are buying 32 or 64 gigabytes, even if you don't need it. Despite our countries combined only have 24 million people, I'd say this market account for over half of Europe.
Med detta riktar vi ett stort tack till Adrien och Jan som tog sig tid att svara på våra frågor!