Whilst I don’t spend as much time as I used to keeping current with all things PC hardware related I still maintain a pretty good working knowledge of where the field is going. That’s partly due to my career being in the field (although I’m technically a services guy) but mostly it’s because I love new tech. You’d think then that DDR4, the next generation in PC memory, making its commercial debut wouldn’t be much of a surprise to me but I had absolutely no idea it was in the pipeline. Indeed had I not been building out a new gaming rig for a friend of mine I wouldn’t have known it was coming, nor that I could buy it today if I was so inclined.
Double Data Rate Generation 4 (DDR4) memory is the direct successor to the current standard, DDR3, which has been in widespread use since 2007. Both standards (indeed pretty much all memory standards) were developed by the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) who have been working on DDR4 since about 2005. The reasoning behind the long lead times on new standards like this is complicated but it comes down to a function of getting everyone to agree to the standard, manufacturers developing products around said standard and then, finally, them making their way into the hands of consumers. Thus whilst new memory modules come and go with the regular tech cycle typically the standards driving them remain standard for the better part of a decade or two which is probably why this writer neglected to keep current on it.
In terms of actual improvements DDR4 seems like an evolutionary step forward rather than a revolutionary one. That being said the improvements introduced with the new specification are nothing to sneeze at with one of the big improvements being a reduction in the voltage (and thus power) that the specification requires. Typical DDR4 modules will now use 1.2V compared to DDR3’s 1.5V and the low voltage variant, typically seen in low power systems like smartphones and the like, goes all the way down to 1.05V.To end consumers this won’t mean too much but for large scale deployments the savings from running this new memory add up very quickly.
As you’d expect there’s also been a bump up in the operating speed of DDR4 modules, ranging from 2133Mhz all the way up to 4266Mhz. Essentially the lowest tier of performance DDR4 memory will match the top performers of DDR3 and the amount of headroom for future development is quite significant. This will have a direct impact on the performance of systems that are powered by DDR4 memory and whilst most consumers won’t notice the difference it’s definitely going to be a defining feature of enthusiast PCs for the next couple years. I know that I updated my dream PC specs to include it even though the first generation of products is only just hitting the market.
DDR4 chips are also meant to be a lot more dense than their DDR3 predecessors, especially considering that the specification has also accommodated 3D layering technologies like Samsung’s V-NAND. Many are saying that this will lead to DDR4 being cheaper for a comparable amount of memory vs DDR3 however right now you’ll be paying about a 40% premium on pretty much everything if you want to build a system around the new style of memory. This is to be expected though and whilst I can eventually see DDR4 eclipsing DDR3 on a price per gigabyte basis that won’t be for several years to come. DDR3 has 7 years worth of economies of scale built up and they won’t become irrelevant for a very long time.
So whilst I might be a little shocked that I was so out of the loop I didn’t know a new memory standard had made its way into reality I’m glad it has. The improvements might be incremental rather than a bold leap forward but progress in this sphere is so slow that anything is worth celebrating. The fact that you can build systems with it today is just another bonus, one that I’m sure is making dents in geek’s budgets the world over.