DDR4 memory may not find way into PCs, tablets until 2015

Analysts expect high-end servers to include DDR4 technology by the second half of 2014

While major memory vendors have started producing next-generation DDR4 memory, don't expect to see it in servers until late next year, and in PCs and tablets for about 18 months.

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Crucial Technology's upcoming DDR4 memory board

Until Intel and AMD begin supporting DDR4 in their processor boards, users won't be able to enjoy the benefits of the technology, which offer twice the performance, twice the base capacity (16GB) and 20% to 40% less power consumption than today's technology, according to industry analysts.

Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron are already producing DDR4 memory boards.

Both Intel and AMD have confirmed to Computerworld that each expects to begin supporting DDR4 memory on processor boards next year.

At its Developer Forum in September, Intel demonstrated the second generation of its 3D processor technology -- the Broadwell chip -- which supports DDR4 memory.

"Broadwell, the first product on 14 [nanometer process], is up-and-running. Production is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2014, and Broadwell will launch in the second half of 2014," an Intel spokesman told Computerworld in an email.

Mike Howard, an analyst at IHS, said it's likely that not all Broadwwell chips will support DDR4.

The technology will be supported first on servers, while client users will have to wait for Intel's Skylake architecture for DDR4 support. Skylake is expected to bring support for DDR4, PCIe 4.0 and SATA Express.

"The only real customer [for DDR4] right now is Intel for use in next-generation system validation," Howard said in an email. "We are still 18 months away from client PCs with DDR4."

While AMD has not yet disclosed a timeline for DDR4 support on its Opteron server processors, it did say they will be out some time next year. AMD also said it is working with system makers and memory partners to ensure support "when the technology is both available and affordable for the volume server" market.

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Crucial's graphic depicting the difference between previous generation DDR memory and its upcoming DDR4 memory

IDC forecasts that DDR4 support in high-end servers will begin in 2014 via non-Intel/AMD memory controllers, such as those from IBM and Fujitsu. Thus, DDR4 will represent less than 1% of DRAM bit share in 2014, IDC said.

"We believe that Intel and AMD support for DDR4 in the memory controller on their processors will begin in late 2014 or early 2015 and lead to the ramp of DDR4 towards the end of the year as the DDR4 price premium subsides," said Shane Rau, research vice president at IDC's Computing Semiconductors unit.

In 2015, DDR4 will represent 9% of DRAM bit share, Rau said. DDR4 technology shipments aren't expected to pass DDR3 until 2016.

DDR4 supports lower voltage, higher throughput, and higher capacity than DDR3.

The benefits of DDR4 will first be seen in the data center because server users place a higher value on power efficiency, performance and capacity, and because such computers have more room in their bill-of-materials to accommodate a memory premium.

Meanwhile, Crucial Technology joined the ranks of major memory makers supporting DDR4 memory earlier this year when it announced it will ship the technology by the end of 2013. Crucial is owned by Micron, which had previously announced DDR4 production.

The Micron DDR4 DRAM modules and Crucial DDR4 DRAM modules will both use the same technology. The differences between the branded products are their target customers -- Micron sells to system makers and Crucial to channel partners and consumers.

In a vivid set of graphics, Crucial listed all of the benefits of upgrading to its DDR4 memory upgrade. They include using up to 20% less voltage than DDR3 memory (meaning longer battery life), performance at twice the speed with 2133MHz and a volatile data storage capacity of 8GB to 16GB.

"Higher density modules will allow for greater RAM capacity, which will pave the way for next-gen performance," Crucial stated on its promotional website.

Crucial's DDR4 memory will also have a 2.1GHz processor for faster application load times.

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The benefits of DDR4 memory

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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