Need gobs of cheap RAM? Need it to operate at the lowest possible power? This blog’s for you.
I attended Denali’s ninth annual MemCon conference a few days ago. It was three days of intensive discussion about the state of the art in DRAM and Flash memory-the two mainstay memory technologies in use today. Surprisingly, NAND Flash memory is now the low-cost leader in terms of cost per bit, having passed by DRAM a few years ago. However, DRAM remains the mainstay memory for the vast number of designs and DDR SDRAM now rules as it becomes easier and easier to find microcontrollers and FPGAs with direct DDR interfaces and DDR controller and PHY IP for SOCs.
Memory power consumption as a percentage of system power consumption has grown with the rapid growth of memory-array size in all sorts of systems. A real eye opener at MemCon 09 was a chart on the power consumption of memory in server systems, where the large server memory arrays consume as much as 40% of the system power and the processor now consumes a mere 28%. Why is that important? It’s important because big server users like Google pay tens of millions of dollars each year in electrical power costs to run and to cool their server farms and 40% of a few tens of millions of dollars is, well, tens of millions of dollars.
Note that the current share-of-power percentages for servers don’t make processor power consumption unimportant-28% is still a big number-but the clear message is that server designers must now be far more concerned with memory power consumption because it’s a big part of the power puzzle. As embedded designs adopt large DDR memory DIMMs for bulk memory, the same sort of situation applies. Embedded designers must also be aware of the way their DRAM choices affect system power.
Marc Greenberg, Denali’s Director of Technical Marketing, gave a 2-hour tutorial on low-power DDR SDRAM on the first day of MemCon09. He threw up one slide that does a terrific job of putting all of the low-power SDRAM parts in perspective:
This slide shows the optimum type of SDRAM to use based on your design’s memory-capacity and speed requirements. I like this slide a lot because it helps you to pick from the wide array of DDR types and speeds. However, it seems that your selection job is about to become a lot simpler. Look what happens to the chart when you add in LPDDR2 memory:
LPDDR2 memory delivers the low-power goods by operating the SDRAM’s memory core and I/O at 1.2V, which is what you need to do to substantially cut memory power these days. Several manufacturers have announced LPDDR parts with I/O speeds to 400MHz/DDR800 and spec sheets for these parts are beginning to appear on DRAM vendor Web sites. LPDDR2 vendors with announced parts include Elpida, Hynix, Micron, and Nanya. Note that there’s also the possibility for existing LPDDR1 vendors to create parts that operate at 1.2V for similar power savings and that some of the soon-to-be-seen DDR3 parts may operate at 1.35V, which qualify them as low-power DRAMS.
In addition, there’s a spec for LPDDR2 non-volatile memory (LPDDR2-NVM) to allow LPDDR2 DRAM and Flash to be intermixed. The big advantage of Flash LPDDR2 is the very low standby power but Flash memory exhibits both read and write wear-out failure, so DRAM isn’t yet obsolete and you’ll likely need both memory types in your system design. The LPDDR2-NVM spec allows for I/O speeds to 533MHz/DDR1066 operation, but Greenberg says that the initial LPDDR2-NVM parts are likely to be slower than the maximum.