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All about DDR4, the next-gen memory coming soon for PCs and mobile devices

Andy Patrizio | June 25, 2014
The two key improvements in DDR4 are power consumption and data transfer speed, thanks to the development of an all-new bus.

Smartphones and tablets will benefit from DDR4 memory, too. Because they typically come with only 1GB or 2GB of memory--and their displays consume much more power than their memory--they'll benefit much like laptops will, from extended battery life rather than lower power bills.

But that hasn't stopped Qualcomm from getting into the game. Its Snapdragon 810 mobile processor uses low-power DDR4 memory, and devices using this chip are expected to ship in the first half of 2015.

Reducing power consumption will give desktop PC users a warm, green feeling, but they'll probably appreciate DDR4's speed bump a lot more. DDR4 memory kits shown off at Computex boasted speeds ranging from 2133MHz to 3200MHz, and DDR4 could eventually hit 4266 MHz. DDR3 memory topped out at 2133 MHz, so there's no question memory will be a lot faster.

Finally, DDR4 uses much higher-density chips, so each memory stick (DIMM, technically) will pack a lot more memory. Where you might buy DDR3 memory in 1- or 2GB kits for desktops and notebooks, expect to see 4- and 8GB kits with DDR4. And for high-end servers, each DDR4 DIMM could deliver 64- or even 128GB of memory.

Do you need DDR4 memory? Will you ever?

Before you get too excited about DDR4, note that it hasn't even reached bleeding  edge status. You can't buy DDR4 memory today, and your existing hardware wouldn't be able to use it if you could. But it's a safe bet that it will be expensive when it does come to market. Mike Howard, memory analyst at the research firm IHS, said he expects DDR4 memory to launch later this year at prices 40- to 50 percent higher than DDR3 memory. So if you were to buy 16GB of DDR3 memory at the average price of $140, the same amount of DDR4 memory would set you back around $210.

"As we go forward, DDR4 will get more engineering resources," said Howard. "2016 is when we will see price parity with DDR3. Then it will get cheaper as more people put resources into it."

Howard doesn't consider DDR4 a must-have update for most people. "Users don't need 2400MHz speeds," he said. "In the PC world, except for the power-user segment, people aren't screaming for more memory bandwidth."

Kelt Reeves, president of boutique PC builder Falcon Northwest, echoed that sentiment. "On current-generation CPUs, we see almost no benefit in DDR3 speeds above 1866MHz," he said. "For 2133MHz and higher, you have to specifically run memory bandwidth tests to see anything outside of margin-of-error in most benchmarks."

According to Reeves, DDR4's lower power requirements--and the corresponding reduction in waste heat--will be this technology's real draw. "Memory has become so much more reliable in recent years with the voltage drops from 2.1- to 1.8- to now 1.5 volts," he said.


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