DDR5: The next step in system level performance

By Brian Drake - 2019-06-04

DDR5, the successor of DDR4, has been developed to deliver massive improvements in performance at a time when computer systems are feeling the mounting pressures of constant technological progress.

Despite modest clock rate improvements, the transition to multi-core CPU architectures enabled year-over-year compute performance gains to continue. CPU core counts are increasing at a rate that surpasses that of system memory bandwidth. Signal integrity, power delivery, layout complexity, and other system-level challenges are limiting advances in memory bandwidth per core. New memory architectures are required to meet next-generation bandwidth-per-core requirements.

Whilst previous transitions between iterations of DDR SDRAM, such as that between DDR3 and DDR4, have been smaller in nature, the transition between DDR4 and DDR5 represents far more than a typical generational change. DDR5 demonstrates a major step forward that has completely overhauled the overall DDR architecture and packed a lot more under the hood.

What are DDR4 and DDR5?

DDR4 is the fourth generation of double data rate (DDR) synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) that was released during the latter half of 2014. DDR memory can send and receive data signals twice during one clock cycle. This is double the rate that was possible on original DRAM integrated circuits that were produced during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Although DDR5 is the fifth-generation of this, a lot has changed in comparison to the jumps between DDR2, 3, and 4. Whilst previous new generations have focused on the reduction of power consumption and were driven by factors such as mobile and the end-user, DDR5’s main driver has been the need for more bandwidth. Current memory bandwidth is not able to keep up with newer processor models that have higher core counts.

More Than a Mere Upgrade

DDR5 has set the bar higher than ever before when it comes to overall performance—it is pushing the limits of high-speed signaling in a server application. However, DDR5 is far more than simply a faster version of its predecessors. When comparing DDR4 and DDR5 bandwidths at DDR4’s maximum data rate, 3200MT/s, a system-level simulation shows  DDR5 has a 1.36-times increase in effective bandwidth.  This comparison showcases some of the overall design improvements introduced with DDR5. Increasing to the 4800MT/s data rate expected to be available at DDR5’s launch the potential increase in effective bandwidth jumps to 1.87-times, and that’s just for starters! DDR5 will continue to grow system bandwidth greater than double its current state, driven by increased data rates, as well as overall architectural changes.

All this together makes for revolutionary performance enhancements that are unlike anything we have ever seen before. Given the current state of technology and how quickly major developments in technology are being made, it is highly likely that DDR5 will become the standard for many if not all systems over the next five-or-so years, similar to how DDR4 replaced DDR3 and so on. From a technical standpoint, this is excellent news.

What Can We Expect With DDR5?

The need for higher bandwidth and density has been posing a huge challenge for the tech industry, and DDR5 is the new standard that is expected to meet these requirements in the 2021 timeframe.  

Given that predictions have quite confidently stated that DDR4 would not see us through this decade, DDR5’s dramatic improvements are more than welcome; to meet scaling requirements and performance targets that customers are looking for, it is a necessary development in memory technology.

New technology needs more memory and current DDR4 SDRAMs are limited in scale. The move from DDR4 to DDR5, however, brings with it the possibility for faster and more efficient speeds greater than two times that of DDR4 in the form of 16 and 32 gigabit chips. So, naturally, alongside DDR5 will come noticeable differences in almost all areas of tech.

What should you take away from all this? DDR5 is a revolutionary piece of hardware that delivers major performance benefits. By the time we are into the 2020s, we will all be using it—and reaping the benefits of its more-than-generational upgrades.


Brian Bradford

Brian Drake

Brian leverages 17 years of DRAM expertise to lead strategy development in the Data Center segment with a focus on enabling DDR5 solutions for hyperscale customers. Before moving to his current role within Micron Brian spent 6 years in Product Engineering where his time was split between leading and/or contributing to teams responsible for developing, enabling, and maintaining DRAM products. Four years prior to joining Micron, he held roles within Infineon and Qimonda as a DRAM test program engineer.