Laptops are taking over. Worldwide, total sales are expected to reach 171 million this year, while desktop sales are expected to contract to 79 million. Laptops’ increased performance, portability and display quality means more and more people rely on them as their go-to computer. But with this reliance comes expectation.
A quest for the perfect laptop
Laptops have evolved from low-mid performance systems designed for portability at the expense of performance to a desktop replacement used for much more than internet browsing. Content creation and new trends like artificial intelligence (AI) built into the laptop continue to demand increased memory bandwidth, and customers will not be willing to compromise performance to get portability or sleek, thin form factors. Performance is a must.
Of course, battery life is also extremely important. The work-from-anywhere, educate-from-anywhere and play-from-anywhere trends make battery life a critical requirement. Workloads continue to evolve and laptops must incorporate real-world use cases when optimizing for longer battery life.
Finally, this work/educate/play-from-anywhere trend also demands that systems be thin and light (without sacrificing battery life or performance, of course). These requirements force every component within the laptop to find new ways to save space or reduce power consumption without causing a performance penalty.
In addition to all of these requirements, the ability to upgrade a system has long been a key pillar of the PC industry. While innovation is welcome in this space, innovation at the expense of upgradeability limits broad market adoption. Today, with sustainability concerns, this ability to upgrade is more important than ever. For example, laptops with solder-down memory to make them thinner were well received, however, customers were surprised and disappointed when they learned that memory upgrades are not possible.
The perfect memory for next-gen laptops
Next-generation laptops that will excel with today's workloads and be ready for the AI PC demands of tomorrow need a lower power, smaller and upgradeable memory solution that does not affect performance or the thinner/lighter form factor.
The solution is low-power DDR (LPDDR) with LPCAMM2, Micron’s new memory type that uses the latest LPDDR5X mobile memory in a brand-new module form factor to reduce power and footprint while increasing performance, repairability and upgradability.
In a head-to-head comparison of power usage, LPDDR wins over standard DDR in every test case. LPDDR is expressly designed to save power — and not just when in idle mode. Mobile devices like phones and tablets are expected to be ready instantly and able to perform to their maximum potential and then go back to sleep, barely consuming power. And, of course, the battery is expected to last all day. Historically, laptops have been hampered by DDR memory with poor low-power capability. But as the laptop becomes more integrated into our lives, we have come to expect them to behave more like phones and tablets. The only way to achieve this on the memory subsystem is with LPDDR mobile memory.
Of course, as soon as a laptop designer chooses LPDDR, a downside is immediately raised that LPDDR memory is not modular, meaning that it has to be soldered down directly onto the motherboard. This causes issues throughout the design, qualification, manufacturing and end user experience. Selecting a non-modular memory solution means any failure during the manufacturing process falls on the system builder, potentially impacting the entire motherboard and other bill-of-material (BOM) components, adding cost and overhead for rework. Additionally, solder-down memory requires that the entire non-memory BOM now be integrated into the motherboard, adding the cost of the non-memory BOM as well as the cost to the motherboard design. Lastly, solder-down memory means the user must select their memory density for the expected life of the laptop rather than buy for today's needs and upgrade at a later time.
This is where LPCAMM2 enters as a way to leverage the benefits of LPDDR5X components, now in a modular form factor that can be serviced during the manufacturing process and upgraded by the user. LPCAMM2 represents the first time the industry has had access to a modular LPDDR-based memory solution. Look for this to be a game changer for platform designers and end users.
In addition to saving power, LPDDR enables DRAM components to be stacked as high as 16 within a single package. By comparison, DDR5 best case is two die per package with wire bond stacking and four die per package with through silicon-via (TSV) stacking techniques, both of which require expensive stacking technology and process (and in the case of TSVs have additional latency penalties that impact performance). With the current memory architecture in notebooks, up to 32 die can be attached to the 128-bit memory bus, and with LPDDR it can be reduced to four placements today — and possibly two in the future.
LPCAMM2 leverages this capability to fill the entire 128-bit memory bus with four memory placements using the LPDDR stacks to determine the final density. Now laptop designers no longer have to design for 4-chip, 8-chip and 16-chip SODIMMs (the current industry standard for laptop memory) to be installed. LPCAMM2 maintains the exact same form factor for all densities and the same number of memory placements. As a result, and by comparison, LPCAMM2 takes up to 64% less space than a dual-SODIMM stack1 (motherboard + socket + memory) within the laptop, enabling thin and light laptop designs and making room for larger batteries.
With all the benefits of lower power, modularity and space savings, there must be an impact on performance, right? No! LPDDR is already faster today than standard DDR5 (6400MT/s versus 5600MT/s) and this trend is expected to continue through the lifecycle of both memory technologies with LPDDR5X stopping at 9600MT/s compared to DDR5 at 8800MT/s. When you add the higher speed of LPDDR5X with other factors such as up to 61% power reduction2 and 64% space savings, the total cost of ownership (TCO) becomes extremely compelling for LPCAMM2 as the memory solution of the future for laptops.
If LPCAMM2 really is the you-can-have-it-all memory solution, how do we ensure it remains affordable? It comes down to the same metrics of performance, power and overall TCO. Platform designers are staring at a fork in the road decision between LPCAMM2 as a high-performance, power-optimized memory solution versus scaling the SODIMM form factor to the same speeds. For DDR5 to scale beyond speeds of 5600MT/s, more non-memory BOM components must be added to the SODIMM, which adds cost. On the other hand, LPCAMM2 is a new form factor that requires a new type of socket, which also adds cost.
However, LPCAMM2 has a unique advantage as it is a single memory module designed to fill both memory channels (128 bits total). SODIMM, by comparison, will remain a 64-bit memory solution, so everything you buy to fill the first memory channel has to be purchased again to populate the second memory channel. This only gets worse as we add more non-memory BOM to the SODIMM. LPCAMM2, even with a more expensive socket, saves cost because only one set of non-memory BOM has to be purchased and no additional non-memory BOM will be required to achieve up to 9600MT/s. In addition, LPCAMM2 adds the modularity/serviceability option for platforms currently using solder-down LPDDR5X components, saving the system builders cost during manufacturing.
The bottom line
Very few times in our industry does a product come along that solves so many design and logistics problems — and delivers such a positive user experience that will enhance the AI PC experience to come.
Micron is currently working with platform designers and partners to launch this innovative solution that maximizes performance, minimizes power, optimizes space savings and provides serviceability and modularity. Simply put, LPCAMM2 is a perfect memory solution, delivering an unparalleled user experience for next-generation thin and light laptops.
164% space saving as compared to dual-stacked SODIMM modules.
2Up to 61% lower active power per 64-bit bus at the same DDR5 speed compared to SODIMM.