The theoretical concept behind DDR5 RAM started taking shape in spring 2017. JEDEC, the trade organization that standardizes system memory and solid-state storage, is still working toward completing the DDR5 specification. Semiconductor manufacturers have already started building DDR5 RAM even though the standard is not yet complete.
SK Hynix and Samsung Modules Set to Ship in 2019
Taiwanese chip maker SK Hynix announced its first DDR5 prototype in November 2018. Built on a 10 nm process node, SK Hynix chips have 16 Gb (gigabit) density per integrated circuit (IC). A standard DIMM (dual integrated memory module, or ‘stick’) of system memory contains between eight and 16 ICs, giving it eight or 16 GB (gigabyes) of total capacity. These chips show a few encouraging early improvements.
The DDR5’s 5200 MHz clock speed places it on par with some of the fastest DDR4 RAM currently available. Digital Trends predicts enthusiast DDR5 memory kits as fast as 6,400 MHz to hit the market eventually. Early on, DDR5 memory probably will not offer much performance gain over the previous generation—similar to what we witnessed when DDR4 first came onto the market for PC systems.
Double the performance of DDR4—eventually
Eventually, as was the case for DDR4, the newer RAM will offer better performance as engineering improves. Much has been written about DDR5 RAM doubling performance over DDR4 because it’s written in the standard. JEDEC has finished its specification of low-power DDR5 memory, and it includes a base speed of 6,400 MT/s, double that of DDR4. The regular DDR5 standard is anticipated to follow suit once released.
Good News for Battery Powered Electronics
As it stands, perhaps the most important facet of DDR5 is that it requires comparatively less power to operate than previous generations of system memory. Samsung showcased a 10 nanometer low-power LPDDR5 module that operates at 7.5 Gbps using 1.05v of electricity. Compare that to DDR4 modules that typically require 1.2V or 1.4V, totaling a 9 percent decrease in operating voltage. Energy efficient RAM is important in devices that operate on battery power, like mobile handsets and tablets.
In 2014, DDR4 memory became available first as server memory and reached the PC market months later. With the first DDR5 anticipated to ship in late 2019 to OEMs for finished tablets and mobile devices in late 2019, it may take until 2020 until you can purchase DDR5 to use in a new PC build.
Mainstream adoption still more than a year away
Do not expect to add DDR5 memory in DIMM slots of any motherboards currently on the market. Prognostication based on typical timelines of past hardware generations would put mass switch-over adoption by 2021. Right now, the early adopter looks like SuperMicro, poised for entry into the consumer market, which appears to have a jump on the competition for motherboards that support DDR5.