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The dawn of the fourth generation of double data rate memory (DDR4 RAM) has finally broken over the computing landscape. With more than seven years since the standardization of the previous generation of memory, the DDR4 release seems like a long gestation when compared with other segments of technology, but it’s actually par for the course for a RAM upgrade. This is due in part to the fact that standardization happens by way of committee, the JEDEC Solid State Technology Association.

But DD4R is here now–this much is for sure.  Servers running DDR4 memory have been available for retail purchase for several months. MSI, EVGA, and ASRock each showcased new desktop DDR4 motherboards geared towards gamers at Computex 2014. The first DDR4-compatible desktop CPU hit the consumer market August 29 with the launch of Haswell-E, Intel’s Core i7 high-end desktop processor.

In anticipation of the Haswell-E launch, memory manufacturers have started getting DDR4 desktop upgrades out on the market. Crucial 8GB DDR4 desktop memory upgrades are currently available.  Corsair has announced two families of high-performance DDR4, offering 4 GB and 8 GB modules in addition to 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB kits. By 2015, Corsair has plans to manufacture 16 GB modules and 128 GB kits. Do not try to stick any of these in a non-Haswell E-system, though—they will only fit in 288-pin DDR4 slots.

Although it looks like DDR4 adoption has serious momentum going the last quarter of 2014, it might take until the release of Intel’s Skylake processor (slated for the second half of 2015) for DDR4 to come equipped on more mainstream commercial computing devices.  Skylake is Intel’s successor to the yet-to-be-released Broadwell chip, a thinner version of the Haswell-E that is fitted for laptops and tablets. Broadwell processors are expected to come equipped in new machines by the 2014 holiday season, but at this time have not been confirmed to support DDR4 memory in all models.

DDR4 vs DDR3: Reduced Power Consumption, Increased Data Transfer Speed

Perhaps the main selling point of DDR4 is a 20 percent decrease in energy consumption. Whereas DDR3 generally requires 1.5 V of electrical power to operate, DDR4 requires as little as 1.2 V. In data centers that deploy servers running as much as a terabyte of memory on a 24/7 basis, and equipped with onboard fans and external ventilation systems to keep them cool, upgrading to DDR4 means big ROI in the form of energy savings.

Eventually, DDR4 will hit the market in laptop and tablet devices, at which time this boost in efficiency will translate into extended battery life. Though the LCD screens on these devices draw much more energy than their memory does, the extended battery life should be noticeable nonetheless.

Because DDR4 utilizes a higher density chip, the dual in-line memory module (DIMM) circuit boards that house RAM modules can pack more memory in a smaller space. With density levels double that of DDR3, fourth generation memory yields more server capacity and higher performance—especially in desktops, notebooks and tablets where space for DIMMs is more scarce. This opens up the possibilities for high performance in smaller machines looking down the road.

DDR4 Is Big News for Big Applications

Insofar as increasing processing speed and performance, DDR4 registered clock times ranging from 2133 MHz to 3200 MHz in benchmark tests, and experts say that DDR4 could eventually top out over 4000 MHz. This is big news for power users specializing in business applications like digital dashboards, data mining, big data, and customized enterprise software applications where more bandwidth is always desirable.

As is the case with any technology in its early stages, DDR4 will cost more than equivalent amounts of DDR3 in the initial months of its availability. With the server memory already on the market, 16 GB of DD4R retails in the $105 range, about 20 percent more than 16 GB of DDR3. A similar differential exists for desktop memory as well.   Market analysts expect price parity to emerge by 2016 as more manufacturers begin production of DDR4 to meet demand as machines become standard fit with DDR4.

The decision to upgrade to machines running DDR4—whether that is in data center servers or inside high performance desktops—should be something for enterprise-class users to consider. It is possible to see immediate ROI with the energy savings that DDR4 memory can yield. Companies that run applications requiring excessive memory use should also be excited about the new performance possibilities of DDR4-equipped machines hitting the market in late 2014.

Photo by Jared & Corin, taken from Flickr Creative Commons.
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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