DDR3: A comparative study

& -June 18, 2013

Striving to achieve an integrated user experience, today’s devices are getting crammed with loads of features which operate on voluminous data traffic over various interfaces. For efficient processing of these data, faster memories offering high bandwidth are the need of the hour. In spite of availability of many different kinds of memories, Double Data Rate (DDR) memories maintain their dominant position when it comes to offering large amount of dynamic random access storage with high bandwidth data transfer interface. These types of memories are called Double Data Rate as they offer double the performance compared to the Single Data Rate memories by allowing two data transactions per memory clock.

A typical DDR memory is arranged in banks having multiple rows and columns along with pre-fetch buffers. For any data transaction, the memory address is split into bank address, row address and column addresses. The performance advantages of the DDR memory are mainly due to its pre-fetch architecture with burst oriented operation; where a memory access to a particular row of a bank causes the pre-fetch buffer to grab a set of adjacent datawords and subsequently burst them on IO pins on each edge of the memory clock, without requiring individual column addresses. Thus the higher the size of pre-fetch buffers, the higher is the bandwidth. Higher bandwidth is also achieved by creating modules with multiple DDR memory chips.

DDR memories require specific power up and initialization sequence prior to their operation. Before any read or write transaction, a particular row of a bank needs to be activated/opened (which essentially activates and amplifies the signals from that row) and after the end of the transaction it is pre-charged/closed if no further access to the row is needed. The DDR memories need to be periodically refreshed so that they don’t lose any of their contents.

The size of pre-fetch buffer is 2n (two datawords per memory access) for DDR memories, 4n (four datawords per memory access) for DDR2 memories and 8n (eight datawords per memory access) for DDR3 memories; where n is the size of IO interface typically 4, 8 or 16. These pre-fetch schemes attribute their effectiveness to the principle of spatial locality.

With these basic understandings, the specific features and functionalities of DDR3 memories are further discussed in the following sections.

DDR3 Memory
DDR3 memories provide much improved performance compared to DDR2 memories due to their low power, higher clock frequency operation along with 8n pre-fetch architecture offering significantly higher bandwidth for data transfers. Typically a DDR3 memory operates at 1.5V at 400-800MHz memory clock frequency; thus offering a data rate per pin ranging from 800-1600Mbps. DDR3 memories are available in IO interface sizes of 4, 8 and 16; supporting burst lengths of 4 and 8 datawords per memory access. The important features of DDR3 memories are compared with those of DDR2 memories in Table 1.

Table 1: Feature comparison between DDR3 and DDR2 memories

Besides the above improvements in feature, DDR3 memories incorporate the following additional/new specifications which differ from the DDR2 memories:

  • Introduction of Fly-by routing for connecting command and address signals to memory modules to provide improved signal integrity at high speeds.
  • Write leveling and Read Leveling for skew compensation due to Fly-by routing.
  • Incorporation of dedicated ZQ pad and ZQ calibration sequences along with on-die calibration engine for calibrating the On-Die termination circuit and output driver.
  • Dedicated RESET pin
  • Enhanced low power feature
  • Dynamic On-Die termination to improve signal integrity for write transactions.
The following sections describe the above specifications in greater detail.

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