Release of DDR4
Last Updated On: August 10, 2015
Like with all new technology releases, DDR4 memory has some drawbacks. First, DDR4 memory has a different physical interface which makes it incompatible with existing DDR3 motherboards. A DDR4 motherboard will be required in order to use DD4 memory. That means that in order to make the switch you will have to upgrade your motherboard and possibly your CPU, which adds extra expense to the project.
DDR4 became available with the release of the Haswell-E x99 motherboard specification from Intel. The x99 platform released in August 2014 with the LGA2011-3 socket. Other features of the x99 motherboard include 6 USB 3.0 ports, 10 high speed SATA ports, and of course, DDR4 memory. As with any other technology product, the DDR4 release was met with heavy supporters and skeptics.
As with most technology products, the DDR4 release comes with a hefty premium of around 60% over comparable DDR3 modules. If I were one for bad puns, I’d say that early adopters have DIMM financial futures, but I fear I would have to RAM that one down your throats. However, the financial premium isn’t the only premium that early adopters have to pay. Most DDR4 kits that are available at the DDR4 release have a higher latency rating than the DDR3 counterparts. This increased latency rating theoretically translates to lower performance, but until benchmark data is available this could simply be another specification that consumers can safely ignore. Time will tell in that regards.
According to Forbes, this new platform of the Haswell-E, X-99 chipset, and DDR4 memory is such a huge leap that it makes PCs just a year old look and feel like antiques. It’s true, this new platform sports some very impressive features that we will discuss next, but I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that less than one year old hardware is antiquated by this platform. Perhaps if you are the sort of enthusiast that spends thousands of dollars every year constantly upgrading your technology then that statement might be true, but I think that for the majority of computing consumers out there, this new platform is not going to make their current rigs into dinosaurs – unless their current rig is an abacus or a Gateway PC.
Unlike the release of a new iPhone, the release of DDR4 memory didn’t generate any earth-shaking tremors in social media, didn’t make mainstream news coverage, and generally was only noticed by PC enthusiasts. This is pretty typical with desktop hardware however. People love to complain about their computers, but only a handful of people ever bother to take action and learn about the inner working of their PC and how to maximize the performance of their systems. Those people that do were very well aware of the DDR4 memory release.
Pre-release attitudes and anticipation
Like most other technology releases over the years, the DDR4 release was preceded by hype, anticipation, and skepticism. Enthusiast users have been waiting for years for a new memory standard to replace the aging DDR3 platform, and for a class of processors that supports more than two cores. Browsing forums such as Tom’s Hardware prior to release revealed lots of threads where people were concerned that their DDR3 platforms would be instantly obsoleted.
These concerns were met with large doses of skepticism regarding the performance of the DDR4 system, the prices it would release at, and even whether or not the release schedule would be met. Even as recent as first quarter of 2014, forum posters were expressing doubts as to whether or not the new Broadwell platform would be released on time, seeing that production was already delayed to first quarter of 2015.
Concerns such as these are not new to the technology world. History is full of releases where deadline where missed, price points were set higher than expected, and timetables pushed back to accommodate delays in production. As further proof that these concerns were nothing to be concerned about, companies started selling DDR4 desktop memory ahead of the Haswell-E launch. If the release date were in question, these companies would never have started selling their DDR4 memory kits when they did.
When you talk about companies that helped advance the DDR4 specification, you have to talk about Hynix. Hynix is a memory chip manufacturer, and their chips are used on memory modules from Samsung, G.skill, and others. OEM computers such as those from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Acer typically have Hynix chips in them as well.
As a company, Hynix focuses on making memory chips and they do so very well. The company was founded in 1983, and started manufacturing the “multifunctional phone lx-2” as a complete product. Fast forward to 2010 and in September of that year, Hynix signed a joint development agreement with HP to create next generation memory products. In 2012, the company changed their name to SK Hynix Inc as a way to honor their South Korean roots. Their crowning achievement, however, was the world’s first 128GB DDR4 memory modules in April of 2014 (read more about that at http://www.computerworld.com/article/2489597/data-center/hynix-reveals-world-s-first-128gb-ddr4-memory-module.html).
Since developing the world’s first 128GB DDR module, SK Hynix has been busy acquiring other companies and divisions. Hynix is positioning themselves to be a long term innovator in the memory market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them releasing a bunch of new memory modules over the coming months as adoption of the DDR4 memory increases.
Over the next several years, Hynix will no doubt deliver even higher performing modules at lower prices. Hynix has stated that they are committed to leading the marketplace for the next 30 years. I for one will be interested to see how they plan to stay on top for that long and not get knocked off.
Performance at initial release
At the initial release of DDR4 platform, performance was very similar to the current DDR3 platform as judged by the 3D gaming benchmarks. Both platforms are capable of running in full 1080p at over 170 frames per second in most modern games. For comparison, the human eye can only perceive 255 frames per second and TV broadcasts are 30 frames per second.
For most casual users, the performance benefit probably doesn’t justify the upgrade. In this case, unless your current setup is already several years old or is having problems, you can probably get away with your current setup or increasing the amount of memory in your current setup. Other than that, there isn’t really any other compelling reason to spend the money on the upgrade.
Even most power users wouldn’t benefit a large amount from upgrading. Gamers will only see a nominal increase in frame rate by upgrading the memory. Video editors and other multimedia artists might see a noticeable increase in video rendering times. However, the storage system on the x99 chipset is probably the primary driver for this class of user over the memory.
If you are a casual user, but looking for a completely new computer and have around $1,500 to spend, a DDR4 platform would be a decent use of the money. At this point, the new platform offers enough features on the x99 chipset that building a new PC around it is feasible. The primary driver here though is the number of SATA and USB ports on the motherboard as opposed to the performance of the DDR4 memory.
Wrapping it all up
Overall, the DDR4 release was not an earth-shattering release that everyone and his brother knew about. In fact, you had to have had your ear firmly on the computer enthusiast ground in order to even know that DDR4 memory was in the works. This is nothing new for desktop hardware releases. People don’t line up around the block for the latest motherboard chipset or CPU architecture like they do for the latest iPhone.
We saw players like Hynix work tirelessly to make sure that DDR4 memory became a reality. When market leaders like Hynix set their mind to making something happen, it is a pretty safe bet to say that it will happen. Hynix doesn’t just throw its weight behind the latest fad or rumor either.
Finally, we saw that initial releases of DDR4 memory had performance that was very similar to the DDR3 counterparts. Games ran at only slightly elevated frame rates. I suspect that this is because software is not yet developed to take full advantage of the performance of the new platform. When software catches up to hardware, DDR4 will be a powerful platform for all applications in all regards.
A side benefit of the DDR4 platform is that it supports much larger amounts of memory, SATA ports for storage devices and optical drives, and USB ports for device connectivity. Even if it takes months or years for applications to catch up to the performance of DDR4 memory, the immediate benefit of more storage and more device connectivity is almost a good of an upgrade driver as the increase in performance over DDR3 platforms.