A Faster Memory Controller

When AMD integrated a memory controller on-die, we knew that every time we saw a new AMD processor, we'd get a slightly enhanced memory controller. In Barcelona, the tweaks are significant and should provide for a tangible improvement in memory performance.

One strength of Intel's FB-DIMM architecture used in Xeon servers is that you can execute read and write requests to the AMB simultaneously. With standard DDR2 memory, you can do one or the other, and there's a penalty for switching between the two types of operations. If you have a fairly random mixture of reads and writes you can waste a lot of time switching between the two rather than performing all of your reads sequentially then switching over to writes. The K8's memory controller made some allowances for preferring reads over writes since they take less time, but in Barcelona the memory controller is far more intelligent.

Now, instead of executing writes as soon as they show up, writes are stored in a buffer and once the buffer reaches a preset threshold the controller bursts the writes sequentially. What this avoids is the costly read/write switch penalty, helping improve bandwidth efficiency and reduce latency.

The K8 core (Socket-940/939/AM2) featured a single memory controller that was 128-bits wide, but in Barcelona AMD has split up the DRAM controller into two separate 64-bit controllers. Each controller can be operated independently and thus you get some improvements in efficiency, especially when dealing with quad core implementations where the individual cores working on independent threads all have their own memory access patterns.

Barcelona's Northbridge is also set up to handle higher bandwidth than before. Deeper buffers are present, allowing for higher bandwidth utilization, and the Northbridge itself is ready for use with future memory technologies (e.g. DDR3). We'd expect one or two revisions past Barcelona will be when AMD switches memory technologies, but the new core will initially debut with DDR2 support.

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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Games have quite a lot of LOAD instructions, like most programs, as well as plenty of branches (esp. in the AI routines). Most likely the boost that Core 2 gets is due in a large part to the better instruction reordering and branch prediction, although the cache and prefetchers probably help as well. Given AMD was better than NetBurst due to memory latency, through in better OOE (Out of Order Execution) logic and keep the improved latency and they should do pretty well.

    Naturally, everything at this point is purely speculation, but in the next few months we should start to get a better idea of what's in store and how it will perform. One problem that still remains is that even if AMD can be competitive clock-for-clock, Intel looks primed to be able to go up to at least 3.6 GHz dual core and 3.46 GHz quad core if necessary. AMD has traditionally not reached clock speeds nearly as high as Intel, possibly due in part to having more metal layers (speculation again - process tech and other features naturally play a role), so if they release 2.9GHz Barcelona at $1000 you can pretty much guarantee Intel will launch 3.2 and/or 3.46 GHz Kentsfield (and/or FSB1333 3.33 GHz).

    On the bright side, at least things should stay interesting in the CPU world. :D
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Yes, interresting indeed, but from experience, AMD has always been too vocal in what they plan on doing, especially during the times they are in a 'rut'.

    What this usually means to me, is that AMD is trying to blow smoke up our backsides, we'll see though.

    Keep in mind, my main desktop system, and my backup server for that matter, both are AMD systems. The phrase "cost effective" applies here.
    Reply
  • kilkennycat - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Yesterday, Intel announced that they were converting a fourth fab to 45nm. A great deal of confidence in that process. And a few days ago they announced desktop shipments of Penryn-based CPUs pulled forward into 2007. Looks as if AMDs 'window of opportunity' is likely to be very small. IBM has not yet announced a successful implementation of a RAM on their 45nm process. Intel had their RAM design on 45nm up and running late 2005. Reply
  • archcommus - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    True but the move to 45 nm might not make a huge difference in real world performance, just like the move to 65 nm didn't for AMD. Their next full blown architecture will still be a ways off. Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Dislike AMD's move to 65nm process, move to 45nm has shown that Penryn would eats less power and runs faster thanks to its high K material and metal gate. Reply
  • smitty3268 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Every process shows that in theory before chips are actually being made on it. We'll see what actually happens when Penryn is released, not before. Reply
  • chucky2 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Has AMD given any indication of how probable dropping an Agena or Kuma CPU into an existing AM2 motherboard will go?

    Especially AMD's own newly released 690G or the upcoming nVidia MCP68?

    Chuck
    Reply
  • mamisano - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    It has been stated in the past that AM2+ based products will run in AM2 based boards. The limitation, if I understand it correctly, will be the lack of support of the new power features.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong :)
    Reply
  • chucky2 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Then it should be no problem for AMD to confirm through AnandTech that this is the case.

    Surely if Barcelona is this close to shipping (only a few months away), AMD must know if Agena and/or Kuma will work in current AM2 motherboards, especially their own 690 series their just about to release.

    All I'm asking for is a definite either way, it shouldn't be that hard for AMD to do at this point.

    Chuck
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, March 2, 2007 - link

    AMD stated PUBLICLY to anyone who listened that AM2+ stuff will plug into AM2, just BIOS update needed.

    Why should they react to any consumer who ask on some forum the same question every second week ?

    Most important is they said it WILL(not "may") work with AM2-spec boards to big Tier 1 OEM's.
    They can not make it incompatible therefore. They would be out of bussines in no time.
    Reply

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