What is DDR3?

To provide compatibility and interchangeability for computer memory, the structure and form factor are controlled by a standards organization known as JEDEC. JEDEC specifies voltages, speeds, timings, communication protocols, bank addressing, and many other factors in the design and development of memory DIMMs. Taking a closer look at publications at www.jedec.org can provide insight into what DDR3 brings to the market and where it might go. Comparing DDR2 and DDR3 several interesting points stand out.

Official JEDEC Specifications
  DDR2 DDR3
Rated Speed 400-800 Mbps 800-1600 Mbps
Vdd/Vddq 1.8V +/- 0.1V 1.5V +/- 0.075V
Internal Banks 4 8
Termination Limited All DQ signals
Topology Conventional T Fly-by
Driver Control OCD Calibration Self Calibration with ZQ
Thermal Sensor No Yes (Optional)

Please keep in mind that JEDEC specs are official. They are a starting point for enthusiast memory companies. However, since there was never a JEDEC standard for memory faster than DDR-400 then DDR memory running at faster speeds is really overclocked DDR-400. Similarly DDR2 memory faster than DDR2-800 is actually overclocked DDR2-800 since there is currently no official JEDEC spec for DDR2-1066.

DDR speeds ran to DDR-400, DDR2 has official specs from 400 to 800, and DDR3 will extend this from 800 to 1600 based on the current JEDEC specification. Initial DDR3 offerings will be 1066 and 1333 will quickly follow. The 1333 speed is important because it matches the 1333 bus speed of the new Intel processors. The 1333 processors can run any speed of DDR3 or DDR2 memory, but 800 and 1067 will be overlap speeds with DDR2. 1333 will be the first DDR3 speed to offer enhanced memory speeds to current and future processors.

Since DDR3 is designed to run at higher memory speeds the signal integrity of the memory module is now more important. DDR3 uses something called "fly-by" technology instead of the "T branches" seen on DDR2 modules. This means the address and control lines are a single path chaining from one DRAM to another, where DDR2 uses a T topology that branches on DDR2 modules. "Fly-by" takes away the mechanical line balancing and uses automatic signal time delay generated by the controller fixed at the memory system training. Each DDR3 DRAM chip has an automatic leveling circuit for calibration and to memorize the calibration data.

DDR3 also uses more internal banks - 8 instead of the 4 used by DDR2 - to further speed up the system. More internal banks allow advance prefetch to reduce access latency. This should become more apparent as the size of the DRAM increases in the future.

DDR3 further reduces the memory voltage. In the past few years we have moved from 2.5V with DDR to 1.8V with DDR2. DDR3 drops memory voltage to 1.5V, which is a 16% reduction from DDR2. There are also additional built-in power conservation features with DDR3 like partial refresh. This could be particularly important in mobile applications where battery power will no longer be needed just to refresh a portion of the DRAM not in active use. There is also a specification for an optional thermal sensor that could allow mobile engineers to save further power by providing minimum refresh cycles when the system is not in high performance mode.

There is even more to DDR3, but for most enthusiasts looking at a new desktop system DDR3 can provide higher official speeds, up to 1600MHz. The higher speeds are available at lower voltage, with 1.5V as the official specification. There are many features that will not make much difference in DDR3 performance until we begin to see even faster and higher capacity memory. The question, then, is whether DDR3 memory provides better performance for the computer enthusiast than current DDR2?

Index DDR3 Memory and P35 motherboards
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  • Final Hamlet - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Oh look! It's Bicycle repair man! Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    I don't really know what to think with ddr3 .. or even ddr2.

    When I jumped from PC 2700 memory (cas 3 i think) up to PC3200 memory cas 2 I noticed a increase in the overall speed of my computer.

    When I jumped to DDR2 PC5300 I noticed no speed increase. When I jumped to PC6400 I noticed no speed increase. When I overclock my memory I notice no...

    You get the picture.

    I have a question. DDR3 with tight timings, Will we accualy notice it over ddr2? Or will it be one of those things where only a benchmark tends to notice anything.
    Reply
  • Starglider - Friday, May 18, 2007 - link

    Depends on what applications you're running. But based on your recent experience, probably not. Reply
  • defter - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    The article says that P965 board was running at 1066MHz FSB and then writer is suprised when P35 + DDR2 running at 1333MHz FSB is slightly faster??? Then in the conclusion it's said that the reason for an increased performance is the chipset instead of a higher FSB???

    If you want to make P965 vs P35+DDR2 comparision, why not use the same FSB.....
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    The P965 was running at 10x266 or 2.66GHz. The P35 boards ran at 8x333 or 2.66GHz. 1333 is not a natural CPU ratio on the P965 so when you choose 1333 there is no way to also choose DDR2-800. At 1333 the closest you can get (at a different strap) is 833. We believe the way we tested was as close to apples to apples as we could design. Remember we are looking at MEMORY PERFOMNACE, and the FSB should not matter as long as memory speed and timings are set the same on all test boards, which we definitley insured.

    Despite that, we know that Sandra XI results can be influenced a small amount by CPU speed and possibly FSB. To make sure our results were still as close to apples to apples as possible we did run 10x266 on all boards and compared results to our test setup. The MEMORY PERFORMANCE results were virtually the same as we have reported.

    We do agree that were we testing CPU performance the differing bus speeds at the same resulatant CPU speed could make some difference.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Despite that, we know that Sandra XI results can be influenced a small amount by CPU speed and possibly FSB. To make sure our results were still as close to apples to apples as possible we did run 10x266 on all boards and compared results to our test setup. The MEMORY PERFORMANCE results were virtually the same as we have reported.


    Defter is right. You guys were just testing performance increase by using a 1333FSB instead of 1066FSB. Memory bandwidth tests like Sandra will show HUGE differences. Remember, the CPU will not benefit from faster memory when FSB isn't faster. It's different from AMD where Hypertransport is only used for northbridge to southbridge communications(which yields into 0% improvement ) for PC.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    P35 is a combination of an increase in bus speed to 1333 and an improved memory controller. We are working on a followup article to appear in a few days that shows the breakdown of the bus speed contribution and the memory controller contribution.

    That does not change the fact that memory bandwidth for P35 is improved 16% to 18% over P965, but we have run additional tests to show the individual impact of the bus speed increase and the memory controller improvements.

    In approaching testing it is not possible to run 1333 FSB on the P965/975x and also run memory speeds like 800 and 1066 as we would like. On P35 if 1066 FSB is selected then 1333 is not available as a memory option. We can, however, run 1066 FSB on P35 to roughly determine Memory Controller contribution compared to P965, and then compare those results to 1333 equivalents (8X333 instead of 10x266) to see the additional impact of the 1333 bus on memory performance. Those results will be reported as soon as testing is complete.
    Reply
  • defter - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    quote:

    1333 is not a natural CPU ratio on the P965 so when you choose 1333 there is no way to also choose DDR2-800


    Why not report results at 1066MHz FSB then?


    quote:

    Remember we are looking at MEMORY PERFOMNACE, and the FSB should not matter as long as memory speed and timings are set the same on all test boards, which we definitley insured.


    Intel's CPUs are FSB limited since memory traffic goes through FSB. For example, 1066MHz FSB can transfer 8.5GB/s while dual channel DDR2-800 can provide 12.8GB/s. Thus, increasing the FSB also affects memory performance.
    Reply
  • vaystrem - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I'm curious:
    A) Why did you chose Farcry?
    B) Why you didn't include more game tests?

    I think it would be particularly interesting to see how a game like Supreme Commander or Company of Heroes performs. In strategy games you have the stress from the graphical component and a heavy AI load which may take better advantage of all that bandwidth than a simple FPS.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    This was a comparison of DDR3 and DDR2, not a launch review for P35. You will see that when the performance embargo lifts on May 21st. Far Cry is part of our standard memory test suite and we are very familiar with how it behaves with variations in memory bandwith and timings. That is why it was chosen.

    You will see test results with many more games when we review the chipset on May 21st and the new P35 motherboards on June 4th.

    Consider this a preview, and all the advance info we could give you at this point. The NDA for DDR3 memory has lifted, but the performance NDA for P35 is in place until the 21st.
    Reply

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