By Joaquin Romo
We realize that one of the most important aspects of a
computer is its capability to store large amounts of information
in what we normally call "memory." Specifically, it's random
access memory (RAM), and it holds volatile information that
can be accessed quickly and directly. And considering the ever
growing system need for speed and efficiency, understanding
double-data-rate (DDR) memory is important to system
With improvements in processor speeds, RAM memory has
evolved into high performance RAM chipsets called DDR
synchronous dynamic RAM (SDRAM). It doubles the processing
rate by making a data fetch on both the rising and falling-edge
of a clock cycle. This is in contrast to the older single-data-rate
(SDR) SDRAM that makes a data fetch on only one edge of the
In addition to well-known computer applications, DDR
memories are widely used in other high-speed, memorydemanding
applications, such as graphic cards, which need to
process a large amount of information in a very short time to
achieve the best graphics processing efficiency. Blade servers
using many blades, or single purpose boards, powered by a
single, more efficient power supply also need fast memory
access. This allows the blades to quickly transmit reliable
information among each other and create greater opportunities
to reduce power consumption. Memory devices are also
required in networking and communications applications with
tasks ranging from simple address lookups to traffic shaping/
policing and buffer management.
This article describes the main characteristics of DDR memories
as well as the specifications of power supplies required for
DDR Memory Characteristics
DDR memory's primary advantage is the ability to fetch data on
both the rising and falling edge of a clock cycle, doubling the
data rate for a given clock frequency. For example, in a DDR200
device the data transfer frequency is 200 MHz, but the bus
speed is 100 MHz.
DDR1, DDR2 and DDR3 memories are powered up with 2.5,
1.8 and 1.5V supply voltages respectively, thus producing less
heat and providing more efficiency in power management than
normal SDRAM chipsets, which use 3.3V.
Temporization is another characteristic of DDR memories.
Memory temporization is given through a series of numbers,
such as 2-3-2-6-T1, 3-4-4-8 or 2-2-2-5 for DDR1. These
numbers indicate the number of clock pulses that it takes the
memory to perform a certain operation—the smaller the number,
the faster the memory.
The operations that these numbers represent are the following:
CL–tRCD–tRP–tRAS–CMD. To understand them, you have
to keep in mind that the memory is internally organized as a
matrix, where the data is stored at the intersection of the rows
- CL: Column address strobe (CAS) latency is the time it takes
between the processor asking memory for data and memory
- tRCD: Row address strobe (RAS) to CAS delay is the time it
takes between the activation of the row (RAS) and the column
(CAS) where data is stored in the matrix.
- tRP: RAS precharge is the time between disabling the access
to a row of data and the beginning of the access to another
row of data.
- tRAS: Active to precharge delay is how long the memory has
to wait until the next access to memory can be initiated.
- CMD: Command rate is the time between the memory chip
activation and when the first command may be sent to the
memory. Sometimes this value is not informed. It usually is T1
(1 clock speed) or T2 (2 clock speeds).
Table 1 is a comparison of clock and transfer rates for the
RAM memory chipsets that can be found in today's computers,
including SDR, DDR, DDR2 and future DDR3 modules.
|Figure 2: SMAC in Numbers
||Maximum Transfer Rate
Types of DDR Memories
There are presently three generations of DDR memories:
- DDR1 memory, with a maximum rated clock of 400 MHz and
a 64-bit (8 bytes) data bus is now becoming obsolete and
is not being produced in massive quantities. Technology is
adopting new ways to achieve faster speeds/data rates for
- DDR2 technology is replacing DDR with data rates from 400
MHz to 800 MHz and a data bus of 64 bits (8 bytes). Widely
produced by RAM manufacturers, DDR2 memory is physically
incompatible with the previous generation of DDR memories.
- DDR3 technology picks up where DDR2 left off (800 Mbps
bandwidth) and brings the speed up to 1.6 Gbps. One of
the chips already announced by ELPIDA contains up to 512
megabits of DDR3 SDRAM, with a column access time of
8.75 ns (CL7 latency) and data transfer rate of 1.6 Gbps
at 1.6 GHz. The 1.5V DDR3 voltage level also saves some
power compared to DDR2 memory. What is more interesting
is that at an even lower 1.36V, the DDR3 RAM runs fine at
1.333 GHz (DDR3-1333) with a CL6 latency (8.4 ns total CAS
time), which matches the CAS time of the fastest current
Figure 2.0.1 shows the on die termination (ODT) for DDR2/DDR3
memory types compared to the motherboard termination of
DDR1, which is the primary reason why the first two types are
physically incompatible with DDR1 devices.
Figure 2.0.1: Termination Differences
between DDR-I and DDR-II
DDR2 versus DDR3
The primary differences between the DDR2 and DDR3
- DDR2 memories include 400 MHz, 533 MHz, 667 MHz and
800 MHz versions, while DDR3 memories include 800 MHz,
1066 MHz, 1333 MHz and 1600 MHz versions. Both types
double the data rate for a given clock frequency. Therefore,
the listed clocks are nominal clocks, not real ones. To get
the real clock divide the nominal clock by two. For example,
DDR2-667 memory in fact works at 333 MHz.
- Besides the enhanced bandwidth, DDR3 also uses less
power than DDR2 by operating on 1.5V-a 16.3 percent
reduction compared to DDR2 (1.8V). Both DDR2 and DDR3
memories have power saving features, such as smaller
page sizes and an active power down mode. These power
consumption advantages make DDR3 memory especially
suitable for notebook computers, servers and low power
- A newly introduced automatic calibration feature for the
output data buffer enhances the ability to control the system
timing budget during variations in voltage and temperature.
This feature helps enable robust, high-performance operation,
one of the key benefits of the DDR3 architecture.
- DDR3 devices introduce an interrupt reset for system flexibility
- In DDR2 memories, the CL parameter, which is the time the
memory delays delivering requested data, can be three to five
clock cycles, while on DDR3 memories CL can be of five to
ten clock cycles.
- In DDR2 memories, depending on the chip, there is an
additional latency (AL) of zero to five clock cycles. So in a
DDR2 memory with CL4 the AL1 latency is five.
- DDR2 memories have a write latency equal to the read
latency (CL + AL) minus one.
- Internally, the controller in DDR2 memories works by
preloading 4 data bits from the storage area (a task known as
prefetch) while the controller inside DDR3 memories works by
loading 8 bits in advance.
Typical DDR Power Requirements
VTT and VREF Considerations for DDRx SDRAM Devices
The termination voltage (VTT) supply must sink and source
current at one-half output voltage (1/2 VDDQ). This means that
a standard switching power supply cannot be used without a
shunt to allow for the supply to sink current. Since each data
line is connected to VTT with relatively low impedance, this
supply must be extremely stable. Any noise on this supply goes
directly to the data lines.
Sufficient bulk and bypass capacitance must be provided to
keep this supply at 1/2 VDDQ. This same noise issue requires
that the voltage reference (VREF) signal cannot be derived from
VTT, but instead must be derived from VDDQ with a one percent
or better resistor divider. Do not try to generate VREF with one
divider and route it from the controller to the memory devices.
Generate a local VREF at every device. Use discrete resistors to
generate VREF. Do not use resistor packs.
DDR Memories Power Management
DDR1 memory has a push-pull output buffer, while the
input receiver is a differential stage requiring a reference
bias midpoint, VREF. Therefore, it requires an input voltage
termination capable of sourcing as well as sinking current. This
last feature differentiates the DDR VTT from other terminations
present on the computer motherboard. The termination
for the front system bus (FSB), connecting the CPU to the
memory channel hub (MCH), requires only sink capability due
to its termination to the positive rail. Hence, such DDR VTT
termination can't re-use or adapt previous VTT termination
architectures and requires a new design. Figure 3.2.1 shows the
typical power management configuration for a DDR1 memory.
Between any output buffer from the driving chipset and the
corresponding input receiver on the memory module, you must
terminate a routing trace or stub with resistors RT and RS
(Figure 3.2.1). Accounting for all the impedances, including the
output buffers, each terminated line can sink or source ±16.2
mA (this is more than the older value of ±15.2 mA, per the
June 2000 Revision of JESD79). For systems with longer trace
lengths, between transmitter and receiver, it may be necessary
to terminate the line at both ends, which doubles the current.
Peak and average current consumption for VTT and VDDQ
are two parameters for the correct sizing of our power supply
system. To find the peak power requirements for the termination
voltage, we must determine the total lines in the memory system.
Figure 3.2.1: DDR Power Management
|Table 2: SDRAM Devices Comparison
|Transfer data rate
|Prefetch bit width
||8, 4 (Burst chop)
||2, 4, 8
||Differential data strobe
||Differential data strobe
||Single data strobe
|/CAS latency (CL)
||5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 clock
||3, 4, 5 clock
||2, 2.5, 3 clock
|On die termination (ODT)
||TSOP(II) / FBGA / LQFP
Power Sequencing Violations
DDR memories must be powered up in a specific manner. Any
violation of the power up sequencing will result in undefined
operations. Also, power down sequencing serves as a power
saving tool when the DDR device needs to be shut down
without all other devices connected to the same power supply.
Violating these sequences will present poor power saving results.
Typical Applications of DDRx Memories
Market analyses indicate that DDR is currently utilized in over
50 percent of all electronic systems, and usage is expected to
increase to 80 percent over the next several years. DDR is not,
and will never be, an "all things to all designs" technology. DDR
memory is well suited for those designs that have a high read
to write ratio. Quad-data-rate memory, for example, is designed
for applications that require a 50 percent read/write ratio.
Today, DDR memories are used mainly for computer
applications in dual in-line memory module (DIMM) RAM
devices. DDR memories can be used when interfacing with
32-bit microcontrollers and DSPs. Since many memories work
with a 64-bit data bus, microcontrollers have to make a double
data acquisition to get the less significant 32 bits first and
then the more significant 32 bits. DDR memories have also
been used to interface with FPGAs, giving those devices wide
programming flexibility. FPGAs are often used to customize
applications which combine many digital modules, such as
a microcontroller with specific application hardware, USB
controllers and printing modules. It is also common to find
FPGAs used specifically as memory controllers to interface with
other devices. DDR memories are suitable for these types of
devices because they are fast and inexpensive compared with
other RAM memories.
To remain competitive, you have to create new designs
that take advantage of today's advanced technology. To
understand the best solution for a specific design challenge,
it is important to research well, giving you the opportunity to
weigh the advantages of technologies, such as DDR memory,
to incorporate them in new product developments. This article
gives you a brief and useful overview of DDR memories,
describing how they are different from other memories to give
you a good starting point in choosing the best solution for your
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Joaquin Romo is an application engineer working in the Power Management and Motor Control Applications organization. Romo is in
charge of characterizing new power management products and developing application notes and evaluation boards focused on the
consumer electronics market.