IBM Sets Memory Chip Speed Record

IBM has unveiled its latest microprocessor advance, which promises to use a new on-chip dynamic memory technology to significantly increase chip processing performance. The chip could go into production as early as 2008.

In papers presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) Wednesday in San Francisco, IBM detailed its new technology, which boasts the fastest access times ever recorded in embedded dynamic random access memory (eDRAM).

This new technology, designed using IBM’s silicon-on-insulator (SOI) for high performance at low power, vastly improves microprocessor performance in multi-core designs and speeds the movement of graphics in gaming, networking and other image intensive, multimedia applications, IBM said.

More Performance, Less Space

IBM’s new eDRAM technology, according to the company, improves on-processor memory performance in about one-third the space with one-fifth the standby power of conventional SRAM (static random access memory).

This is important because it lets IBM increase the size of its cache, which in turn improves a microprocessor’s cache miss rate.

“When a microprocessor executes an instruction and tries to fetch the data in the cache memory, if there’s a cache miss, the microprocessor has to kind of reboot itself and start that job all over again. So cache misses can slow down a server or high performance microprocessor quite a bit,” David Lammers, directorof, told TechNewsWorld.

“If IBM can use embedded eDRAM and get a three- or four-fold improvement in the number of memory bits compared to SRAM in the same amount of area on the chip … you can greatly reduce the cache miss rate, and that’s going to give IBM servers a significant performance boost,” Lammers added.

Confrontation Ahead

IBM’s new technology may speed processor performance, but it will likely benefit some types of processors and applications more than others.

“For certain applications, such as speeding the movement of graphics, as IBM notes, high performance on-processor memory helps to support near real-time performance,” Charles King principal analyst for Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “That’s a critical piece for improving a wide variety of applications ranging from computer gaming to video conferencing to medical imaging.”

In addition, King noted, IBM’s eDRAM development could set the stage for a serious confrontation between IBM and Intel, whose SRAM currently dominates the commercial market.

Where to See It

IBM declined to indicate in which of its product lines the new eDRAM technology would appear first, but noted that it is already using the new eDRAM in its 65 nanometer prototype chips and plans to use the new advances in its entire 45 nanometer chip line.

In addition to various server usages, the technology might also be used by companies such as Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, all of which manufacture gaming consoles that utilize IBM-supplied chips and have graphics-intensive applications.

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