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DDR4 vs. DDR5: Advantages and Differences

DDR4 vs. DDR5: Which should you use?

There is no longer a serious debate about whether a double date rate (DDR) is better than synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM). Instead, the question is which DDR memory to implement for processor-driven electronics product development. Making the best choice for your PCBA design requires an understanding of the advantages and differences between DDR4 vs. DDR5.
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Comparing the Features of DDR4 vs. DDR5 

DDR memory, which Samsung first released in the late 1990s, has been utilized in the design and development of products such as desktop and laptop computers, gaming stations, networking equipment and servers, and other electronics products. Due to its faster transfer rates, wider channel density, uniformity, and consistency, DDR raised the bar for RAM. And these memory modules have been a major asset in expanding processor/controller-driven products that are now applied to products and systems across virtually all industries.

After several evolutions of functionality and capability improvement, today, DDR4 is the most widely used version. However, there is a steady increase in the implementation of the latest version, DDR5. A comparison of the features of DDR4 vs. DDR5 is given in the table below.

FEATURE COMPARISON OF DDR4 VS DDR5

FEATURE

DDR4

DDR5

Year Released

2014

2019

Transfer Rate

1.6-3.2 Gbs

3.2-6.4 Gbs

Densities

2Gb-16Gb

8Gb-64Gb

Prefetch width

8n

8n/16n

Clock Type

Differential

Differential

Strobe Type

Differential

Differential

Supply Voltage

1.2V/2.5v

1.1V

Interface Tech

POD

POD

CAS Latency

10-15 clocks

ODT

Yes-Dynamic

Yes

As shown in the table, DDR4 and DDR5 have similar operational and performance specs. For example, both use differential clocks and strobe signals. Additionally, pseudo-open drain (POD) technology, which minimizes power consumption by eliminating the need for current to drive a high signal, is a feature of DDR4 and DDR5. Nevertheless, there are differences to consider when deciding which DDR version to implement for your PCB design.

DDR4 or DDR5? 

As with every evolution of DDR, the latest version is designed to specifically improve functionality, operation, and performance in some areas. Although this is also true when comparing DDR4 vs. DDR5, there are reasons to choose each for your design, as shown below.

Advantages of DDR4

  • Latency
    Although DDR5 has a higher clock speed, DDR4 has a lower Column Address Signal (CAS) latency. In some cases, this can be as low as half as long.
  • Cost
    The most significant advantage of DDR4 over DDR5 is its lower cost. This is especially significant when considering upgrading a legacy design, as the difference can easily translate into a substantially lower ROI for high-volume products. 

Advantages of DDR5

  • Speed
    DDR5 has the advantage of a faster maximum data transfer rate: 6.4 Gbs compared to 3.2 Gbs for DDR4.
  • Module density
    Module density is significantly higher for DDR5. At 8-64Gb, density is up to 4X DDR4, which ranges from 2-16Gb.
  • Lower power requirements
    The power supply voltage for DDR5 is only 1.1V. This is down from 1.2V for DDR4.  

The advantages and benefits above should be considered before settling on a memory module for your design. It is also important to understand the design challenges. Many of which are shared by DDR4 and DDR5. 

Design Challenges for DDR Memory

Signal integrity (SI) and power integrity (PI) issues are common concerns for PCBA designers. This is especially true when your design includes memory modules. For DDR4 and DDR5, the following challenges are of the most concern and can be difficult to solve. 

DDR Memory Design Challenges

  • Understanding and Adhering to Constraints
  • Knowing and Achieving Timing Requirements
  • Optimizing Component Placement
  • Verifying Functionality and Compliance

The design challenges above apply to both DDR4 and DDR5. And the solution for both is DDR memory compliance testing.

Ensuring DDR Memory Compliance 

The Joint-Electron-Device-Engineering-Council, or JEDEC, is a globally recognized standards organization that publishes regulations and guidelines for DDR4 and DDR5 memory modules. Satisfying these standards, as well as overcoming the DDR design challenges that come with implementing these components, requires not only knowledge of PCBA DDR design best practices but also the ability to validate DDR compliance. The best way to ensure that your built circuit board will achieve compliance and meet your performance objectives is by software verification during design. 

For help testing and verifying SI for DDR interfaces, see these additional resources:

The best option is to rely on an industry leader in PCB design and development software solutions, including DDR testing tool applications, to aid you in avoiding common memory issues and ensuring a DDR-compliant design. Doing so will optimize your PCBA development process by minimizing or eliminating unnecessary time loss and cost.

EMA Design Automation is a leading provider of the resources that engineers rely on to accelerate innovation. We provide solutions that include PCB design and analysis packages, custom integration software, and engineering expertise, which enable you to create more efficiently. For more information on the design implications for DDR4 vs. DDR5 and how we can help you or your team innovate faster, contact us.

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