Multi-channel memory architecture
In the fields of digital electronics and computer hardware, multi-channel memory architecture is a technology that increases the transfer speed of data between the DRAM memory and the chipset memory controller by adding more channels of communication between them. Theoretically this multiplies the data rate by exactly the number of channels present. Dual-channel memory employs two channels. The technique goes back as far as the 1960s having been used in IBM System/360 Model 91 and in CDC 6600.
Modern higher-end chipsets like the Intel i7-9x series and various Xeon chipsets support triple-channel memory. In March 2010 AMD released Socket G34 and Magny-Cours Opteron 6100 series processors which support quad-channel memory. In 2006 Intel released chipsets that support quad-channel memory for their LGA771 platform and later in 2011 for their LGA2011 platform. Microcomputer chipsets with even more channels were designed: for example, the chipset in the AlphaStation 600 (1995) supported eight-channel memory, but the backplane of the machine limited operation to four channels.
Dual-channel-enabled memory controllers in a PC system architecture utilize two 64-bit data channels. Dual channel should not be confused with double data rate (DDR), in which data exchange happens twice per DRAM clock. The two technologies are independent of each other and many motherboards use both, by using DDR memory in a dual-channel configuration.
Dual-channel architecture requires a dual-channel-capable motherboard and two or more DDR, DDR2 SDRAM, or DDR3 SDRAM memory modules. The memory modules are installed into matching banks, which are usually color-coded on the motherboard. These separate channels allow the memory controller access to each memory module. It is not required that identical modules be used (if motherboard supports it), but this is often recommended for best dual-channel operation.
If the motherboard has two pairs of differently colored DIMM sockets (the colors indicate which bank they belong to, bank 0 or bank 1), then one can place a matched pair of memory modules in bank 0, but a different-capacity pair of modules in bank 1, as long as they are of the same speed. Using this scheme, a pair of 1 GiB memory modules in bank 0 and a pair of matched 512 MB modules in bank 1 would be acceptable for dual-channel operation.
Modules rated at different speeds can be run in dual-channel mode, although the motherboard will then run all memory modules at the speed of the slowest module. Some motherboards, however, have compatibility issues with certain brands or models of memory when attempting to use them in dual-channel mode. For this reason, it is generally advised to use identical pairs of memory modules, which is why most memory manufacturers now sell "kits" of matched-pair DIMMs. Several motherboard manufacturers only support configurations where a "matched pair" of modules are used. A matching pair needs to match in:
- Capacity (e.g. 1024 MiB). Certain Intel chipsets support different capacity chips in what they call Flex Mode: the capacity that can be matched is run in dual-channel, while the remainder runs in single-channel.
- Speed (e.g. PC5300). If speed is not the same, the lower speed of the two modules will be used. Likewise, the higher latency of the two modules will be used.
- Number of chips and sides (e.g. two sides with four chips on each side).
- Matching size of rows and columns.
Dual-channel architecture is a technology implemented on motherboards by the motherboard manufacturer and does not apply to memory modules. Theoretically any matched pair of memory modules may be used in either single- or dual-channel operation, provided the motherboard supports this architecture.
Tom's Hardware found little significant difference between single-channel and dual-channel configurations in synthetic and gaming benchmarks (using a "modern (2007)" system setup). In its tests, dual channel gave at best a 5% speed increase in memory-intensive tasks. Another comparison by Laptop logic resulted in a similar conclusion for integrated graphics. The test results published by Tom's Hardware had a discrete graphics comparison.
Another benchmark performed by TweakTown, using SiSoftware Sandra, measured around 70% increase in performance of a quadruple-channel configuration, when compared to a dual-channel configuration.:p. 5 Other tests performed by TweakTown on the same subject shown no significant differences in performance, leading to a conclusion that not all benchmark software is up to the task of exploiting increased parallelism offered by the multi-channel memory configurations.:p. 6
Ganged versus unganged
Dual-channel was originally conceived as a way to maximize memory throughput by combining two 64-bit buses into a single 128-bit bus. This is retrospectively called the "ganged" mode. However, due to lackluster performance gains in consumer applications as discussed above, more modern implementations of dual-channel use the "unganged" mode by default, which maintains two 64-bit memory buses but allows independent access to each channel, in support of multithreading with multi-core processors.
DDR3 triple-channel architecture is used in the Intel Core i7-900 series (the Intel Core i7-800 series only support up to dual-channel). The LGA 1366 platform (e.g. Intel X58) supports DDR3 triple-channel, normally 1333 and 1600Mhz, but can run at higher clock speeds on certain motherboards. AMD Socket AM3 processors do not use the DDR3 triple-channel architecture but instead use dual-channel DDR3 memory. The same applies to the Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7-800 series, which are used on the LGA 1156 platforms (e.g., Intel P55). According to Intel, a Core i7 with DDR3 operating at 1066 MHz will offer peak data transfer rates of 25.6 GB/s when operating in triple-channel interleaved mode. This, Intel claims, leads to faster system performance as well as higher performance per watt.
When operating in triple-channel mode, memory latency is reduced due to interleaving, meaning that each module is accessed sequentially for smaller bits of data rather than completely filling up one module before accessing the next one. Data is spread amongst the modules in an alternating pattern, potentially tripling available memory bandwidth for the same amount of data, as opposed to storing it all on one module.
The architecture can only be used when all three, or a multiple of three, memory modules are identical in capacity and speed, and are placed in three-channel slots. When two memory modules are installed, the architecture will operate in dual-channel architecture mode.
Intel Core i7:
- Intel Core i7-9xx Bloomfield, Gulftown
- Intel Core i7-9x0X Gulftown
- Intel Xeon E55xx Nehalem-EP
- Intel Xeon E56xx Westmere-EP
- Intel Xeon ECxxxx Jasper Forest
- Intel Xeon L55xx Nehalem-EP
- Intel Xeon L5609 Westmere-EP
- Intel Xeon L5630 Westmere-EP
- Intel Xeon L5640 Westmere-EP
- Intel Xeon LC55x8 Jasper Forest
- Intel Xeon Wxxxx Bloomfield, Nehalem-EP, Westmere-EP
- Intel Xeon X55xx Nehalem-EP
- Intel Xeon X56xx Westmere-EP
DDR3 Quadruple-channel architecture is used in the AMD G34 platform and the Intel LGA 2011 platform (e.g., Intel X79). AMD processors which are used on the C32 platform instead use dual-channel DDR3 memory. Intel processors which are used on the LGA 1155 platform (e.g., Intel Z68) instead use dual-channel DDR3 memory.
The architecture can only be used when all four, or a multiple of four, memory modules are identical in capacity and speed, and are placed in quad-channel slots. When two memory modules are installed, the architecture will operate in dual-channel architecture mode. When three memory modules are installed, the architecture will operate in triple-channel architecture mode.
Intel Core i7:
- Intel Core i7-4960X
- Intel Core i7-4930K
- Intel Core i7-4820K
- Intel Core i7-3970X
- Intel Core i7-3960X
- Intel Core i7-3930K
- Intel Core i7-3820
- Intel Xeon E5-16xx
- Intel Xeon E5-26xx
- Jacob, Bruce; Ng, Spencer; Wang, David (2007). Memory systems: cache, DRAM, disk. Morgan Kaufmann. p. 318. ISBN 978-0-12-379751-3.
- "Opteron 6000 Series Platform Quick Reference Guide" (PDF). AMD. Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- 5000P memory controller, Intel.
- Intel LGA2011 socket x68 express chipset pictured, Tech power up.
- John H. Zurawski; John E. Murray; Paul J. Lemmon, "The Design and Verification of the AlphaStation 600 5-series Workstation", HP 7 (1).
- "Intel Dual-Channel DDR Memory Architecture White Paper" (PDF, 1021 KB) (Rev. 1.0 ed.). Infineon Technologies North America and Kingston Technology. September 2003. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
- "Part 2: RAM and HDD", Parallel Processing, Tom's Hardware.
- Intel's Sonoma Platform: Dual Channel Performance, Laptop logic.
- Shawn Baker (2011-11-16). "Intel X79 Quad Channel and Z68 Dual Channel Memory Performance Analysis". TweakTown. Retrieved 2013-11-30.
- X58 Product Brief (PDF), Intel
- Desktop Boards – Triple Memory Modules, Intel
- "Core i7 Family Product Comparison". Intel. Memory Specifications: # of Memory Channels.
- "Xeon Family Product Comparison". Intel. Memory Specifications: # of Memory Channels.
- "AMD Opteron 6200 Series Processor Quick Reference Guide" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-15.
- "Single, dual, triple and flex memory modes", Desktop motherboards support, Intel.