Synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM) is made up of multiple arrays of single-bit storage sites arranged in a two-dimensional lattice structure formed by the intersection of individual rows (Word Lines) and columns (Bit Lines). These grid-like structures, called banks, provide an expandable memory space allowing the host control process and other system components with direct access to main system memory to temporarily write and read data to and from a centralized storage location.

When associated in groups of two (DDR), four (DDR2) or eight (DDR3), these banks form the next higher logical unit, known as a rank. 2GB DDR3 Dual Inline Memory Modules (DIMM) are undoubtedly the most popular density choice among today's enthusiast users. Most new parts of this type are configured as two identical ranks of eight banks each; one side of the DIMM housing those ICs that make up Rank 1, with Rank 2 populating the opposite face of the module. For this reason, single-sided DIMMs typically comprise only a single rank of addressable memory space.

Figure 1. Typical functional arrangement of SDRAM memory space. One Bank only is shown for clarity

Figure 1 shows the typical functional arrangement of SDRAM memory space. In the case of our example dual-sided dual-rank unbuffered 2GB SDRAM DIMM, the fully populated module contains a total of 16 ICs, eight per side. Each IC contains eight banks of addressable memory space comprising 16K pages and 1K column address starting points with each column storing a single 8-bit word. This brings the total memory space to 128MB (16,384 rows/bank  x 1,024 columns addresses/row  x 1 byte/column address x 8 stacked banks) per IC. And since there are eight ICs per rank, Rank 1 is 1GB (128MB x 8 contiguous banks) in size, with the same for Rank 2, for a grand total of 2GB per module.

If each row contains 1K (1,024) column address staring points and each column stores 8 bits (1 byte), this would mean each row (page) is 8,192 bits (1,024 x 8 bits) or 1K bytes per bank. It's important to understand that each page of memory is segmented evenly across Bank n of each IC for the associated rank. For this reason, each page is in actuality 8KB (1KB x 8 contiguous banks) in size. So when we talk about IC density we are referring to eight distinct stacked banks and the total memory space therein, whereas when we talk about page space, we are really working with Bank n spread across the total number of ICs per rank. In the end the math comes out the same (8 ICs versus 8 banks), but conceptually it's a critical distinction worth acknowledging if we are to really grasp the ins and outs of memory addressing.

We can now see why the DDR3 core has a 8n-prefetch (where n refers to the number of banks per rank) as every read access to the memory requires a minimum of 64 bits (8 bytes) of data to be transferred. This is because each bank, of which there are eight for DDR3, fetches no less than 8 bits (1 byte) of data per read request - the equivalent of one column's worth of data. Whether or not the system actually makes use of all 8 bytes of transferred data is irrelevant. Any delivered data not actually requested can be safely disregarded as it's just a copy of what is still retained in memory.

A Break From the Norm Device Operation - SDRAM as a Simple State Machine
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  • bowhe - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    Thanks for these great articles!

    What I didn't understand yet:
    You state "Installing more than one DIMM per channel does not double the Memory Bus bandwidth, as modules co-located in the same channel must compete for access to a shared 64-bit sub-bus; however, adding more modules does have the added benefit of doubling the number of pages that may be open concurrently (twice the ranks for twice the fun!)". This sounds very positive, but:

    Some system manufacturers state that with 3 dimms the memory frequency can be for example 1333MHz, but with 6 dimms it needs to drop to 800MHz. Why does the frequency need to drop when using 6 versus 3 dimms? Does this apply to high end boards like the Gigabyte-X58A-UD9?

    Some manufacturer states in a small side note of a 24GB kit (6x4GB) that the stated frequency/timing is only guaranteed when using 3 dimm slots. This leads me to think that any 3 dimms of the set can do the stated timing, but when all are used something inherent in the design or interaction of the i7 processor, motherboard and dimm prevents the use of stated frequency/timings? What is it?

    Can one overcome these limitations by adjusting voltages in a high end board like the Gigabyte-X58A-UD9? (without use of extreme cooling <32F/0C)

    Thanks a lot!
    Reply
  • kakfjak - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link


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  • cochleoid - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - link

    "When associated in groups of two (DDR), four (DDR2) or eight (DDR3), these banks form the next higher logical unit, known as a rank. "

    This mislead me. DDR2 may have coincidentally introduced 3 bit banks - allowing for 8 bank chips - but a typical old SDRAM (no DDR) chip had 4 banks.

    "We can now see why the DDR3 core has a 8n-prefetch (where n refers to the number of banks per rank) as every read access to the memory requires a minimum of 64 bits (8 bytes) of data to be transferred. This is because each bank, of which there are eight for DDR3, fetches no less than 8 bits (1 byte) of data per read request - the equivalent of one column's worth of data. Whether or not the system actually makes use of all 8 bytes of transferred data is irrelevant. Any delivered data not actually requested can be safely disregarded as it's just a copy of what is still retained in memory."

    This threw me off even more. What's happening is that the data at 8 consecutive (or otherwise close, depending on the burst mode) column addresses is being bursted on each read. "n" refers to the width of the memory chip, or the size of the "word" at a particular column address. "n" does not have any relation to the number of banks in a rank.

    8 8bit-wide DDR3 chips would make a total module width of 64 bits or 8 bytes at each column address. 8 column addresses would be 64 bytes (not 8 bytes, as the article seems to suggest), which actually corresponds to the cacheline size on most PCs.

    SDRAM could burst in sizes of 1,2,4,8
    DDR could burst in sizes of only 2,4,8
    DDR2 could burst in sizes of only 4,8
    DDR3 can burst only in 8.
    (All of these could burst in 8, filling the 64 byte cachline in one read operation. The difference with the generations of DDR has been a larger minimum wait in interface clock cycles as the interface got faster and the row accesses remained sluggish.)
    The internal clock of SDRAM has been limited by the speed of row accesses. What the 2n,4n,8n prefetches are doing is transferring more of this data available in an open row out at higher interface speeds with the rest of the system. It has nothing to do with the banks.

    SDRAM chips were segmented into independently operating banks so that parallel operations on interleaved banks could be synchronized or pipelined. 2n, 4n, and 8n prefetch buffering can be applied without independently operating banks.
    Reply
  • ricardo_sa - Saturday, March 26, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. You really saved my day. Ive read this article some time ago to help me understand how a DDR3 worked (theres few detailed explanations on google) and it turned out to be the worst mistake possible. I got the concepts wrong because of the incompetence of the publisher and lost a lot of time dealing with that 8 Bank misconception about the 64 bits.

    So it turns out one can only write a burst at 1 bank at a time, am i right? Otherwise you could access all the 8 banks in one single write/read....
    Reply
  • Huendli - Friday, March 13, 2015 - link

    Thanks for this interesting read with much attention to detail!

    "a top priority [...] should be to focus development on reducing absolute minimum latency requirements for timings such as CAS and tRCD, rather than chasing raw synthetic bandwidth figures or setting outright frequency records at the expense of unduly high random access times."

    The latter's exactly what happened. DDR3-1600 modules with CL7 timings were widely available at the time this article had been written. Nowadays, you only get ridiculously-named bars with equally-ridiculously monstrous heatspreaders, but more bandwidth and worse timings than ever.
    Reply
  • Anuradha - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Each rank consists of 8 banks, OR, each rank consists of 8 ICs and each IC consists of 8 banks?? Reply

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