Foot on the Gas: LPDDR5 memory shifts smartphones into high gear

By April 15, 2021 May 12th, 2021 No Comments

SK hynix’s 18GB LPDDR5 memory: enormous power in a tiny package

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Smartphones weren’t just revolutions; they were also revelations.

The ability to carry a fully loaded multimedia device in a pocket transformed the way billions of people communicate, work, and play. And, since the first commercially viable smartphones hit the market, device and component manufacturers have been beefing up their capabilities so that the latest flagships now rival high-end desktop PCs in terms of raw power.

Much of the latest advancements in smartphone processing capabilities come from LPDDR5, the fifth generation of low-power double data rate memory (also known as mobile DRAM). First introduced in 2019, LPDDR5 represents a significant leap forward from previous generations of memory.

Blistering performance in a compact package

Testing by JEDEC, which develops standards for the microelectronics industry, has shown that LPDDR5 doubles the memory throughput of LPDDR4, showing a data rate of 6,400 megabits per second (Mbps) versus 3,200 Mbps for LPDDR4.

Fig. 1: LPDDR5 represents a steep climb up from previous versions of mobile DRAM

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This was made possible by a significant redesign of mobile DRAM architecture, as the capabilities of LPDDR4 and its iterations were maxed out. LPDDR5 introduces new command-based power systems that reduce how many contact pins are needed for data transfer while also improving power consumption.

Even compared to LPDDR4x, which reduced power consumption by lowering the input/output (I/O) voltage (VDDQ) of LPDDR4 memory from 1.1V to 0.6V, LPDDR5 provides significant advancements, demonstrating a 50% improvement in data transfer speeds and a 30% drop in power consumption.

These are significant achievements in the world of smartphone components, which must fit into palm-sized form factors and must rely on batteries with limited power supplies. In fact, LPDDR5 memory will enable a new wave of development in system-on-chip development that will enable both smartphones and laptops to deliver top end processing speeds and performance while integrating all computing functions into a single integrated circuit.

Smartphone manufacturers around the world are eager to roll out LPDDR5 devices. In fact, LPDDR5 already represents 10% of the mobile DRAM market, with Omdia, a market research institute, estimating that it will grab more than 50% of the market by 2023.

Expanding the limit of computing power

SK hynix is already pushing the envelope when it comes to LPDDR5 memory. In March of 2021, the company announced that it became the first to mass-produce 18GB LPDDR5 modules.

Capable of supporting data transfer rates of up to 6,400 megabits per second, the highest speed bin supported by current LPDDR5 specifications, SK hynix’s modules show 18GB capacity, the largest capacity in the industry. In more concrete terms, this means smartphones equipped with SK hynix’s 18GB LPDDR5 memory can transfer up to ten 5GB full-high-definition movies per second.

Fig. 2: LPDDR5-equipped smartphones have an array of
features that provide a better mobile experience

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For average consumers, this will provide a bevy of immediately discernible improvements. These include improved connectivity to data-intensive 5G networks, faster download speeds, smoother cloud computing experiences, better camera performance, extended battery life, and even better high-resolution displays.

Gamers will be the first to get a taste of 18GB LPDDR5’s capabilities when the ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate rolls out later in 2021. Powered by SK hynix’s lightning-fast memory module, the phone will allow users to max out the settings on graphically intense 3D games. And, perhaps more importantly, mobile gamers will finally earn bragging rights over PC gamers still limited to 8GB and 16GB memory slots.

Undiscovered potential

LPDDR5 represents the new frontier in smartphones and computing. Still in its infancy, the technology offers significant untapped potential as manufacturers like SK hynix start exploring how they can maximize the computational potential of an LPDDR5 module.

In the future, developers hope that LPDDR5 will offer enough power to enable smartphones to feature on-device artificial intelligence and machine learning. Both are incredibly data-hungry applications that currently require the capabilities of cloud computing to execute. Moving them directly onto a smartphone will enable the devices to learn about their users much faster and provide experiences better tailored to users’ preferences.

With all of these developments, SK hynix continues advancing its own capabilities and looking at what’s next for LPDDR5 memory while also working to manufacture even more powerful modules.