The capabilities of memory storage have grown exponentially in recent decades, opening the door to new possibilities. Let’s see what DRAM can do for us.
5 Technologies Made Possible by Innovations in DRAM Storage
Many inventions end up leading to an explosion of new possibilities simply because they provide a simple solution to a persistent problem. One invention that changed the game when it came to technological inventions was the development of DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) in 1969. The problem: bulky, expensive, and complicated memory chips. In this article, we will explore how DRAM solved the problem, changed the future, and what innovations have been made possible because of DRAM.
Here are the 5 technologies we will cover in this article:
- Personal Computers (PC)
- Gaming Consoles
- Smart TVs
Before we get into breaking down how DRAM has been incorporated into the above technologies, let’s dive a little deeper into a basic understanding of DRAM and RAM first.
What is DRAM?
DRAM is one of the two main types of RAM (random access memory). RAM functions as a computer’s short-term memory and helps a computer function by providing access to information and instructions. RAM is a quick and temporary, or volatile, memory that only remembers instructions from the CPU until they are saved on a more permanent, long-term memory device like a hard drive. RAM helped increase the speed of the CPU.
Two Types of RAM Exist, One is DRAM
The first type of RAM was called static RAM (SRAM), invented in the early 1960s. SRAM was expensive to manufacture, did not have a large storage capacity, and was bulky in size. The other type of RAM, dynamic RAM (DRAM), is now the more frequently used of the two types.
Dynamic random access memory, or DRAM for short, is a type of RAM that first came into use in 1969, about a decade later than its predecessor, SRAM. Its invention was significant because DRAM was much simpler and cheaper to make than SRAM. This increased accessibility of RAM, and made it much more portable due to its compact size and large capacity. The invention of DRAM led to an explosion of technological developments. The original DRAM memory chip was the Intel-1103, first used in the HP-9800 series in 1970, which evolved into what we know now as personal computers.
1. Personal Computers (PC)
One of the most obvious ways that DRAM changed the game was through the manufacturing of personal computers that were now affordable and compact enough to be sold to consumers. Although it wasn’t until the 1980’s that anything that resembled a PC as we recognize it today was invented, it would not have been possible without DRAM.
IBM was one of the first computer manufacturers to utilize DRAM in their personal computers. While computers in the 1980s and 1990s were relatively large, slow, and simple, DRAM technology has evolved along with computer technology.
Today, DRAM is still widely used as the main memory of personal computers because it is affordable and efficient. Here are some common types of DRAM used in computers:
- SDRAM: “Synchronous DRAM” introduced mid-1990’s & uses pins to improve performance of DRAM technology
- DDR SDRAM: “Double Data Rate SDRAM” has double the data transmission speed as its predecessor, SDRAM introduced in 2000
- ECC DRAM: “Error-Correcting Code DRAM” can find and correct corrupted data
- DDR2, DDR3, DDR4: Each subsequent version improves the efficiency and speed of the previous DDR
- Other types of DRAM you might see are:
- DIMM “Dual Inline Memory Module”
- RDIMM increases reliability of DIMM
- UDIMM “unregistered” or unbuffered = faster
- SODIMM “small outline”
- LRDIMM “Load-Reduced”
Personal computers, including desktops and laptops, have a unique feature that most other DRAM-using devices can’t take advantage of: built-in expandable RAM slots. This means that you may be able to add additional working memory chips if needed in the future, without paying for the chips now. It also allows you to replace old DRAM if you really want to make your computer’s lifespan stretch or give it a speed boost.
It’s not just traditional desktop computers that have benefited from DRAM technology. Laptops, All-in-Ones, and tablets are all computing devices that have come into existence due to the capabilities of efficient DRAM technology.
Clearly, DRAM has changed from its original form to accommodate the changing needs for its diverse uses. Today’s most commonly used DRAM in personal computers is DDR4 which is available in 8, 16, or 32 GB versions. DRAM has also been customized and has become an essential component of another invention that would never exist today if it weren’t for DRAM: the smartphone.
2. Smart Phones
Smartphones were unimaginable half a century ago when the original mobile phones were invented for wireless communication. The first hand-held cell phone was invented in 1973, just a few years after the first DRAM chip.
Today, smartphones require DRAM. It’s not quite the same DRAM used in PCs; mobile DRAM was developed specifically for mobile phones and is known as LPDDR, or Low-Power DDR. This specific type of DRAM uses less power than DRAM you would see in a computer. This results in a longer battery life which is undeniably important for smartphone basic operation.
DRAM is crucial to smartphone functioning because these devices are designed for multi-tasking and operating multiple apps simultaneously. DRAM is the solution to providing more accessible memory to work faster. Common DRAM types used in cell phones include:
- LPDDR4 – released in 2013 for mobile & PC use
- LPDDR4x – released in 2017 for mobile & automotive use
- LPDDR5 – released in 2019 for mobile & automotive use
Each newer version of LPDDR brings more energy savings and higher performance, which means that DRAM technology has allowed smartphones to become faster, more efficient, and incredible at handling multiple tasks simultaneously.
3. Gaming Consoles
Gaming consoles may never have come into a thriving existence if it weren’t for DRAM technology. The Odyssey, the very first video gaming console, was invented in 1970, just 1 year after the invention of DRAM. A more well-known gaming console, the Atari 2600, came on-scene in 1977 and operated with the use of DRAM.
Clearly, gaming consoles have come a long way since Atari. Today, DRAM technology is still used in popular consoles like XBOX and PlayStation5. DRAM is crucial for continuous access to your console’s short-term memory that is efficient and avoids choppiness or lag that would occur if only accessing your hard drive.
RDRAM, or “Rambus DRAM,” significantly changed the course of what was possible in the world of video gaming. RDRAM was first used in 1999 with the Nintendo-64 console and significantly improved graphics, changing from traditional 2-dimensional graphics to something brand new in gaming: 3-dimensional. Things only got better from there.
It’s not just the speed of the operating systems on these consoles that can benefit from DRAM technology, but also the graphics! GDDR SDRAM, or “Graphics double data rate synchronous dynamic random access memory,” puts the priority on processing more data over speed, making it ideal for high-quality graphics. GDDR SDRAM was introduced in the year 2000 and is now available in the following versions:
Each newer version of LPDDR improves graphics speed and capacity, expanding the possibilities in gaming with each iteration. With DRAM being used in graphics and vehicles becoming smarter each year; the logical progression was to start using DRAM technology in the infotainment centers of vehicles.
4. Automotive Applications
An infotainment system provides an in-vehicle screen that provides both entertainment and information relevant to the vehicle and driver. Some basic things an infotainment center can do are:
- Play music & adjust speaker settings
- Integrate Smartphone
- GPS Navigation System
- Entertainment controls for passenger screens
- Voice Recognition
- Hands-Free Phone Communications
Although the first vehicle with an infotainment center was the 1986 Buick Riviera, touchscreens inside vehicles didn’t become predominant until about 10 years ago in the 2010s. Infotainment centers have come a long way since the original prototype. The development of increased capability for infotainment systems can be accredited to DRAM.
DRAM has recently exploded in the vehicular market. Just 3 years ago in 2019, only 2% of vehicle memory was DRAM; in the next 3 years, however, it is estimated to increase to 30%. So far, DRAM has been used in both the infotainment centers and the instruments themselves. DRAM is quickly becoming more critically used in vehicles with newer technologies we are seeing including smart-driving features, self-driving vehicles, and driver assistance. In these applications, a lot of data has to be processed quickly all at once.
Because DRAM is being trusted for something as serious as controlling a motor vehicle that is driving 55 mph down the road, there are significantly increased requirements in the categories of reliability and durability. Companies are currently exploring how to increase both of these factors so that DRAM technology can be utilized long-term in vehicles.
Advanced Driver Awareness Systems, or ADAS, as well as self-driving vehicles, require DRAM to process all of the multi-factor information at once and react appropriately. DRAM can handle a huge magnitude of camera data for sensors to interpret feedback and operate properly.
The DRAM chip currently used in vehicles was originally made for smartphones and is the LPDDR4 SDRAM. It has been modified to accommodate higher temperatures that vehicles are prone to when sitting out in the hot sun.
5. Smart Televisions
Televisions are no exception when it comes to drastically improved features over the past few decades. Although TVs have been around since 1927, the first smart-tv didn’t come onto the market until the 21st century.
The progression of televisions has gone from receiving an analog signal for antenna-only with tuning, to cable, to digital signal subscription services, to the television becoming a mini-computer in the form of a Smart TV that can stream online subscription services. The invention of the Smart TV can be accredited to the DRAM chip.
Smart TVs are defined as televisions that are connected to the internet, either through wires or wirelessly, that have built-in applications that can be run to watch paid as well as free streaming content. Examples of common apps preloaded on most smart-TVs include Youtube, Hulu, and Netflix. Some smart TVs are even voice-command capable.
DRAM is essential in smart TVs to properly function and process instructions. The range of DRAM capacity, as well as flash capacity for long-term storage, available in Smart TVs varies drastically. Generally, lower-end Smart TVs will have less DRAM and flash memory, while the higher-end sets will have more premium DRAM and flash memory.
A better DRAM chip in a Smart TV will help with speed & capacity in these processes:
- App operation and Startup
- Loading Streaming Content
- DVR Capacity
- Application capacity
If you remember the first Smart TVs that came out, you may remember that they were pretty laggy because they lacked enough DRAM to function adequately. That issue has been improved each year as the DRAM quality and capacity included in televisions increases. Currently, DRAM is available in up to 8GB in Smart TVs!
The graphics of today’s televisions have also been significantly improved due to the innovation of DRAM technology. Although the components in a television cannot be interchanged like other devices, such as personal computers, because they are integrated with other components.
After seeing the massive impact that DRAM technology has had on the development of new inventions and technological advances, it is clear that DRAM is incredibly versatile and adaptable. It does not appear at this time that DRAM technology will be replaced anytime soon. It has been here for over half a decade and may be here to stay; albeit evolved significantly from its original form.
The future of DRAM technology is just as promising as its past has been. Maybe you didn’t realize how integral DRAM has become to our society’s daily functioning. Likely, you are currently using many of the devices mentioned today, regularly. A recap of the 5 technologies made possible through DRAM innovation includes:
- Personal Computers (PC)
- Gaming Consoles
- Smart TVs
What applications do you see that might be useful for the future of DRAM technology? Share your opinion on our Facebook page.