Is this DDR4 demo box Haswell-EP in action?


— 12:03 PM on September 17, 2013

One of the highlights of this year's Intel Developer Forum was the introduction of the Xeon E5 v2 processors based on Ivy Bridge-EP silicon. Naturally, much of the conference's focus was on those Xeons, along with the other new products Intel introduced during the week.

However, as I wandered about the show floor looking for new and interesting things, my eye was quickly drawn toward a system sitting unobtrusively under the counter in the Kingston booth. Have a look at it:

Yep, it's a live, working demo of DDR4 memory, which piqued my curiosity.

You see, I got to talk with some of the Ivy Bridge-EP architects prior to the Xeon E5 v2 launch. They gave us the tour of their new chip, and nobody said a peep about DDR4 support in the memory controller. Ivy-EP is a drop-in replacement for Sandy Bridge-EP, with an established socket infrastructure. I don't think DDR4 support is in there.

That raises the question: what exactly is the mystery CPU driving 192GB of DDR4 memory at 2133 MT/s in this demo box? I asked the Kingston folks point blank, and they were curiously unable to answer with any specificity at all on that subject. The point of the demo, they said carefully, was to demonstrate the progress and potential of DDR4 memory.

I peeked into the window on top of the demo system and was able to see a bit more. The system is based on a dual-socket motherboard, but only one socket is populated, with only the DIMM slots next to it holding DDR4 modules.

Yes, that means a single CPU is connected to all 192GB of memory in this box. Presumably, adding a second processor and filling those empty DIMM slots could raise the total RAM capacity to 384GB. Suddenly, that 128GB Dell Nehalem-EX system we reviewed a while back is starting to look less impressive.

I'm pretty certain what we're looking at here is a Haswell-EP processor in action. iSuppli expects DDR4 memory to begin making a dent in the market next year, and Intel will have to provide the infrastructure to enable that transition. Odds are that, by next year's IDF, new Xeons based on Haswell-EP silicon will be making their way into end-user systems. Based on this demo, it looks like Intel is already well down the path to making that happen.

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