Haswell to have Intel-built embedded DRAM for graphics

We've known for some time—through unofficial sources—that some of Intel's next-generation Haswell processors will have dedicated graphics memory on the CPU package. What we didn't know was what kind of memory Intel would use, and who would supply it.

David Kanter of Real World Technologies found the answers to those questions: they lie in a list (PDF) of papers that are due to be unveiled at the VLSI Technology Symposium in June. One of the papers was authored by Intel staffers and is entitled, "A 22nm High Performance Embedded DRAM Technology Featuring Tri-gate Transistors and MIMCAP COB."

Translation: Haswell will use embedded DRAM (eDRAM). And rather than source the memory from a third-party supplier, Intel will build it in-house using its own 22-nm fabrication process.

Kanter apparently got his hands on the paper early, because his article includes an in-depth comparison of Intel's eDRAM and the eDRAM found inside IBM's POWER processors. My eyes glazed over a little at that point, but the main takeaway wasn't hard to grasp. Intel seems to have made some design choices that favor yields over performance and density—not entirely surprising, considering how much cheaper Haswell will be than IBM's high-end POWER CPUs. Still, Kanter expects Haswell's eDRAM to be very fast, essentially like a "bandwidth optimized L4 cache."

The article also points out that Intel's (re-)entry into the memory business may pose an indirect threat to large DRAM makers like Samsung and Hynix. Intel probably won't jump into the commodity DRAM market, since the margins there are razor-thin. However, as Kanter points out, Haswell's eDRAM-equipped GT3 integrated graphics are supposed to be as fast as a discrete GeForce GT 650M—and the GT 650M often ships with a couple gigs of DDR3 RAM. Once Haswell comes out, memory makers may lose out on business from lower-end discrete GPUs like the GT 650M, since those won't be needed anymore.

Now, I should note that Kanter expects Haswell's eDRAM to weigh in at just 128MB. Today's games need a much larger frame buffer than that, so Haswell systems will likely still need plenty of system memory to pick up the slack.

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