Memory. It’s Time to Move On.

September 29, 2022

Computer technology is in continual evolution. There is no built-in lifespan end date, but even as we dream up improvements and innovate our existing machines, gizmos and gadgets become superannuated by their much-improved successors.

Unsurprisingly, computer memory has moved on since the early days of business and personal computing. We continually demand more memory and processing speed for the complex programming of our daily lives, whether at work, at play or at rest, even. And it’s not surprising that after 25 years, the current Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module (SODIMM), the recognized standard for memory form factors in PC client products, should be reaching its threshold and newer, more powerful solutions are being sought.

Growing need for speed

In today’s highly computerized work environment, there is an ever-growing need for faster interaction between processor and memory, graphic cards, and other components, even as everything gets smaller and more compact. Think of how animation and video editing have changed over time. Other “voracious” fields include, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D design, medical imaging, scientific research and data analysis, AI and Machine Learning, VR and AR development. Along with industrial and financial sectors, there are a growing number of applications requiring faster data processing speeds and increased reliability to perform at the highest levels.

SODIMM starts to show its age

Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module (SODIMM) technology was pioneered with the development of DDR in 1996 and finalized in 2001 by the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC). It has become the recognized standard for memory form factors in PC client products. However, SODIMM is now fast-approaching its performance ceiling, perhaps within the next year, mainly in the form of bus speeds, and eventually this limitation will impact the wider PC industry.

CAMM: Waiting in the wings

Compression Attached Memory Module (CAMM) is the latest innovation in Double Data Rate (DDR) memory from Dell Technologies and it has been developed to meet the increasing demands on computer memory from users across a range of high-intensity roles and workloads. CAMM has been developed specifically to address the need for increased performance, while maintaining the industrywide expectations around SODIMM.

Establishing a new standard of Memory

There comes a time for any technology when the new solution exists as proprietary technology while the concept is being proved. This is so in the PC industry, and here open development and common standards are the norm, while users are clearly an important part of any new technology development.

Establishing the new standard of memory is an inherently collaborative effort. A proposal, in 2019, to benchmark the development of a new memory module connector and form factor led eventually to CAMM. Dell Technologies developed the technology independently with support from partners, including Intel (CPU and memory) and Amphenol (connectors).

Work with the JEDEC has begun on standardizing CAMM technology. As of June 2022, a dedicated task group has been assembled to review CAMM and progress its standardization under JEDEC’s Reasonable and Non-Discretionary (RAND) terms. These terms ensure that technologies reviewed are not anti-competitive, reasonably priced, and non-discriminatory against any other companies.

This ongoing process will most likely take a six-to-eighteen-month period during which Dell Technologies will work with JEDEC and a task group of 45 members from 22 other companies during the discussion and standardization process, reviewing CAMM’s design and benefits, and working in parallel to develop systems so that, once standards are ratified, CAMM is ready to be integrated across the industry.

Consider the customer

The consumer is always a key consideration. CAMM has been developed to allow customers to adopt the technology at their own pace, even as far as designing CAMM-equipped workstation products that allow users to choose between CAMM and SODIMM options.

Solving 25 years of system-level challenges

Although designed to supersede SODIMM, primarily to address bus speed limitations and drive memory-intensive computing forward, CAMM also addresses other system challenges presented by SODIMM form factors including DDR routing, system form factor, reliability, and thermal performance.

Space saving was not, in itself, the main aim, but by reducing overall memory footprint and introducing smaller modules, CAMM results in thinner laptop and workstation form factors. CAMM’s modular design is optimized to give users and manufacturers a wider range of options and motherboard designs to be simplified.

Scalability is a new approach for the memory industry and allows system designs to allocate only the footprint needed based on maximum memory capacity. The total length of each CAMM module is determined by the number of DRAM chips required to meet the total memory capacity size.

CAMM also addresses longstanding issues with reliability and system performance. SODIMM memory modules provided an inadequate environmental seal, resulting in recurrent issues with environmental contaminants, including particle infiltration and oxidation. CAMM resolves this issue by ensuring contacts are not exposed to air and are contained in a chamber within the connector housing.

Looking to the future!

With CAMM comes the next stage of computer memory. While CAMM is both evolutionary and revolutionary, and designed to resolve industry challenges posed by SODIMM, the technology has been developed under the same principles of modularity, simplicity, and a non-proprietary approach that maintains the clear need for standardization.

Yet, despite setting the new standard, CAMM is also ready to evolve. One thing is certain in this industry, innovation is a continual process. Innovators will develop technologies that not only address legacy challenges and position the industry to anticipate future challenges and user requirements while maintaining a spirit of collaboration, and standardization.

Written by Jane Pratt


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