Startup Delivers Technology to Boost Memory Capacity

By Michael Feldman

March 7, 2008

For some time there has been a growing disparity between processor power and memory capacity. As processors and systems have become more computationally dense, memory capacities have been growing more slowly. This has been less of an issue in PCs, where both compute power and memory are relatively abundant, but as high performance computing, virtualization, and large transactional databases take hold in the datacenter, memory has increasingly become the bottleneck to system performance. While lack of memory bandwidth may be the ultimate constraint for maximum CPU performance, for memory-constrained applications, sufficient RAM is required just to get past the formidable disk bottleneck.

Unfortunately scaling memory is not nearly as simple as scaling processing power. An economic discontinuity exists in the DRAM market. While 1 Gbit DRAM chips cost around $3, a 2 Gbit DRAM chips cost $30 to $50 dollars. And since commodity systems with DDR2 memory controllers are designed with only a limited number of DIMMs (which themselves contain a fixed number of DRAM chips), the only way to get more memory is to go with the outrageously expensive 2 Gbit chips. Since the memory controllers are designed to talk with a limited number of DRAMs, this effectively limits affordable capacity.

But MetaRAM, a 2-year-old fabless semiconductor startup, is attempting to change the game. Last week, the company unveiled a new product line that is able to aggregate 1 Gbit DRAMs so as to increase affordable main memory by a factor of two to four. The 34-person company has developed new memory technology — called MetaSDRAM — that allows 8GB and 16GB DIMMs to be built from low-cost 1 Gbit memory components. According to the company, a four-socket server can be populated with 256 GB of MetRAM memory for only $50,000. Using conventional DDR2 memory, this same system would cost $500,000 — $480,000 of which is just DRAM.

The new MetaRAM device contains a special chipset that virtualizes the 1 Gbit components so that a DDR2 memory controller thinks its talking with 2 Gbit or 4 Gbit DRAMs instead of multiple 1 Gbit DRAMs. (Fortunately, the memory controllers aren’t smart enough to know that 4 Gbit DRAMs don’t even exist yet.) Internally, the 1 Gbit DRAMs think they’re talking directly with the memory controller. The chipset in the middle contains the smarts to do the needed DDR2 protocol translations and keep the memory accesses coherent.

“So we look like a DRAM to the memory controller, and a memory controller to the DRAM,” says Suresh Rajan, MetaRAM VP Marketing.

Rajan and CEO Fred Weber founded MetaRAM in January 2006 with the idea of leapfrogging the “memory capacity gap.” Weber, a former CTO at AMD who helped drive the 64-bit x86 revolution at his former company, saw the new opportunity in the processor-memory disparity and decided that the growth of Web 2.0, datacenter virtualization, and high performance computing were going to create a large demand for x86-based systems with much larger memory footprints. In the HPC realm, memory-hungry applications in aerospace/automotive, financial services, digital content creation and rendering, oil and gas exploration, and semiconductor design and simulation would especially benefit from lots of RAM.

“Where this really gets exciting is that we can build very powerful clusters at very affordable prices to solve problems that are memory bound,” says Rajan. “Obviously some applications are compute bound, but others are memory bound, and for the latter, this is a great technology.”

The first two MetaRAM products announced are the 8 GB and 16 GB R-DIMMs. The 8 GB chipset is currently in full production and is available for $200 , while the 16 GB is qualified, but not yet in production, and will be priced at $450. Hynix Semiconductor and SMART Modular Technologies have partnered with MetaRAM to produce the memory modules for system vendors. Hynix is a large semiconductor manufacturer with relationships with many of the tier one OEMs; SMART Modular is focused on the tier two players, plus system builders and other channel customers.

Server/cluster vendors that are currently committed to carrying the first 8GB DIMMs include Appro, Rackable, Colfax International and Verari. System availability is expected in Q1 of this year, that is, any day now. Rajan says they’re talking with all the usual HPC system vendors, and he says we can anticipate more OEMs to announce MetaRAM support at some point. He notes that they currently have a working eight-socket Opteron Sun machine in-house with 512 GB of MetaRAM memory.

Some OEMs might be resistant to offering high-memory servers at commodity pricing, since this might cut into their high-end server margins. But if more system vendors offer MetaRAM-based systems, it would be difficult for their competitors to resist, especially in the highly price-sensitive x86 server market.

The MetaRAM chipset is plug compatible with any DDR2-compliant memory controller and has been qualified for both Opteron and Xeon chipsets. Currently, the MetaRAM hardware will end up mostly in AMD Opteron-based systems, since DDR2 memory controllers are standard issue there. Intel’s relatively new 5100 MCH chipset also supports DDR2, and as time passes, more Intel chipsets are likely to switch from the power-hungry, higher latency FB-DIMMs, to parallel DDR2 memory. The original idea behind the FB-DIMM was also to provide higher capacity memory, but high power usage, added latency and chipset inflexibility have proven barriers for more widespread industry adoption.

The MetaRAM technology had to overcome a few challenges as well. The chipset does add some additional latency compared to directly connected DDR2 memory. But according to MetaRAM tests, latency increases only a percent or two in a four-socket system — much less than an FB-DIMM. For memory-bound applications, the company expects any small rise in latency to be dwarfed by an average increase of between 20 and 30 percent in overall performance.

The biggest hurdle that the MetaRAM had to address was power usage. By doubling or quadrupling the number of 1 Gbit DRAMs on the DIMM and adding the extra chipset, they had to find a way to keep power usage in the same neighborhood of a low-memory DIMM. This is accomplished via their “WakeOnUse” technology, which sends power only to DRAM elements that are being accessed, while putting the rest of memory to sleep. It’s a little like turning the lights on in a house as someone walks from room to room, while switching off the lights in the remainder of the house. Rajan claims this yields about 30 percent greater power-efficiency on a watts per gigabyte basis.

According to Weber and Rajan, the MetaRAM technology accelerates affordable memory capacity by two to four years, and will ride commodity memory to stay ahead of the curve. While 1 Gbit DRAMs currently represent the best price-capacity memory today, by 2010, 2 Gbit DRAMs will be the volume solution, and by 2013, 4 Gbit devices should start to show up. MetaRAM also intends to modify the chipset to support DDR3 memory, when that technology goes mainstream.

“I think for the next five to eight years, we see a clear path ahead of us,” says Rajan. “It is our belief as time progresses that our technology will become more and more critical for the server market.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., announced yesterday (July 6) a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascad Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This