What can we expect from memory in the next 12 months? To find out, we spoke to Mark Tekunoff, Senior Technology Manager at Kingston Technologies. He suggested that memory for desktop PCs will probably be as big as 4GB per module in 2009.
This is as large as server modules are today, but short of the 8GB modules that we can expect in the server market next year. If Gigabyte's new GA-X58DS4 motherboard for the Core i7 is typical of the next generation, we will see six memory slots and hence a massive system capacity. However, 4GB is the limit for most 32-bit versions of Windows, and on the application side, there's a limit to how much memory can be used effectively.
For example, it's been suggested that while the science fiction first-person shooter game Crysis is one of the most memory-hungry applications around, it probably can't use a lot more than 4GB of memory.
In reality, we'll start to see mainstream users moving to 4GB of system memory in 2009, a level that formerly tended to be the domain of high-end gamers and power users with a requirement for content creation.
Regarding the memory architectures, CPU vendors' roadmaps show a migration from DDR2 to DDR3 with the latter being the dominant architecture in 2009. Whereas DDR2 topped out at 1,250MHz (which gave 1,250 million 64-bit transfers per second and twice as many for dual-channel memory), the standard for DDR3 gives 1,600MHz as the highest achievable data rate – although chips up to 2,000MHz are available but not widely supported.
Having touched on dual-channel memory (where two memory modules are accessed in parallel, thereby achieving 128-bit transfers between memory and processor), it's relevant to point out that Intel's Core i7 supports triple-channel DDR3 memory.
In the fullness of time, therefore, we can expect to see 1,600 million 192-bit transfers per second – a staggering 38.4GB/s. However, it's important to stress that the initial Core i7 releases support only up to 1,066MHz DDR3.
The other main PC component that has a major impact on performance is the graphics system. An Nvidia spokesperson told us that one of the main technologies for next year will be Stereo 3D. This was launched at Nvision, but won't reach users until next year because it relies on the availability of new 120MHz screens.
Graphic card suppliers have been claiming that their products produce 3D effects for years, but that meant nothing more than high-quality rendering to give a feel for texture (an important element of depth perception). But the 'stereo' tag means that this is true jump-out-of-the- screen 3D. There are lots of display technologies that will achieve this, but the one that Nvidia is promoting will use special polarising glasses to achieve the 3D effect.
The other technology that Nvidia was keen to talk about was PhysX, which they anticipate becoming far more widespread throughout 2009. Essentially a set of physics algorithms, the technology is supported by PhysX-ready GeForce processors.
The first games using PhysX as an integral part of game play are expected to launch during the final two quarters of 2009. It's claimed that it will provide a greater level of reality in areas such as explosions, smoke and fog, and will permit characters to have complex, jointed geometries for more lifelike motion.
Intel also discussed its forthcoming GPU (graphics processing unit) – codenamed Larrabee – at the recent Intel Developer Forum. Expected in 2009 or 2010, the first product will target the personal computer graphics market and support both DirectX and OpenGL. Intel describes Larrabee as 'many-cored', but is unwilling to elaborate on exactly what it means by this phrase at the moment.