Semiconductor Memory Markets, Standards and Test Equipment Backgrounder

May 18, 2009

Memory Snapshot

Memory can be found in an ever-widening variety of products from computers to cameras, telephones, and greeting cards. According to industry experts, the memory bus is often the most challenging part of a design. A typical memory bus connects memory devices to a memory controller, and thus the processor, over dozens to hundreds of wires -- each operating at multi-gigabit speeds -- that are crowded close together. A memory interface is a high-speed interface that uses a large proportion of a computer's power, so manufacturers face pressure to design buses that use power more efficiently and thereby reduce costs.

The need for even higher-speed interconnects continues to accelerate and is driving the architecture of next-generation memories. However, there are physical limits to how much memory can be handled at next-generation speeds. As a result, memory devices and memory architectures are changing to satisfy the demand for higher performance. These changes are driving the need for new standards.

As memory technologies become more complex and operate at faster speeds, it becomes more critical for standards bodies to take test and measurement requirements into account while they are writing new specifications. Otherwise, engineers may be unable to test their devices for compliance with the spec. Measurements are central to the diagnosis of problems and to proving the correct fix has been applied.

"We are focused on working with organizations and companies that rely on these new technologies for their business and strategic success," said Perry Keller, Memory Program manager at Agilent Technologies. "Our goal is to enable them to successfully develop new memory technologies and deploy them in their products. Assuring "design for test' is a key way Agilent contributes to the standards groups, which provides tremendous benefit to engineers and consumers throughout the world."

Memory Usage and Applications

Memory is segmented into various application areas, which continue to evolve as market demands change. Computer and chip manufacturing companies seek reliable and quality performance and strive to lower costs while maintaining compatibility between products and technologies. They are facing a number of challenges such as the acceleration of flash memory, the down deployment of technology into embedded applications, the launch of GDDR5 (fifth-generation graphics double data rate memory) graphics-based cards and the difficulties for the desktop and server sectors, leading the industry to work with organizations such as the Joint Electron Devices Engineering Council (JEDEC) to establish standards.

Figure 1: Memory Market Segments and Industry Structure

Figure 1: Memory Market Segments and Industry Structure

Memory Market Segments

Computer memory for desktops, laptops, non-handheld gaming products and servers encompasses dynamic random access memory (DRAM). DRAM stores each bit of data in a separate capacitor with an integrated circuit, which provides structural simplicity. This is the largest market segment.

Graphics memory is one generation faster than computer DRAM/chips, and it is meant for higher-speed devices. This market segment is growing because of the rise of next-generation technology for gaming systems and high-end, special-purpose computers. Presently, a number of industry players are moving toward graphics double data rate, version 5 (GDDR5), the standards specified by JEDEC.

Embedded memory is used in electronic devices such as MP3 players, cell phones and car stereos. It is based on computer DRAM technology but has been modified to better fit the needs of battery-operated devices that are designed to operate at reduced power at the expense of speed. This is one of the fastest growing markets and that growth is being triggered by the reduced cost of high-performance DRAM, especially DDR3.

Flash memory is exploding as GPS systems, mobile devices, digital cameras and personal digital assistants (PDAs) gain momentum. A non-volatile memory retains its contents even when the power is turned off, and it can be electronically erased and reprogrammed. Flash offers fast read access times, durability and the ability to handle extreme temperatures. According to a Wikipedia posting, as of 2006, the flash memory industry stood at $20 billion and comprises more than 34 percent of the semiconductor memory market. Currently, industry leaders such as Intel, Samsung and Rambus have developed flash memory interfaces that aren't compatible, leading to more competition in the market. Agilent is working to support all of the interface standards and is helping define and drive the development of the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) specification, which is being reviewed by JEDEC and is expected to be completed in 2009.

Solid state drive (SSD) memory is an emerging sector that is poised for growth in the next several years. This type of memory, which has been adopted by the industrial, automotive, computer and military sectors, offers high performance, high reliability and low power consumption in packages smaller than traditional rotating disk drives. SSD is higher priced than disk drives, but the cost is decreasing rapidly, which is driving rapid market growth.

The technology used to build each of these memories can differ, which again has to be reflected in the testing that is conducted by Agilent and the solutions designed by companies involved in the industry.

Figure 2: DDR2 eye diagram measurement JEDEC (

Figure 2: DDR2 eye diagram measurement


JEDEC was formed in 1958 as part of an alliance with the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) to develop standards for the emerging semiconductor industry. In 1999, JEDEC was incorporated as an independent association, and the organization adopted the name JEDEC Solid State Technology Association.

Today, JEDEC's core mission is to facilitate the creation of voluntary standards that are open, accessible and developed quickly to meet industry demands.With more than 3,000 volunteers representing nearly 300 companies, JEDEC committees provide industry leadership in developing standards for a broad range of technologies.

As the leading developer of standards for the microelectronics industry, JEDEC standards include virtually every key standard for semiconductor memory technology on the market today.One of JEDEC's core values is the ability to develop standards for all aspects of a memory system -- including components, packages, testing and quality and reliability -- to address the needs of all memory applications.

Agilent’s Industry Leadership

Agilent Technologies has built a strong position by helping the memory industry focus on customer needs, including keeping up with higher signaling speeds, lowering development costs and addressing the growth of multimedia applications. Agilent's memory-specific offerings are the broadest and deepest in the industry. Agilent's involvement with organizations such as JEDEC is making it possible to support key customers as standards are introduced, devices are developed and the evolution of memory segments continues to unfold. Agilent helps conduct memory testing to ensure companies' innovative products function properly and offer excellent performance.

Presently, Agilent supports all of the memory market areas and is contributing measurement expertise to help define the specifications required by each standard. Agilent is also working to help cover UFS, which will leverage much of the technology required for (other types of?) memory -- from analog to digital signals.

In the last several years, memory innovation -- serial and low-power memory speeds, GDDR5 usage for mobile and desktop applications, and non-volatile flash memory -- has exploded. Agilent will continue to pay close attention to innovation, the rise in consumer demand for greater bandwidth and the convergence of computing and communications, which are driving the need for more memory in devices.

Agilent's portfolio of test instruments addressing the various memory test challenges includes:

9000 Series Infiniium Oscilloscopes
1-GHz to 4-GHz digital storage and mixed signal oscilloscopes with 10 Mpts of standard memory are engineered for the broadest measurement capability. They combine the powerful features of Infiniium scopes, the ability to see critical data values and timing relationships and the first scope-based protocol viewer.

90000A Series Infiniium Oscilloscopes 2.5-GHz to 13-GHz high-performance real-time lab scopes with 1 Gpts deep memory, the industry's only hardware-software triggering combination, upgradeable bandwidth, and the industry's lowest noise floor.

16962A Logic Analysis Module 2GT/s state with 2GHz trigger sequencer speed, the industry's fastest state speed acquisition enable capturing and triggering data at speed.

J-BERT N4903A/B High-performance serial BERT Up to 12.5 Gb/s-pattern generator and error detector with built-in jitter injection for the most complete jitter tolerance testing of receivers using embedded and forwarded clock architectures. Using the J-BERT with the Agilent N4916A de-emphasis signal converter, R&D engineers can evaluate their receiver's tolerance under real and worst-case channel and de-emphasis conditions.

Agilent Technologies and its partners provide an extensive range of quality tools that offer non-intrusive, full-speed, real-time analysis of buses, FPGAs, protocols and processors. Engineers can save time working with their unique designs by using application-specific analysis probes, protocol solutions, inverse assemblers and bus cycle decode software.

Probing Solutions

  • The W2630A Series DDR2 BGA probe adapters enable viewing of data traffic on industry-standard DDR2 DRAMs with the Agilent 16900 Series logic analysis system and Infiniium 90000 Series oscilloscopes.
  • The W3630A Series DDR3 BGA probe adapters provide signal access to the clock, strobe, data, address and command signals to the DDR3 BGA package for making electrical and timing measurements with an Infiniium oscilloscope and for functional testing with a logic analyzer. With the DDR3 JEDEC specification (JESD79-3C) defined at the DRAM ballout, the BGA probe adapter provides direct signal access to the BGA package for true compliance testing.
  • The W2637A, W2678A and W2639A low-power double data rate (LPDDR) probing solution provides signal access points for LPDDR and mobile-DDR synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM) for electrical, timing and protocol characterization. It is an ideal probing solution at the LPDDR and mobile-DDR BGA package ballout, as defined in the JESD209A LPDDR SDRAM standard.
  • The N4853A DDR3 slot interposer provides quick and easy access to the industry's standard DDR3 DIMM for full 1.6 GT/s DDR3 speed debug and validation.

Analysis software

  • The B4622A DDR protocol compliance and analysis software offers automated protocol compliance testing per JEDEC specifications and provides performance analysis capability through bus statistics information and a histogram view of address access count.
  • The U7233A DDR1 compliance test application software with LPDDR and mobile-DDR support offers automated testing, debugging and characterizing of DDR1 designs and then generates an informative HTML report comparing the results with JEDEC specification test limits.
  • The N5413A DDR2 compliance test application softwareperforms a combination of clock jitter measurements and electrical tests to help engineers thoroughly evaluate DDR2 devices in accordance with the JEDEC specification. It provides a fast, easy way to test, debug and characterize DDR2 devices operating as fast as 1066 MT/s.
  • The U7231A DDR3 compliance test application software offers a user-friendly setup wizard and comprehensive report to provide a fast and easy way for engineers to test, debug and characterize DDR3 designs based on the JEDEC DDR3 SDRAM Specification. Advanced debug mode covers crucial measurements such as eye-diagram, mask testing, ringing and other tests critical for characterizing the higher bandwidth and smaller-chip footprints of DDR3 devices.

Agilent's Digital Test Standards Program

Agilent's measurement solutions and services development for digital applications is driven and supported by the work done by Agilent's experts in the various international standard committees. The Agilent Standards Program for digital applications comprises DDR memory, PCI Express®, DisplayPort, Universal Serial Bus (USB), Serial ATA (SATA), High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), DigRF and optical transceiver test. Our experts are on the board of directors of the Joint Electronic Devices Engineering Council (JEDEC), PCI-SIG® and Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). Agilent is a contributing member of the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO), USB-Implementers Forum (USB-IF) and Mobile Industry Processor Interface (MIPI) Alliance.

Agilent's involvement in these standards gives Agilent and its customers, the computing and communication component vendors to the electronics consumer market, two main advantages:

  • First, it enables us to bring the right products to the market when our customers need them. We aim to be first to market with our solutions so our customers can be first to market with their standards-compliant products.
  • Second, with Agilent's involvement in plug-fests, workshops and seminars, we are in the unique position to develop solutions that evolve with the standards, giving our customers the ability to design the best products with the highest confidence.

PCI Express and PCI-SIG are registered trademarks of the PCI-SIG.


Press Release :

Agilent Technologies, Nexus Technology Deliver DDR3 Memory Bus Debug Solutions (2009-November-9)

Press Release :

Agilent Technologies Introduces Industry-First, Most Comprehensive DDR3 Test Suite with Industry's Fastest Full Channel Logic Analysis Tool (2009-February-3)


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Sarah Calnan, Europe
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Iris Ng, Asia
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