DRAM Termination – The BIOS Optimization Guide

DRAM Termination - The BIOS Optimization Guide

DRAM Termination

Common Options : 50 Ohms, 75 Ohms, 150 Ohms (DDR2) / 40 Ohms, 60 Ohms, 120 Ohms (DDR3)

 

Quick Review of DRAM Termination

The DRAM Termination BIOS option controls the impedance value of the DRAM on-die termination resistors. DDR2 modules support impedance values of 50 ohms75 ohms and 150 ohms, while DDR3 modules support lower impedance values of 40 ohms60 ohms and 120 ohms.

A lower impedance value improves the resistor’s ability to absorb signal reflections and thus improve signal quality. However, this comes at the expense of a smaller voltage swing for the signal and higher power consumption.

The proper amount of impedence depends on the memory type and the number of DIMMs used. Therefore, it is best to contact the memory manufacturer to find out the optimal amount of impedance for the particular set of memory modules. If you are unable to obtain that information, you can also follow these guidelines from a Samsung case study on the On-Die Termination of DDR2 memory :

  • Single memory module / channel : 150 ohms
  • Two memory modules / channels
    • DDR2-400 / 533 memory : 75 ohms
    • DDR2-667 / 800 memory : 50 ohms

Unfortunately, they did not perform any case study on the On-Die Termination of DDR3 memory. As such, the best thing to do if you are using DDR3 memory is to try using a low impedance of 40 ohms and adjust upwards if you face any stability issues.

 

Details of DRAM Termination

Like a ball thrown against a wall, electrical signals reflect (bounce) back when they reach the end of a transmission path. They also reflect at points where points where there is a change in impedance, e.g. at connections to DRAM devices or a bus. These reflected signals are undesirable because they distort the actual signal, impairing the signal quality and the data being transmitted.

Prior to the introduction of DDR2 memory, motherboard designers use line termination resistors at the end of the DRAM signal lines to reduce signal reflections. However, these resistors are only partially effective because they cannot reduce reflections generated by the stub lines that lead to the individual DRAM chips on the memory module (see illustration below). Even so, this method worked well enough with the lower operating frequency and higher signal voltages of SDRAM and DDR SDRAM modules.

DRAM Termination - Motherboard Termination
Line termination resistors on the motherboard (Courtesy of Rambus)

The higher speed (and lower signal voltages) of DDR2 and DDR3 memory though require much better signal quality and these high-speed modules have much lower tolerances for noise. The problem is also compounded by the higher number of memory modules used. Line termination resistors are no longer good enough to tackle the problem of signal reflections. This is where On-Die Termination (ODT) comes in.

On-Die Termination shifts the termination resistors from the motherboard to the DRAM die itself. These resistors can better suppress signal reflections, providing much better a signal-to-noise ratio in DDR2 and DDR3 memory. This allows for much higher clock speeds at much lower voltages.

It also reduces the cost of motherboard designs. In addition, the impedance value of the termination resistors can be adjusted, or even turned off via the memory module’s Extended Mode Register Set (EMRS).

DRAM Termination - On-Die Termination
On-die termination (Courtesy of Rambus)

Unlike the termination resistors on the motherboard, the on-die termination resistors can be turned on and off as required. For example, when a DIMM is inactive, its on-die termination resistors turn on to prevent signals from the memory controller reflecting to the active DIMMs. The impedance value of the resistors are usually programmed by the BIOS at boot-time, so the memory controller only turns it on or off (unless the system includes a self-calibration circuit).

The DRAM Termination BIOS option controls the impedance value of the DRAM on-die termination resistors. DDR2 modules support impedance values of 50 ohms75 ohms and 150 ohms, while DDR3 modules support lower impedance values of 40 ohms60 ohms and 120 ohms.

A lower impedance value improves the resistor’s ability to absorb signal reflections and thus improve signal quality. However, this comes at the expense of a smaller voltage swing for the signal, and higher power consumption.

The proper amount of impedence depends on the memory type and the number of DIMMs used. Therefore, it is best to contact the memory manufacturer to find out the optimal amount of impedance for the particular set of memory modules. If you are unable to obtain that information, you can also follow these guidelines from a Samsung case study on the On-Die Termination of DDR2 memory :

  • Single memory module / channel : 150 ohms
  • Two memory modules / channels
    • DDR2-400 / 533 memory : 75 ohms
    • DDR2-667 / 800 memory : 50 ohms

Unfortunately, they did not perform any case study on the On-Die Termination of DDR3 memory. As such, the best thing to do if you are using DDR3 memory is to try using a low impedance of 40 ohms and adjust upwards if you face any stability issues.

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