Booming DRAM Market Creates New Testing Opportunities
By Jin Yokoyama, Functional Manager of Memory Test, Advantest Corporation
After more than a decade of logic/system-on- chip (SoC) devices taking the lead in driving semiconductor industry requirements, today’s memory market is experiencing extraordinary growth due to a range of burgeoning applications that demand high-performance memory capabilities. This has led to what many in the industry have referred to as a memory “super cycle,” in which sustained high demand is driving memory makers to boost their manufacturing capability to supply these devices in sufficient quantities.
Mobile DRAM bit share has exploded, growing more than 500 percent since 2009, according to IHS Markit, which also predicts that demand for DRAMs needed to accommodate a range of data-intensive processing applications will approach 120 billion gigabits (Gbit) by 2021. These two markets are taking the lead in fueling growth in the high-performance memory space, but they are not alone, by any means. Automotive applications are also contributing to this growth cycle, driven by a variety of memory-rich functions, particularly advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), which have highly precise requirements due to their focus on safety. In the consumer space, gaming systems and flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels for high-end TVs are also helping boost demand.
Thanks to this newly galvanized and more diversified market, industry observers expect DRAM revenues to keep hiking steadily upward. As IC Insights recently noted, DRAM technology had an unprecedented impact on worldwide IC market growth in 2017 – growth overall was 25 percent (16 percent excluding DRAM), and this trend is expected to continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace, in the year ahead.
By 2021, new and more advanced synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) technologies will becoming online. These include the latest generation of double-data- rate (DDR) and low-power DDR (LP-DDR) devices – super-high- speed DDR5 and LP-DDR5 memories (see Figure 1 for projected demand trends). High-density servers used in data processing applications will be the primary consumer of DDR5 devices, while mobile products – primarily smartphones – will make the shift from LP-DDR4 to LP-DDR5 as users’ insatiable demand for high quality and functionality with low power consumption will continue to accelerate.
A new solution for burgeoning DRAM test needs
All of these developments, in turn, mean that makers of electronic products and systems must be able to test their advanced DRAM devices quickly, accurately and cost-effectively. In anticipation of these requirements, Advantest has spent the past several years developing the next generation of its proven T5503 memory test solution, which today is the de facto worldwide standard for final test of DRAM memory devices, with more than 300 systems installed to date. Figure 2 traces the evolution of the product
The T5503 series first debuted in 2009 in order to accommodate demand for a highly parallel, high-speed DDR3 package-level test solution. As the smartphone market took off in earnest shortly after the beginning of this decade, Advantest brought out its T5503HS system in 2014 to accommodate high-performance mobile LP-DDR4 devices, essential for enabling high-definition (HD) displays and watching movies on mobile devices. In addition, this system was quickly implemented for DDR4 DRAMs used for giant server farms utilized in data centers by high-traffic e-commerce and social sites, to name a few.
Introduced in April 2018, the new T5503HS2 is the industry’s most advanced test solution for high-speed memory devices. It delivers best-in- class performance for memory test – up to 8 gigabits per second (Gbps) with overall timing accuracy of ±45 picoseconds – for testing DDR5 and LP-DDR5 devices. The system is also able to accommodate current DDR4 and LP-DDR4 memories, as well as current and future high-bandwidth memories (HBM).
The T5503HS2 was developed to enable Advantest to continue to lead the charge for advanced test solutions in the memory market. It incorporates full test functionality for next-generation DRAMs. Through its built-in system hardware, the T5503HS2 supports a combination of features and capabilities optimized for LP-DDR5 and DDR5 that are unavailable in competitive testers. They include:
- DQS vs. DQ clocking – This allows the tester to automatically recognize and adjust DQS (strobe)-DQ (data) timing differences to better identify read/write cycles, secure better timing margins and enable real-time tracking;
- New, more robust algorithmic pattern generator (ALPG) – This new hardware capability enables the test system to perform fast, high-quality evaluation of advanced device features, such as cyclic redundancy check (CRC) and error checking and correction (ECC) codes, data-bus inversion (DBI) and address parity.
- Timing training – Its advanced timing-training capability, utilizing per-pin embedder hardware search, helps the T5503HS2 to identify the most effective test approach for a given device faster than any other available system.
- New programmable power supply (PPS) – The system’s new PPS responds four times faster than the previous edition, enabling a significant reduction in voltage drop, which, in turn, delivers improved timing variation and secure timing margin.
- Optional 4.5 GHz high-speed clock – This gives the T5503HS2 further scalability to accommodate future devices’ test needs at 8Gbps or higher data rates.
Seamless compatibility with prior systems
The new T5503HS2 is fully compatible, scalable and upgradeable from previous versions of the T5503 family, enabling a seamless transition when memory makers are ready to implement DDR5 and LP-DDR5 device testing. Customers can continue to test DDR4 and LP-DDR4 devices until then, and then quickly and easily swap in the new tester, creating a minimal impact on production flow.
It’s an exciting time to be developing new products in markets that demand these high-performance memory devices. Through collaboration and communication with its global customer base, Advantest now has a solution optimized for these devices, and is set to begin shipping the first T5503HS2 systems this quarter. For a video overview of the product and its capabilities, please click this link.