PDL Abstract

Adaptive-Latency DRAM: Optimizing DRAM Timing for the Common-Case

Proceedings of the 21st International Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture (HPCA), Bay Area, CA, February 2015.

Donghyuk Lee, Yoongu Kim, Gennady Pekhimenko, Samira Khan, Vivek Seshadri, Kevin Chang,
Onur Mutlu

Carnegie Mellon University


In current systems, memory accesses to a DRAM chip must obey a set of minimum latency restrictions specified in the DRAM standard. Such timing parameters exist to guarantee reliable operation. When deciding the timing parameters, DRAM manufacturers incorporate a very large margin as a provision against two worst-case scenarios. First, due to process variation, some outlier chips are much slower than others and cannot be operated as fast. Second, chips become slower at higher temperatures, and all chips need to operate reliably at the highest supported (i.e., worst-case) DRAM temperature (85°C). In this paper, we show that typical DRAM chips operating at typical temperatures (e.g., 55°C) are capable of providing a much smaller access latency, but are nevertheless forced to operate at the largest latency of the worst-case.

Our goal in this paper is to exploit the extra margin that is built into the DRAM timing parameters to improve performance. Using an FPGA-based testing platform, we first characterize the extra margin for 115 DRAM modules from three major manufacturers. Our results demonstrate that it is possible to reduce four of the most critical timing parameters by a minimum/maximum of 17.3%/54.8% at 55°C without sacrificing correctness. Based on this characterization, we propose Adaptive-Latency DRAM (AL-DRAM), a mechanism that adaptively reduces the timing parameters for DRAM modules based on the current operating condition. AL-DRAM does not require any changes to the DRAM chip or its interface.

We evaluate AL-DRAM on a real system that allows us to reconfigure the timing parameters at runtime. We show that ALDRAM improves the performance of memory-intensive workloads by an average of 14% without introducing any errors. We discuss and show why AL-DRAM does not compromise reliability. We conclude that dynamically optimizing the DRAM timing parameters can reliably improve system performance.