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Interview with Intel’s Memory Guru, Christopher Cox
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by Rob Williams on October 8, 2007 in Memory

Recently, most of the buzz around Intel’s technologies focus on 45nm and X38, but what about memory? We sit down with Intel’s Christopher Cox to learn more about XMP (Extreme Memory Profiles) and also get a glimpse of what’s in the future for memory.

Introduction


Being somewhat of a memory addict, I couldn’t help but be intrigued with OCZ’s announcement of Intel XMP modules early last month. It was the first I had heard of the technology, as Intel kept completely mum about it until recently. What we did know, though, was that it is essentially Intel’s version of NVIDIA’s EPP technology, which we explored in last year’s interview with Corsair.

As a quick primer before the interview, XMP is “Extreme Memory Profiles”, a technology that will become functional with Intel’s X38 chipset, due out soon. Similar to EPP, it will allow those desiring extra performance to use XMP profiles, instead of getting dirty with overclocking. The downside of EPP though, was that many true enthusiasts found the pre-overclocked settings to be laughable at best. XMP shows no sign of suffering the same fate of being labelled as “for newbies only”.

On the NVIDIA side, EPP-equipped modules are denoted with an “NVIDIA SLI-Ready” logo, which many memory manufacturers have used. Intel’s XMP however, has no special logo, although memory companies may choose to use the “Supports Intel Core 2 Extreme” logo, since all XMP modules are recommended for use with Extreme Edition processors, due to the fast frequency capabilities of both.

At last months Intel Developer Forum, I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Cox, Sr. Staff Engineer for Intel’s Platform Memory Operations. After speaking with him for a few minutes, I quickly understood the passion that went into Intel’s memory technologies. He exhibited such great enthusiasm about what he was speaking about, that I knew an interview had to be in order. I’m pleased to say that we have one here today.

Techgage: Hi Chris. We appreciate your taking the time to answer some of our burning questions regarding Intel’s latest memory technologies. Can you first tell us a little bit about yourself and what your primary job responsibilities are?

Chris: A little about myself – First and foremost, I like to consider myself a gaming enthusiast, with deep interests in pushing my hardware as fast as I can (overclocking). I’ve been in the industry now for about 14 years, ~8 of which at Intel doing various things from EFI bios work to memory. Currently, I’m a DDRx Memory Architect and am responsible for writing the internal DRAM specs and owned the DDR3 specification at Intel.

Techgage: From what I recall, you are the lead designer behind XMP, so I’m sure you consider it your baby. When and why did Intel decide to work on such a technology, and was simply adopting NVIDIA’s EPP technology out of the question? Also, are there any direct advantages to XMP over EPP?

Chris: Yep, I guess you could say I’m the lead designer behind XMP. Fundamentally, the EPP and XMP concepts are very similar; think of XMP as an evolutionary change over EPP for DDR3. ; I’m just expanding on it for DDR3 and adding some new things that can’t really be seen by just the SPD portion of the spec (like new register definitions in our chipset or mobile centric power saving features).

Extreme Memory is really more than just the XMP spec; it’s reflective of Intel’s renewed focus on addressing the enthusiast segment. It’s also about adding new features to hardware, passing those registers to the BIOS teams and ultimately building a better environment for the end users.

We decided to focus on DDR3 because it allows us to take advantage of the better performance scalability of DDR3 technology and aligns with our DDR3 product schedules & plans. (This is also strategically aligned with our memory technology transition to DDR3).

Techgage: Since NVIDIA doesn’t yet support DDR3, we know that EPP will not be available there. However, will X38 ever allow XMP capabilities for DDR2, or is Intel going to focus solely on DDR3 and the future?

Chris: Intel has made a strategic decision to focus on a version for DDR3. The design of the X38 and the underlying architecture that drives XMP is compatible with most EPP parameters for DDR2, it’s just a matter of a ODM deciding to support it.

Techgage: At this point in time, Intel has laid out DDR3-1600 speeds as being the highest official available with XMP (due to 1600MHz FSB soon to be supported). Are memory manufacturers (OCZ, Corsair, etc) able to include a profile that goes beyond that frequency boundary?

Chris: Actually, that’s not really correct. XMP is completely agnostic to frequencies, latencies, voltages and such. It’s true we do have an upcoming platform that would utilize XMP at 1600 as a POR configuration to match the FSB but by no means is XMP limited to DDR3-1600. In fact, with some limited internal parts, we have gotten the FSB /MEM to 2380Mhz_ of course, that is definitely overclocked!


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1. Introduction
2. Interview Cont.