Defining CAMM: A Potential Future for Laptop Memory

Farewell to SO-DIMMs? These well-known memory modules have been a staple in laptops for years, but their limitations in terms of speed are becoming more apparent. CAMM presents a solution to this issue, and more, with its innovative module design.

Dell’s proprietary CAMM memory module is poised to become a standard for laptops, gradually replacing the traditional SO-DIMM in certain types of systems.

PCWorld reports that memory standards organization JEDEC has received unanimous approval for CAMM from a task group comprising around 20 companies relevant to the space, primarily manufacturers and suppliers. They intend to develop CAMM as a replacement for SO-DIMM in certain classes of laptops in the near future. The group plans to finalize the 1.0 specification this year.

We examined one of the initial laptops to feature this memory and also interviewed Dell about CAMM and its future. Although the laptop is a Precision model, the focus is on the memory. The video above provides a detailed look at CAMM’s design and layout, including close-up views of the new module and an explanation of its benefits. Below, we address some common questions about CAMM.

What is the meaning of CAMM?

CAMM, which stands for Compression Attached Memory Module, is a new standard for random access memory (RAM) in laptops. While the acronym may not provide much insight into its function, CAMM aims to improve the performance of laptops by utilizing compression technology to increase the capacity of RAM modules.

CAMM, an acronym for Compression Attached Memory Module, refers to the physical design of the memory and its connection to the motherboard and other parts of a laptop. It is considered a “standard” in the PC industry as it allows for the development of laptops and components with a universal core format across manufacturers, making it easier to create and use across different brands.

Who developed CAMM?

The standards organization JEDEC plays a key role in determining the adoption of CAMM in the industry, however, the technology was initially developed by Dell. Specifically, CAMM was an in-house creation by Dell engineer Tom Schnell, with the goal of addressing the limitations of the current memory form factor, SO-DIMM. Schnell aimed to create a memory standard that could better meet the needs of laptops and other mobile devices, which often have limited space for RAM and other components.

In a recent private conversation, we spoke with Tom Schnell, the engineer behind CAMM at Dell, to gain a deeper understanding of the technology, its necessity, and the benefits it offers. While Dell holds a patent on the design, the company’s primary goal is to widely adopt the module as a solution to the limitations of SO-DIMM and make it an industry standard, allowing other companies to use the technology.

What problem is CAMM designed to solve?

The SO-DIMM standard has a maximum limit for DDR memory speeds at DDR5/6400, which is 6,400MHz. With DDR6 memory on the horizon, this limit is becoming increasingly relevant for high-end laptops, even though average consumer laptops may take longer to reach this limit. As transitioning to new standards can take several years, CAMM is being developed to address this problem and reset the clock for top-end systems that will be the first to hit the speed limit. Not addressing the problem would mean missing out on potential performance improvements in a world where CPUs and GPUs are becoming increasingly powerful.

To overcome this, CAMM aims to improve the peak possible speed and reduce the space required in laptop designs, signaling a new era of memory with a higher performance ceiling. The key to achieving this is through a completely different design. While a CAMM module may appear larger than traditional DIMMs, it is not the whole story.

What is the working mechanism of CAMM?

The key to its functionality lies in the “compression-attached” aspect of the name. This slim module is pressed against a bar, known as an interposer, that sits between it and the motherboard. The interposer is lined with pins on both sides that connect to a strip of contacts on the motherboard.

This design offers several benefits. The flat and wide form factor results in a lower profile, known as the Z-height, compared to SO-DIMM. SO-DIMM modules are taller, particularly when multiple modules are stacked, which can take up valuable space that can be used for cooling or alternative board layouts. The contacts are also compressed in a sandwich-like structure, making them less exposed to the open air compared to the semi-exposed contacts of SO-DIMM modules and sockets.

CAMM’s design also enables a significant speed advantage. Due to the CAMM’s layout, the traces which act as pathways for the RAM to communicate with the CPU, can be shorter compared to SO-DIMM. Shorter electrical paths require less power and can operate at higher speeds, in addition to providing more space for engineers. With SO-DIMM, the traces between the memory and CPU can be as long as 3 inches, but CAMM can reduce this distance to just 1.5 inches.

It’s important to note that the transition to CAMM will not happen overnight and it may not be suitable for every laptop or application. The transition period will likely be a long one during which both memory types may be available in the systems that it makes sense for them, initially most likely in gaming laptops and mobile workstation laptops.

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