SoftMC: Practical DRAM Characterization Using an FPGA-Based Infrastructure

by   Hasan Hassan, et al.

This paper summarizes the SoftMC DRAM characterization infrastructure, which was published in HPCA 2017, and examines the work's significance and future potential. SoftMC (Soft Memory Controller) is the first publicly-available DRAM testing infrastructure that can flexibly and efficiently test DRAM chips in a manner accessible to both software and hardware developers. SoftMC is an FPGA-based testing platform that can control and test memory modules designed for the commonly-used DDR (Double Data Rate) interface. SoftMC has two key properties: (i) it provides flexibility to thoroughly control memory behavior or to implement a wide range of mechanisms using DDR commands; and (ii) it is easy to use as it provides a simple and intuitive high-level programming interface for users, completely hiding the low-level details of the FPGA. We demonstrate the capability, flexibility, and programming ease of SoftMC with two example use cases. First, we implement a test that characterizes the retention time of DRAM cells. Second, we show that the expected latency reduction of two recently-proposed mechanisms, which rely on accessing recently-refreshed or recently-accessed DRAM cells faster than other DRAM cells, is not observable in existing DRAM chips. Various versions of the SoftMC platform have enabled many of our other DRAM characterization studies. We discuss several other use cases of SoftMC, including the ability to characterize emerging non-volatile memory modules that obey the DDR standard. We hope that our open-source release of SoftMC fills a gap in the space of publicly-available experimental memory testing infrastructures and inspires new studies, ideas, and methodologies in memory system design.


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