Sat. May 18th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • CAMM2 is a new memory module standard that aims to replace SO-DIMM.
  • The modules are thinner, faster, support higher memory capacity, and have better power efficiency than SO-DIMM, but they currently have a higher manufacturing price.
  • CAMM2 modules can potentially be used in both laptops and desktop PCs, but their adoption in desktop PCs won’t happen anytime soon.

Near the end of 2023, JEDEC, the organization that sets computer memory standards, released the Compression Attached Memory Module (CAMM2) standard that aims to ultimately replace Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Modules (SO-DIMM). Here’s how CAMM2 differs from SO-DIMM, and why people are so excited about it.

CAMM2 RAM: What You Need to Know

So, what’s CAMM2 RAM? In a nutshell, CAMM2 is a new memory module standard that should ultimately replace the good old SO-DIMM that has been used for about 25 years now. This shift won’t happen anytime soon considering the popularity of the SO-DIMM standard, the sheer number of devices that use it, and the fact that soldered memory is capable of overcoming most SO-DIMM limits while being, at least for now, cheaper to implement.

The standard includes two types of modules: CAMM2, packing Double-Data-Rate (DDR) memory chips, and LPCAMM2, equipped with Low-Power Double-Data-Rate (LPDDR) memory chips. The two types of modules have the same connector but different pinouts, employ distinct mounting procedures, and feature different designs, preventing users from installing CAMM2 modules on laptops that only support LPCAMM2 modules and vice versa.

Regular CAMM2 modules aim their sights at high-end laptops. These are your gaming laptops and powerful mobile workstations. Currently, only Dell offers laptops with CAMM2 modules, which the company released in 2022 before the CAMM2 standard became official. This is why Dell calls these modules CAMM despite them being identical to the CAMM2 standard—in fact, Dell was the first company to publicly promote the new memory module form factor and urge JEDEC to finalize the CAMM2 standard.

CAMM2 memory module diagram showing the layers of the device.

LPCAMM2 modules, on the other hand, target thin and light laptops and handheld PCs. Samsung released their design in October 2023, and while their modules are called LPCAMM, the difference between them and LPCAMM2 is only in the name.

Samsung LPCAMM

On the other hand, Micron waited for JEDEC to release the CAMM2 standard before debuting their own LPCAMM2 modules. Design-wise, they are identical to Samsung’s modules. And while no specific laptop models with CAMM2 support are announced at the moment of writing, chances are that Lenovo will be the first manufacturer to debut laptops with CAMM2 support.

Micron LPCAMM2 RAM Module

Advantages of CAMM2 Over SO-DIMM

SO-DIMM is fairly compact but comes with a number of caveats. Firstly, SO-DIMM connectors are pretty thick and are often, along with the battery, the thickest component on a laptop motherboard. Next, SO-DIMMs cannot host LPDDR memory chips, only DDR. Further, a single SO-DIMM module only supports a single memory channel; you need two modules for RAM to work in dual channel.

Also, because the wires connecting SO-DIMMs to the CPU are rather long, SO-DIMM DDR5 RAM is limited to the maximum transfer rate of 6400MT/s. In other words, SO-DIMM already limits DDR5 memory. LPDDR5X memory, found in high-end laptops and handheld gaming PCs, tops out at 8500MT/s, but it has to be soldered to the motherboard—meaning you cannot upgrade it—to reach those speeds. And once DDR6 memory arrives, SO-DIMM will almost surely be too slow for DDR6 memory chips.

Compared to SO-DIMM, CAMM2 modules are thinner, support higher memory capacity on a single module, and can be installed closer to the CPU. This allows for higher data rates and lower latency without needing to solder memory chips to the motherboard. According to Micron, the LPDDR5X CAMM2 tops out at 9600MT/s.

CAMM2 Memory diagram showing the difference between SODIMM and CAMM2 thickness

CAMM2 RAM modules also take up much less space on laptop motherboards and have better power efficiency. Take a look at the image below, showing the difference in motherboard area occupied by SO-DIMM—on the left—and CAMM2—on the right. By implementing CAMM2 memory modules instead of SO-DIMM, manufacturers can add more components, such as extra M.2 SSD slots, or use that extra space for larger heatsinks, more powerful cooling fans, etc. And since CAMM2 modules use less power, one of the boons is longer battery life.

Diagram showing how more components can fit in an SoC when using CAMM

Also, unlike SO-DIMM modules, which can only include DDR memory chips, CAMM2 memory modules can be equipped with DDR and LPDDR chips. This enables manufacturers to opt for upgradable CAMM2 modules instead of soldering memory chips to motherboards, a practice seen in many thin and light laptops and handheld PCs, such as the ASUS ROG Ally.

We, the consumers, can benefit from CAMM2 by having fast and upgradable memory in our portable machines that also uses less power, which can indirectly lead to longer-lasting laptops that are easier to repair and more environmentally friendly.

Now, while CAMM2 has a number of improvements over SO-DIMM, it’s not all sunshine and roses. The biggest hurdle CAMM2 has to cross is its high manufacturing price compared to SO-DIMM and soldered memory. A 32GB CAMM module running at a mediocre 4800MT/s is available at a whopping $625 on Dell’s website. I’m sure prices will drop once the economies-of-scale wheel starts moving, and we see more and more laptops that use CAMM2. However, right now, things aren’t looking rosy.

The second issue is that, aside from the few costly Dell Latitude workstations, you can’t find a laptop that supports CAMM2. In fact, none are even announced at the time of writing.

I hope that the DDR5 and LPDDR5X CAMM2 modules will sport a more digestible price in the future, and that we will get CAMM2-ready laptops later in 2024 because the implementation of the standard on a large scale can improve future laptop designs with regard to repairability, longevity, battery life, upgradability, and overall performance.

Is CAMM2 Only for Laptops?

While the current designs target laptops, CAMM2 memory modules can be used, at least in theory, both on laptops and desktop PCs. This only works for regular DDR memory; LPDDR is exclusive to mobile designs.

Note that, at least for now, there aren’t any consumer-grade desktop motherboards with CAMM2 connectors. Also, considering that the desktop-exclusive Dual In-Line Memory Module (DIMM) standard doesn’t bottleneck DDR5 data rates, doesn’t take much room on motherboards, and that DIMM modules are pretty affordable, chances are that CAMM2 modules won’t find their way to desktop PCs anytime soon.

If you’re a MacBook owner, you should be aware that CAMM2 on MacBooks will most likely never happen. Apple’s integrated SoC design that features on-die RAM is doing great, and there’s no reason for Apple to switch back to using RAM modules.

When Will We Get CAMM2 RAM Modules?

The first CAMM2 RAM modules should arrive some time in 2024. That said, while technically they aren’t CAMM2 RAM modules, Dell’s CAMM RAM modules are already available for purchase.

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By John P.

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