Laptop RAM is facing a conundrum. The SODIMM standard — which is basically a shrunken form of desktop RAM modules — is almost 25 years old and facing an upcoming speed wall. With the demand for thinner machines, laptop makers have also started soldering LPDDR RAM directly onto motherboards, or bundling it into mobile SoCs like Apple Silicon, both of which make upgrades impossible. At CES 2024 in Las Vegas, Micron says it's the first to market with a compelling alternative: LPCAMM2 RAM modules using LPDDR5X.
Sure, it's an acronym salad, but there's a chance that Micron's technology, along with other CAMM2 offerings, could be a huge memory upgrade for laptops. The news comes after the JEDEC standards body officially published the CAMM2 standard in December, and Samsung claimed it was the first to announce an LPCAMM module last September.
But Micron and Samsung didn't get to LPCAMM on their own. Sensing a clear need for a new spin on RAM designs, Dell has been developing an in-house alternative to SODIMMs (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Modules) over the past few years dubbed CAMM, or Compression Attached Memory Module. Instead of large memory sticks, CAMM places memory chips on a module that's screwed into a PC's motherboard. The result is memory that takes up far less space, and has the potential to be faster and dramatically more efficient since it can reach the CPU with shorter traces. Dell tested out non-standard CAMM modules on the Precision 7670 in 2022, which led to a bit of an internet firestorm.
Micron claims its modules with LPDDR5X RAM (available in 16GB to 64GB) take up 64 percent less space than SODIMM memory, use 61 percent less power and are 71 percent faster in PCMark 10 essential workloads. The CAMM2 standard supports both DDR5 for mainstream machines, as well as LPDDR5 and 5X for "a broader range of notebooks and certain server market segments," according to JEDEC. LPDDR has been more common in laptops because it can run at low power levels while still offering high-speed data transfers.
In addition to the speed and power benefits, CAMM2 modules re-open the doors for RAM upgrades and repairability for consumers and IT workers, something that has been lost as soldered memory has become more common. As much as we love Apple's latest MacBooks, the inability to add more RAM will always keep them from being truly perfect.
The only downside with CAMM2 is that swapping out the modules requires dealing with several screws. That's a small price to pay for the possibility of upgrades, in my opinion, and those screws also make RAM far more secure than SODIMMs. (As an IT worker, I often had to reseat laptop RAM modules several times a month. I don't miss those days.)
We're reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.