US20060010339A1 - Memory system and method having selective ECC during low power refresh - Google Patents

Memory system and method having selective ECC during low power refresh Download PDF

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US20060010339A1
US20060010339A1 US10876796 US87679604A US2006010339A1 US 20060010339 A1 US20060010339 A1 US 20060010339A1 US 10876796 US10876796 US 10876796 US 87679604 A US87679604 A US 87679604A US 2006010339 A1 US2006010339 A1 US 2006010339A1
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data
dram
ecc
syndromes
processor
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Dean Klein
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Micron Technology Inc
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Micron Technology Inc
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F11/00Error detection; Error correction; Monitoring
    • G06F11/07Responding to the occurrence of a fault, e.g. fault tolerance
    • G06F11/08Error detection or correction by redundancy in data representation, e.g. by using checking codes
    • G06F11/10Adding special bits or symbols to the coded information, e.g. parity check, casting out 9's or 11's
    • G06F11/1008Adding special bits or symbols to the coded information, e.g. parity check, casting out 9's or 11's in individual solid state devices
    • G06F11/1048Adding special bits or symbols to the coded information, e.g. parity check, casting out 9's or 11's in individual solid state devices using arrangements adapted for a specific error detection or correction feature
    • G06F11/1052Bypassing or disabling error detection or correction
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F11/00Error detection; Error correction; Monitoring
    • G06F11/004Error avoidance

Abstract

A computer system includes a processor coupled to a DRAM through a memory controller. The processor switches the DRAM to a low power refresh mode in which DRAM cells are refreshed at a sufficiently low rate that data retention errors may occur. Prior to switching the DRAM to the low power refresh mode, the processor identifies a region of an array of DRAM cells that contains essential data that needs to be protected from such data retention errors. The processor then reads data from the identified region, and either the DRAM or the memory controller generates error checking and correcting syndromes from the read data. The syndromes are stored in the DRAM, and the low power refresh mode is then entered. Upon exiting the low power refresh mode, the processor again reads the data from the identified region, and the read data is checked and corrected using the syndromes.

Description

    TECHNICAL FIELD
  • This invention relates to dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) devices and systems, and, more particularly, to a method and system for allowing DRAM cells to be refreshed at a relatively low rate to reduce power consumption.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • As the use of electronic devices, such as personal computers, continue to increase, it is becoming ever more important to make such devices portable. The usefulness of portable electronic devices, such as notebook computers, is limited by the limited length of time batteries are capable of powering the device before needing to be recharged. This problem has been addressed by attempts to increase battery life and attempts to reduce the rate at which such electronic devices consume power.
  • Various techniques have been used to reduce power consumption in electronic devices, the nature of which often depends upon the type of power consuming electronic circuits that are in the device. Electronic devices, such notebook computers, typically include dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) devices that consume a substantial amount of power. As the data storage capacity and operating speeds of DRAM devices continues to increase, the power consumed by such devices has continued to increase in a corresponding manner. In general, the power consumed by a DRAM device increases with both the capacity and the operating speed of the DRAM devices.
  • The power consumed by DRAM devices is also affected by their operating mode. A DRAM device, for example, will generally consume a relatively large amount of power when the DRAM cells are being refreshed. As is well-known in the art, DRAM cells, each of which essentially consists of a capacitor, must be periodically refreshed to retain data stored in the DRAM device. Refresh is typically performed by essentially reading data bits from the memory cells in each row of a memory cell array and then writing those same data bits back to the same cells in the row. A relatively large amount of power is consumed when refreshing a DRAM because rows of memory cells in a memory cell array are being actuated in the rapid sequence. Each time a row of memory cells is actuated, a pair of digit lines for each memory cell are switched to complementary voltages and then equilibrated. As a result, DRAM refreshes tends to be particularly power-hungry operations. Further, since refreshing memory cells must be accomplished even when the DRAM is not being used and is thus inactive, the amount of power consumed by refresh is a critical determinant of the amount of power consumed by the DRAM over an extended period. Thus many attempts to reduce power consumption in DRAM devices have focused on reducing the rate at which power is consumed during refresh.
  • Refresh power can, of course, be reduced by reducing the rate at which the memory cells in a DRAM are being refreshed. However, reducing the refresh rate increases the risk of data stored in the DRAM cells being lost. More specifically, since, as mentioned above, DRAM cells are essentially capacitors, charge inherently leaks from the memory cell capacitors, which can change the value of a data bit stored in the memory cell over time. However, current leaks from capacitors at varying rates. Some capacitors are essentially short-circuited and are thus incapable of storing charge indicative of a data bit. These defective memory cells can be detected during production testing, and can then be repaired by substituting non-defective memory cells using conventional redundancy circuitry. On the other hand, current leaks from most DRAM cells at much slower rates that span a wide range. A DRAM refresh rate is chosen to ensure that all but a few memory cells can store data bits without data loss. This refresh rate is typically once every 64 ms. The memory cells that cannot reliably retain data bits at this refresh rate are detected during production testing and replaced by redundant memory cells. However, the rate of current leakage from DRAM cells can change after production testing, both as a matter of time and from subsequent production steps, such as in packaging DRAM chips. Current leakage, and hence the rate of data loss, can also be effected by environmental factors, such as the temperature of DRAM devices. Therefore, despite production testing, a few memory cells will typically be unable to retain stored data bits at normal refresh rates.
  • One technique that has been used to correct data errors in DRAMs is to generate an error correcting code “ECC from each item of stored data, and then store the ECC, known as a syndrome, along with the data. The use of ECC techniques during refresh could allow the power consumed by a DRAM device to be reduced because the ability of ECC to correct data retention errors would allow the refresh rate to be slowed to such an extent that errors can occur. Significantly reducing the refresh rate of a DRAM device would result in a substantial reduction in the power consumed by the DRAM device.
  • Although the use of ECC techniques during refresh could substantially reduce power consumption during refresh, it could impose significant cost penalties in both the cost and the performance of DRAM devices. In particular, the development cost and manufacturing cost of a DRAM device or a memory controller would be increased by the cost to develop and manufacture the additional circuitry needed to perform the ECC function. The increase in manufacturing cost for additional features in DRAM devices is normally manifested in a larger semiconductor die size, which reduces the yield from each semiconductor wafer. It can also be anticipated that the performance of DRAM devices would be impaired by reduced operating speeds resulting from the need to check and possibly correct all data read from the DRAM devices as well as the need to create syndromes for all data written to the DRAM devices.
  • There is therefore a need for a system and method for reducing power consumption by refreshing DRAM cells at a reduced rate without incurring the cost and performance penalties needed to check and possibly correct all of the data read from the DRAM device and to create syndromes for all data written to the DRAM device.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • A method and system for refreshing memory cells in a dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device is coupled to a processor in a computer system. The memory cells in the DRAM are refreshed at a reduced power rate that is sufficiently slow that data retention errors can be expected to occur during refresh. However, the expected data retention errors are corrected using ECC techniques applied only to memory cells containing essential data that should be protected from data retention errors. More specifically, prior to refreshing the memory cells at the reduced power rate, a determination is made, preferably by the processor, which memory cells are storing the essential data. ECC techniques are then used to check and correct the essential data without using ECC techniques to check and correct data stored in other memory cells. Prior to refreshing the memory cells at the reduced power rate, the essential data are read, and corresponding syndromes are generated and stored. When departing from the low power refresh rate, the essential data are again read, and the stored syndromes are used to check the read data for errors. If any errors are found, the syndromes are used to correct the data, and the corrected data are written to the DRAM.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a computer system according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a computer system according to another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 3 is a block diagram of a DRAM device according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram illustrating the data structure of control data that may be stored in a control register in the DRAM of FIG. 3.
  • FIG. 5 is a block diagram of a portion of column interface circuitry used in the DRAM of FIG. 3.
  • FIG. 6 is a flow chart showing the operation of the DRAM of FIG. 3 when entering a low power refresh mode using ECC techniques to correct data retention errors for essential data.
  • FIG. 7 is a flow chart showing the operation of the DRAM of FIG. 3 when exiting the low power refresh mode.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • A computer system 10 according to one embodiment of the invention is shown in FIG. 1. The computer system 10 includes a central processor unit (“CPU”) 14 coupled to a system controller 16 through a processor bus 18. The system controller 16 is coupled to input/output (“I/O”) devices (not shown) through a peripheral bus 20 and to an I/0 controller 24 through an expansion bus 26. The I/O controller 24 is also connected to various peripheral devices (not shown) through another I/0 bus 28.
  • The system controller 16 includes a memory controller 30 that is coupled to several dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device 32 a-c through an address bus 36, a control bus 38, and a data bus 42. The locations in each of the DRAMs 32 a-c to which data are written and data are read are designated by addresses coupled to the DRAMs 32 a-c on the address bus 36. The operation of the DRAMs 32 a-c are controlled by control signals coupled to the DRAMs 32 a-c on the control bus 38.
  • In other embodiments of the invention, the memory controller 30 may be coupled to one or more memory modules (not shown) through the address bus 36, the control bus 38, and the data bus 42. Each of the memory modules would normally contain several of the DRAMs 32.
  • With further reference to FIG. 1, the DRAMs 32 a-c each include a syndrome memory 50, a memory array 52 and ECC logic 54. The ECC logic 54 generates a syndrome from write data received from the memory controller 30, and stores the syndrome in the syndrome memory 40 while the write data are being stored in the memory array 52 of the DRAM 32. When data are read from the DRAM 32, the read data are coupled from memory array 52 to the ECC logic 54 and the syndrome are coupled from the syndrome memory 40 to the ECC logic 54. The ECC logic 54 then uses the syndrome to determine if the read data contains an erroneous data bit, and, if more than one data bit is not in error, to correct the erroneous data bit. The corrected read data are then coupled to the memory controller 30 through the data bus 42. Although the syndrome memory 50 may be a separate memory array in the DRAM 32 as shown in FIG. 1, it may alternatively be included in the same array of DRAM cells that are used to store data, as explained in greater detail below. The use of ECC allows the refresh rate of the memory cells in the memory array 52 to be reduced to a rate at which some data retention errors can occur since such errors can be corrected using the syndromes stored in the syndrome memory 50 and the ECC logic 52.
  • The DRAM 32 is able to use ECC techniques with relatively little of the costs and performance impairments associated with conventional ECC techniques because the CPU 14 uses ECC techniques to check and correct only the data stored in the memory array 52 that needs to be correct. More specifically, conventional computer systems and other electronic systems use DRAM devices to store a variety of data types. For example, a DRAM device may be used as a “scratch pad” memory or to store audio data or video data that is being coupled to a display. This type of data is usually overwritten with new data quite frequently, and is therefore generally not used after an extended refresh. Other data, such as program instructions, spreadsheet data, word processing documents, must be protected during refresh. Therefore, the CPU 14 applies ECC techniques to this type of data.
  • The CPU 14 can determine which data to protect through a variety of means. For example, the CPU 14 can store essential data that needs to be protected in only certain regions of the memory array 52, and then apply ECC techniques to these regions. The CPU 14 can also keep track of where in the memory array 52 essential data are stored, and then apply ECC techniques to these regions. Other techniques may also be used.
  • In operation, prior to each of the DRAMs 32 a-c entering a low power refresh mode, the DRAMs 32 a-c perform a read and syndrome generating operation. More specifically, the CPU 14 enables the ECC logic 54 by suitable means, such as by coupling a command signal to the DRAMs 32 a-c through the memory controller 30 and control bus 38 that enables a control register in the DRAM 32. However, the CPU may enable the ECC logic 54 by other means, such as by coupling control signals directly to the ECC logic 54, by coupling an unsupported command to the DRAM 32, use of a specific sequence of operations, or by other means. In any case, once the ECC logic 54 has been enabled, the CPU 14 performs a read operation to the regions of the memory array 52 that store essential data that needs to be protected. The read operation is preferably performed in a burst read mode to minimize the time required for the read operation. Regions of the memory array 52 that store non-essential data, such as regions used as image buffers, temporary buffers and screen buffers, are not read. During the read operation, the DRAM 32 generates syndromes from the read data, and stores the syndromes in the syndrome memory 50. The DRAM 32 then enters a low power refresh mode in which the memory cells in the array 52 are refreshed at a rate that is sufficiently low that data retention errors may occur. In one embodiment of the invention, the CPU 14 leaves the ECC logic 54 enabled during the low power refresh mode to correct any data retention errors as they occur. In another embodiment of the invention, the CPU 14 disables the ECC logic 54 after all of the syndromes have been stored and before entering the low power refresh mode. In this embodiment, the CPU 14 corrects any data retention errors that have occurred when exiting the low power refresh mode, as explained in greater detail below.
  • When exiting the low power refresh mode, the DRAMs 32 a-c perform a read and correct operation. More specifically, the CPU 14 enables the ECC logic 54 if it was not enabled during the refresh mode. The CPU 14 then reads data from the protected regions of the memory array 52, again preferably using a burst read mode. During these read operations, the ECC logic 54 receives the read data from the memory array 52 and the corresponding syndromes from the syndrome memory 50. The ECC logic 54 then uses the syndromes to check the read data and to correct any errors that are found. The ECC logic 54 then writes the corrected data to the memory array 52. Once the protected regions of the memory array 52 have been read, and the refresh rate increased to the normal refresh rate, the CPU 14 can disable the ECC logic 54.
  • In other embodiments of the invention, the CPU 14 initiates a read operation prior to entering the low power refresh mode, but the actual reading of data from the protected areas is accomplished by sequencer logic in the DRAMs 32 or in a memory module containing the DRAMs 32. The operation of the sequencer logic could be initiated by commands from the CPU 14 other than a read command, such as by issuing commands for a “dummy” operation, i.e., an operation that is not actually implemented by the DRAMs 32.
  • In still another embodiment of the invention, the data stored in ECC protected areas regions of the memory array 52 are not checked and corrected when exiting the low power refresh mode. Instead, the ECC mode remains active during normal operation, and the data stored in the ECC protected regions are checked using the stored syndromes whenever that data are read during normal operation. This embodiment requires that the syndrome memory 50 remain powered during normal operation, at least until all of the data stored in the protected regions have been read. A complicating factor is the possibility of the data stored in the protected region being changed by a write to that region without the syndrome also being changed accordingly. Of course, if the write is for a data word equal in size to the data words used to create the syndromes, there would be no problem because the protected data would be entirely replaced after exiting the low power refresh mode. However, if a write occurs for part of a word used to create a stored syndrome, then the syndrome will no longer correspond to the modified word. As a result, when the word is subsequently read, the ECC logic 54 would report a data retention error even if the data are not in error. There are several ways of handling this problem. For example, the operating system being executed by the CPU 14 could determine which stored data words will be the subject of a partial write. The CPU 14 could then check these words for errors when exiting the low power refresh mode, and correct any errors that are found. Another technique would be to check and correct each stored data word just before a partial write to the data word occurs. Other techniques may also be used.
  • A computer system 60 according to another embodiment of the invention is shown in FIG. 2. The computer system 60 is very similar in structure and operation to the computer system 10 of FIG. 1. Therefore, in the interests of brevity, corresponding components have been provided with the same reference numerals, and a description of their operation will not be repeated. The computer system 60 of FIG. 2 differs from the computer system 10 of FIG. 1 primarily in the addition of a syndrome bus 64 and the elimination of the ECC logic 54 from the DRAMs 32. In the computer system 60, the ECC logic 54 is located in the memory controller 30. Therefore, prior to entering the low power refresh mode, read data from the protected regions of the memory array 52 are coupled to the ECC logic 54 in the memory controller 30 through the data bus 42. The ECC logic 54 then generates the syndromes, which are coupled to the syndrome memory 50 in the DRAMs 32 through the syndrome bus 64. When exiting the low power refresh mode, the read data in the protected regions are coupled to the ECC logic 54 through the data bus 42, and the corresponding syndromes are coupled from the syndrome memory 50 to the ECC logic 54 through the syndrome bus 64. The ECC logic 54 then checks the read data, corrects any errors that are found, and couples corrected data through the data bus 42, which are written to the memory array 52. The advantage of the computer system 10 of FIG. 1 over the memory device 60 is that the DRAMs 32 used in the system 10 of FIG. 1 are plug compatible with conventional DRAMs, thus making it unnecessary to physically alter the computer system to accommodate selective ECC during low power refresh.
  • A synchronous DRAM 100 (“SDRAM”) according to one embodiment of the invention is shown in FIG. 3. The SDRAM 100 includes an address register 112 that receives bank addresses, row addresses and column addresses on an address bus 114. The address bus 114 is coupled to the memory controller 30 (FIG. 1). Typically, a bank address is received by the address register 112 and is coupled to bank control logic 116 that generates bank control signals, which are described further below. The bank address is normally coupled to the SDRAM 100 along with a row address. The row address is received by the address register 112 and applied to a row address multiplexer 118. The row address multiplexer 118 couples the row address to row address latch & decoder circuit 120 a-d for each of several banks of memory cell arrays 122 a-d, respectively. Each bank 120 a-d is divided into two sections, a data second 124 that is used for storing data, and a syndrome section 126 that is used for storing syndromes. Thus, unlike the DRAM 32 of FIGS. 1 and 2, a separate syndrome memory 50 is not used in the SDRAM 100 of FIG. 3.
  • Each of the latch & decoder circuits 120 a-d is selectively enabled by a control signal from the bank control logic 116 depending on which bank of memory cell arrays 122 a-d is selected by the bank address. The selected latch & decoder circuit 120 applies various signals to its respective bank 122 as a function of the row address stored in the latch & decoder circuit 120. These signals include word line voltages that activate respective rows of memory cells in the banks 122. The row address multiplexer 118 also couples row addresses to the row address latch & decoder circuits 120 a-d for the purpose of refreshing the memory cells in the banks 122 a-d. The row addresses are generated for refresh purposes by a refresh counter 130. During operation in a self-refresh mode, the refresh counter 130 periodically begins operating at times controlled by a self-refresh timer 132. The self-refresh timer 132 preferably initiates refreshes at a relatively slow rate in the low power refresh mode, as explained above.
  • After the bank and row addresses have been applied to the address register 112, a column address is applied to the address register 112. The address register 112 couples the column address to a column address counter/latch circuit 134. The counter/latch circuit 134 stores the column address, and, when operating in a burst mode, generates column addresses that increment from the received column address. In either case, either the stored column address or incrementally increasing column addresses are coupled to column address & decoders 138 a-d for the respective banks 122 a-d. The column address & decoders 138 a-d apply various signals to respective sense amplifiers 140 a-d and 142 a-d through column interface circuitry 144. The column interface circuitry 144 includes conventional 1/O gating circuits, DQM mask logic, read data latches for storing read data from the memory cells in the banks 122 and write drivers for coupling write data to the memory cells in the banks 122. The column interface circuitry 144 also includes an ECC generator/checker 146 that essentially performs the same function as the ECC logic 54 in the DRAMS 32 of FIGS. 1 and 2.
  • Syndromes read from the syndrome section 126 of one of the banks 122 a-d are sensed by the respective set of sense amplifiers 142 a-d and then coupled to the ECC generator checker 146. Data read from the data section 124 one of the banks 122 a-d are sensed by the respective set of sense amplifiers 140 a-d and then stored in the read data latches in the column interface circuitry 144. The data are then coupled to a data output register 148, which applies the read data to a data bus 150. Data to be written to the memory cells in one of the banks 122 a-d are coupled from the data bus 150 through a data input register 152 to write drivers in the column interface circuitry 144. The write drivers then couple the data to the memory cells in one of the banks 122 a-d. A data mask signal “DQM” is applied to the column interface circuitry 144 and the data output register 148 to selectively alter the flow of data into and out of the column interface circuitry 144, such as by selectively masking data to be read from the banks of memory cell arrays 122 a-d.
  • The above-described operation of the SDRAM 100 is controlled by control logic 156, which includes a command decoder 158 that receives command signals through a command bus 160. These high level command signals, which are generated by the memory controller 30 (FIG. 1), are a clock a chip select signal CS#, a write enable signal WE#, a column address strobe signal CAS#, and a row address strobe signal RAS#, with the “#” designating the signal as active low. Various combinations of these signals are registered as respective commands, such as a read command or a write command. The control logic 156 also receives a clock signal CLK and a clock enable signal CKE#, which cause the SDRAM 100 to operate in a synchronous manner. The control logic 156 generates a sequence of control signals responsive to the command signals to carry out the function (e.g., a read or a write) designated by each of the command signals. The control logic 156 also applies signals to the refresh counter 130 to control the operation of the refresh counter 130 during refresh of the memory cells in the banks 122. The control logic 156 also applies signals to the refresh timer 132 to control the refresh rate and allow the SDRAM 100 to operate in the low power refresh mode. The control signals generated by the control logic 156, and the manner in which they accomplish their respective functions, are conventional. Therefore, in the interest of brevity, a further explanation of these control signals will be omitted.
  • The control logic 156 also includes a mode register 164 that may be programmed by signals coupled through the command bus 160 during initialization of the SDRAM 100. The mode register 164 then generates mode control signals that are used by the control logic 156 to control the operation of the SDRAM 100 in various modes, such as the low power refresh mode. The mode register 164 may also include an ECC controller 170 that causes the control logic 156 to issue control signals to the ECC generator checker 146 and other components to generate syndromes for storage in the syndrome section 126 of the banks 122 a-d, and to check and correct data read from the data section 124 of the banks 122 a-d using syndromes stored in the sections 126. The ECC controller 170 is preferably enabled and disabled by a mode signal from the mode register 164, as explained above.
  • In an alternative embodiment, the control logic 156 may include a control register 174 that can receive control signals from the CPU 14 (FIG. 1) to directly control the operation of the ECC generator checker 146, as explained above. The contents of the control register 174 in one embodiment of the invention are shown in FIG. 4. A first bit 180 of the control register 174 is either set or reset to enable or disable, respectively, the ECC mode. The next M+1 bits 184 of the control register 180 selects which memory banks 122 are to be powered, thereby allowing the CPU 14 to selectively apply power to each of the memory banks 122. In the SDRAM 100 of FIG. 3, there are 4 bits bank power control bits 184 for the respective banks 122 a-d. The final N+1 bits 188 select each region of each bank 122 that is to be ECC protected. The bits 188 could allow only a portion of a bank 122 to be refreshed, or all of a bank to be refreshed.
  • The interfaces between the sense amplifiers 140, 142, the ECC generator/checker 146 and certain components in the column interface circuitry 144 are shown in greater detail in FIG. 5. The sense amplifiers 142 coupled to the data sections 124 of the memory banks 122 a-d output respective data bits for respective columns, which are applied to column steering logic 190. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 5, the sense amplifiers 142 output respective data bits for 8,192 columns. The column steering logic 190 uses the 6 most significant bits 2-7 of a column address to select 1 of 64 128-bit groups of data bits and couples the data bits to the ECC generator/checker 146. The sense amplifiers 140 coupled to the syndrome section of the memory banks 122 a-d couple a syndrome corresponding to the read data directly to the ECC generator/checker 146.
  • The ECC generator/checker 146 includes a comparator 194 that provides an error indication in the event the read data contains an error. The ECC generator/checker 146 then couples the corrected 128-bit word to additional column steering logic 198, and also couples the corrected 128-bit word back through the column steering logic 180 to the banks 122 a-d so that the banks will now contain correct data. The column steering logic 198 uses the 2 least significant bits 0-1 of a column address to select 1 of 4 32-bit groups of data bits and couples the data bits to the memory controller 30 (FIG. 1), as previously explained. It is not necessary for the column steering logic 198 to couple the syndrome to the memory controller 30 in the computer system 10 of FIG. 1 so that the operation error checking and correction function is transparent to the memory controller 30. Also, although 128 bits of write data are used to form the syndrome, it is not necessary for the DRAM 32 to include externally accessible data terminals for each of these 128 bits.
  • The operation of the SDRAM 100 when entering and exiting the ECC protected low power refresh mode will now be explained with reference to FIGS. 6 and 7. With reference to FIG. 6, a procedure 200 is initially in an idle state 202 prior to entering the low power refresh mode. Prior to entering the low power refresh mode, the operating system for the CPU 14 determines at step 206 the regions of the memory banks 122 that are to be ECC protected. More specifically, a variable “i” designating the first region of memory that will be protected in initialized to “1”, and the last region of memory that will be protected is set to a variable “X.” A record of this determination is also stored at step 206 in a suitable location, such as a register internal to the CPU 14 or memory controller 30. When the ECC protected low power refresh mode is to be entered, the CPU 14 first enables the ECC mode at step 210. This is accomplished by either writing a mode bit to the mode register 164 or writing appropriate bits to the control register 174, as explained above with reference to FIG. 4. The CPU 14 then reads a first region of memory (i=1) in one of the banks 122 at step 212, and, in doing so, generates and stores syndromes for the read data. The region to be protected (“i”) is then incremented by 1 at step 216, and a check is made at step 218 to determine if the region currently being ECC protected is the final region that will be protected. If not, the process returns to repeat steps 210-218.
  • When all of the protected regions have been read, the procedure branches from step 218 to step 220 where the CPU 14 disables the ECC protection. This can be accomplished by the CPU 14 either writing a mode bit to the mode register 164 or resetting the bit 180 in the control register 174, as explained above with reference to FIG. 4. The CPU 14 then enters the low power refresh mode at step 224, which is preferably a self-refresh mode, the nature of which is well-known to one skilled in the art. This can be accomplished by the CPU writing an appropriate bit to the mode register 164. The control logic 156 then issues a control signal to the refresh timer 132 to reduce the refresh rate. The SDRAM 100 then operates in a reduced refresh rate, which substantially reduces the power consumed by the SDRAM 100.
  • When the SDRAM 100 is to exit the low power refresh mode, a procedure 230 shown in FIG. 7 is used. The refresh exit procedure is initiated at step 232, and the normal refresh rate used for auto refresh is initiated at step 234. The variable X identifying the regions of memory that were ECC protected is also read at step 234. The CPU 14 then enables the ECC checking mode at step 238 to check the first region of memory that was ECC protected. Again, this can be accomplished by the CPU 14 either writing a mode bit to the mode register 164 or writing appropriate bits to the control register 174. The CPU 14 then reads a first region of memory (i=1) in one of the banks 122 at step 240, and the ECC generator checker 146 checks the read data for errors and corrects any errors that are found. The corrected data is then written to the region of memory being read. The region being checked is then incremented by 1 at step 244, and a check is made at step 246 to determine if the region currently being checked is the final region that was protected. If not, the process returns to repeat steps 238-246.
  • When data from all of the protected regions have been read, checked and corrected if necessary, the procedure branches from step 246 to step 250 in which the CPU 14 switches the SDRAM 100 to the normal operating mode. This can be accomplished by the CPU 14 either writing a mode bit to the mode register 164 or resetting the bit 180 in the control register 174, as explained above with reference to FIG. 4. The CPU 14 then enters the normal operating mode at step 252.
  • Although the present invention has been described with reference to the disclosed embodiments, persons skilled in the art will recognize that changes may be made in form and detail without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Such modifications are well within the skill of those ordinarily skilled in the art. Accordingly, the invention is not limited except as by the appended claims.

Claims (47)

  1. 1. In a computer system having a processor coupled to a dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device, a method of reducing the power consumed by the DRAM device, comprising:
    refreshing DRAM cells in the DRAM device at a first rate when the DRAM device is active;
    refreshing the DRAM cells in the DRAM device at a second rate when the DRAM device is inactive, the second rate being substantially slower than the first rate;
    prior to transitioning from the first rate to the second rate, transitioning to an ECC protection mode by:
    determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors;
    reading data from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected;
    generating ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data; and
    storing the generated syndromes; and
    when transitioning from the second rate to the first rate, transitioning from the ECC protection mode by:
    reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected;
    reading the stored ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data;
    using the syndromes to determine if any of the read data are in error;
    correcting any read data found to be in error; and
    storing the corrected data in the DRAM cells.
  2. 2. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors comprises determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors based on a record of the location of the DRAM cells.
  3. 3. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors comprises determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors based on a record of the data stored in the DRAM cells.
  4. 4. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of determining which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors comprises using the processor to determine which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors.
  5. 5. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected prior to transitioning from the first rate to the second rate comprises reading the data in a burst read operation.
  6. 6. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected when transitioning to the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to read the data from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected.
  7. 7. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected when transitioning to the ECC protection mode comprises initiating and controlling a read operation from within the DRAM device without using the processor.
  8. 8. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of generating ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data comprises generating the ECC syndromes within the DRAM device.
  9. 9. The method of claim 1 wherein the system further comprises a memory controller coupling the processor to the DRAM device, and wherein the act of generating ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data comprises generating the ECC syndromes within the memory controller.
  10. 10. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of storing the generated syndromes comprises storing the generated syndromes within the DRAM device.
  11. 11. The method of claim 10 wherein the act of storing the generated syndromes within the DRAM device comprises storing the generated syndromes in DRAM cells.
  12. 12. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected when transitioning from the ECC protection mode comprises reading the data in a burst read operation.
  13. 13. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected when transitioning from the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to read the data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected.
  14. 14. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected when transitioning from the ECC protection mode comprises initiating and controlling a read operation from within the DRAM device without using the processor.
  15. 15. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of reading the stored ECC syndromes corresponding to the data read when transitioning from the ECC protection mode comprises reading the stored ECC syndromes from the DRAM device.
  16. 16. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of using the syndromes to determine if any of the read data are in error comprises determining if any of the read data are in error within the DRAM device using the syndromes.
  17. 17. The method of claim 1 wherein the system further comprises a memory controller coupling the processor to the DRAM device, and wherein the act of using the syndromes to determine if any of the read data are in error comprises determining if any of the read data are in error within the memory controller using the syndromes.
  18. 18. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of correcting any read data found to be in error comprises using the DRAM device to correct any read data found to be in error.
  19. 19. The method of claim 1 wherein the system further comprises a memory controller coupling the processor to the DRAM device, and wherein the act of correcting any read data found to be in error comprises using the memory controller to correct any read data found to be in error.
  20. 20. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of storing the corrected data in the DRAM cells comprises using the processor to store the corrected data in the DRAM cells.
  21. 21. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of storing the corrected data in the DRAM cells comprises writing the corrected data to the DRAM cells in a burst write operation.
  22. 22. The method of claim 1 wherein the act of transitioning to an ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to transition to the ECC protection mode.
  23. 23. The method of claim 1 wherein the DRAM device further comprises a mode register, and wherein the act of using the processor to transition to the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to store a first mode control bit in the mode register, the first mode control bit corresponding to the ECC protection mode.
  24. 24. The method of claim 1 wherein the DRAM device further comprises a control register, and wherein the act of using the processor to transition to the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to store control data in the control register, the control data comprising a first bit enabling the ECC protection mode, and a plurality of second bits that specify the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected.
  25. 25. The method of claim 1 wherein the DRAM device further comprises a mode register, and wherein the act of using the processor to transition from the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to store a second mode control bit in the mode register, the second mode control bit corresponding to a normal operating mode.
  26. 26. The method of claim 1 wherein the DRAM device further comprises a control register, and wherein the act of using the processor to transition from the ECC protection mode comprises using the processor to store a bit disabling the ECC protection mode.
  27. 27. The method of claim 1 wherein the acts of reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected, reading the stored ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data, and using the syndromes to determine if any of the read data are in error when transitioning from the second rate to the first rate are performed only for the DRAM cells storing data words to which data will be written to a part of the stored data word.
  28. 28. The method of claim 27 wherein the acts of reading data from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected, reading the stored ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data, using the syndromes to determine if any of the read data are in error, and correcting any read data found to be in error are performed during normal operation of the DRAM for the DRAM cells storing data words to which data will not be written to a part of the stored data word.
  29. 29. The method of claim 28, further comprising providing a tag for each data word that should be protected, the tag indicating whether or not a valid syndrome exists for the corresponding data word.
  30. 30. The method of claim 29, further comprising setting the tag for each word to indicate a valid syndrome does not exist for the word when data is written to a part of one of the stored data words.
  31. 31. A method of refreshing memory cells in a dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device, the method comprising:
    refreshing the memory cells at a reduced power rate that is sufficiently slow that data retention errors can be expected to occur during refresh; and
    prior to refreshing the memory cells at the reduced power rate, determining which memory cells are storing essential data that should be protected from data retention errors, and use ECC techniques to check and correct the essential data without using ECC techniques to check and correct data stored in other of the memory cells.
  32. 32. The method of claim 31 wherein the act of using ECC techniques to check and correct the essential data comprises, prior to refreshing the memory cells at the reduced power rate:
    identifying the memory cells storing essential data;
    reading the essential data;
    generating syndromes corresponding to the read data; and
    storing the generated syndromes.
  33. 33. The method of claim 32 wherein the act of using ECC techniques to check and correct the essential data comprises, when no longer refreshing the memory cells at the reduced power rate:
    reading the essential data;
    retrieving the stored syndromes;
    using the stored syndromes to determine if any of the essential data are in error;
    if any of the essential data were found to be in error, using the stored syndromes to provide corrected data; and
    storing the corrected data in the memory cells.
  34. 34. The method of claim 33 wherein the DRAM is coupled to a processor, and wherein the act of reading the essential data comprises using the processor to read the essential data.
  35. 35. The method of claim 31 wherein the DRAM is coupled to a processor, and wherein the act of determining which memory cells are storing essential data that should be protected comprises using the processor to determine which memory cells are storing essential data that should be protected.
  36. 36. A processor-based system, comprising:
    a memory controller;
    a dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device coupled to the memory controller, the DRAM device having a plurality of DRAM cells that are refreshed at a relatively high rate during operation in a normal mode and a relatively low rate during operation in a low power refresh mode; and
    a processor coupled to the DRAM device through the memory controller, the processor being operable to couple a first signal to the DRAM device to cause the DRAM device to operate in the low power refresh mode and to couple a second signal to the DRAM device to cause the DRAM device to operate in the normal mode, the processor being operable prior to coupling the first signal to the DRAM device to:
    determine which DRAM cells are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors in the low power refresh mode;
    couple signals to the DRAM device that cause data to be read from the DRAM cells determined to be storing data that should be protected, the read data being used to generate ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data and being stored for subsequent use; and
    the processor being operable after coupling the second signal to the DRAM device to couple signals to the DRAM device that cause data to be read from the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected, the read data being checked for errors and any errors corrected using the stored syndromes, the corrected data being stored in the DRAM device.
  37. 37. The system of claim 36 wherein the DRAM device comprises:
    a syndrome memory that is operable to store the syndromes; and
    ECC logic that is operable to:
    receive the read data from the DRAM cells;
    generate ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data;
    cause the generated syndromes to be stored in the DRAM;
    use the stored syndromes to check and correct read data from the DRAM cells; and
    cause the corrected data to be stored in the DRAM.
  38. 38. The system of claim 37 wherein the DRAM device comprises a control register that receives a control bit from the processor, the control register being operable to store the control bit and to enable the ECC logic responsive to the control bit being set.
  39. 39. The system of claim 38 wherein the control register further receives from the processor a plurality of bits identifying the DRAM cells that are storing data that should be protected from data retention errors.
  40. 40. The system of claim 37 wherein the DRAM device further comprises:
    an ECC controller that is operable to controls the ECC logic; and
    a mode register coupled to receive mode control signals from the processor, the mode control signals switching the DRAM device between the normal mode and the low power refresh mode, the mode control signals further enabling and disabling the ECC controller.
  41. 41. The system of claim 37 wherein the DRAM device further comprises data steering logic coupled to receive corrected data from the ECC logic, the data steering logic being operable to couple the corrected data back to the DRAM cells for storage in the DRAM device.
  42. 42. The system of claim 36 wherein the DRAM device comprises a syndrome memory that is operable to store the generated ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data.
  43. 43. The system of claim 36 wherein the memory controller comprises ECC logic that is operable to:
    receive the read data from the DRAM cells;
    generate ECC syndromes corresponding to the read data;
    cause the generated syndromes to be stored in the DRAM;
    use the stored syndromes to check and correct read data from the DRAM cells; and
    cause the corrected data to be stored in the DRAM.
  44. 44. A computer system, comprising:
    a memory controller;
    a dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) device coupled to the memory controller, the DRAM device having at least one array of DRAM cells that are refreshed at a relatively high rate during operation in a normal mode and a relatively low rate during operation in a low power refresh mode; and
    a processor coupled to the DRAM device through the memory controller, the processor being operable to identify at least one region of the array that should be protected from data loss when the DRAM device is operating in the low power refresh mode, the processor being operable to protect the identified region using ECC techniques during the period the DRAM device is operating in the low power refresh mode without protecting regions of the array other than the identified region.
  45. 45. The computer system of claim 44 wherein the DRAM device comprises ECC logic that is operable to generate syndromes corresponding to data stored in the identified regions of the array and to use the syndromes to check and correct the data stored in the identified regions of the array.
  46. 46. The computer system of claim 44 wherein the memory controller comprises ECC logic that is operable to generate syndromes corresponding to data stored in the identified regions of the array and to use the syndromes to check and correct the data stored in the identified regions of the array.
  47. 47. The system of claim 46 wherein the DRAM device comprises a syndrome memory that is operable to store the ECC syndromes generated by the memory controller.
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