Articles: Memory
 

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Testbed Configuration

We are going to test low-profile Crucial Ballistix memory kits in an LGA 1155 system built on Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe mainboard based on the newest Intel Z77 Express chipset. Since overclocking memory modules are primarily purchased by enthusiasts, we also used Intel Core i5-3570K processor overclocked to 4.5 GHz.

As a result, the complete list of hardware and software components in our testbed looked as follows:

  • CPU: Core i5-3570X, overclocked to 4.5 GHz (Ivy Bridge, 4 cores, 6 MB L3);
  • CPU cooler: NZXT Havik 140;
  • Mainboard: ASUS P8Z77-V Deluxe (LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express);
  • Memory:
    • Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP BLT2K8G3D1608ET3LX0 (2x8 GB, DDR3-1600, 8-8-8-24);
    • Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP BLS2K8G3D1609ES2LX0 (2x8 GB, DDR3-1600, 9-9-9-24).
  • Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (2 GB / 256 bit GDDR5, 1006/6008 MHz);
  • Drive: Intel SSD 520 240 GB (SSDSC2CW240A3K5);
  • Power supply unit: Corsair AX760i (80 Plus Platinum, 760 W);
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 Ultimate x64;
  • Drivers:
    • Intel Chipset Driver 9.3.0.1026;
    • Intel Management Engine Driver 8.1.2.1318;
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology 11.7.0.1013;
    • NVIDIA GeForce 310.90 Driver.

Overclocking

As we showed in our special review of the memory controller in modern LGA1155 CPUs, it is the operating frequency of dual-channel memory kits that has the biggest effect on the platform's performance. Therefore, increasing it above standard levels is the key feature of overclocker-friendly memory kits that helps ensure an additional performance boost.

The tested Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP and Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP look quite promising in this respect. Although their nominal operational modes are quite common, these kits offer broad flexibility in terms of increasing the voltage, which inevitably affects the overclocking potential. Besides, they are built with high-quality Micron chips and use efficient heat-spreaders. Moreover, over the years Crucial have built their reputation for highly reliable memory modules. All this allows us to expect Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP and Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP modules to work at much higher speeds during overclocking than declared in their original specifications.

Here’s our algorithm of testing the overclocking potential of DDR3 SDRAM:

  • Memory voltage is increased to 1.65 volts which, according to Intel, is the maximum value that doesn’t lead to degradation in the memory controller’s performance. We also increase the VCCSA voltage to 1.0 volts, which should theoretically have a positive effect on the memory controller’s stability;
  • Failsafe timings of 11-13-13-31-2N are selected to find out the highest frequency the memory kit is stable at;
  • Using the maximum frequency we’ve found, we then look for the most aggressive timings at which the memory kit is still stable.

The stability of the memory subsystem is verified by 10 runs of LinX 0.6.4 AVX Edition using the whole memory amount and by an additional 1-hour-long check with Memtest86+ v4.20.

Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP DDR3-1600 2x8GB (BLT2K8G3D1608ET3LX0)

Crucial’s low-profile modules are good at overclocking. Being pre-overclocked by the manufacturer, memory for enthusiasts can usually be only sped up by one or two steps. The Ballistix Tactical LP is different because it is DDR3L. Well, even at its default voltage of 1.35 volts, our BLT2K8G3D1608ET3LX0 kit was stable as DDR3-1866. We had had to relax the timings to 10-10-10-30-1N for that, though.

But overclocking at the default voltage has little practical worth. If you do want to get everything your memory kit has to offer, you may want to try it at 1.65 volts. It should be safe enough considering that the manufacturer guarantees that these modules can work at 1.5 volts. At 1.65 volts, our Ballistix Tactical LP kit was stable in DDR3-2000 mode. That’s impressive even though we had had to relax the timings to 11-13-12-31-1N.

Thus, the Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP series can be recommended to overclockers for its broad compatibility with CPU coolers and high overclocking potential. If you don’t mind increasing their voltage (and power consumption), you can raise their frequency up by almost 40%. Few memory kits are capable of such achievements.

Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP DDR3-1600 2x8GB (BLS2K8G3D1609ES2LX0)

Notwithstanding the less aggressive default timings and smaller heatsinks, the very-low-profile Ballistix Sport VLP modules performed just like their Ballistix Tactical LP cousins. At the default voltage of 1.35 volts they could be clocked as DDR3-1866 with timings of 10-11-11-31-1N. At 1.65 volts we overclocked them easily to 2200 MHz.

The timings had to be relaxed to 11-13-13-31-1N but that’s normal. High clock rates always go hand in hand with high timings. The Ballistix Sport VLP DDR3-1600 2x8GB kit turns out to be almost identical to the Ballistix Tactical LP DDR3-1600 2x8GB kit in its overclocking potential, suggesting that both are based on the same chips from Micron. It means that you can choose either kit for your overclocked computer, basing on your aesthetic preferences and exact requirements to the height of your low-profile memory modules.

The results of our overclocking experiments are summed up in the following table:

 

 
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