by Ilya Gavrichenkov
01/31/2005 | 09:30 AM
If you think that the release date of platforms that support the newer PC memory standard, DDR2 SDRAM, was also the data when the evolution of ordinary DDR SDRAM ended, you are absolutely wrong. Yes, after DDR SDRAM modules conquered the 600MHz frequency barrier there was no sense in increasing the clock rate further since a majority of mainboards just cannot enable this memory frequency even at overclocking. And for those that can, it brings no practical performance bonuses.
Yet, platforms with DDR SDRAM are not at all hasty to give way to systems with DDR2 memory; for example, AMD is going to support the older memory type for one year more at least. That’s why the manufacturers of advanced memory modules are still interested in perfecting their DDR products to entice more customers, and this perfection is now achieved not only through the dull increase of the frequency, but in rather more ingenious ways.
The PRO series of DDR DRAM modules from Corsair may be considered as the first advance in this direction. These modules (you can read our Corsair TwinX1024-4000PRO DDR500 Memory Review for more details about them) were equipped with an indicator made up of nine LEDs that would show the current load on the memory stick. Owners of transparent PC cases appreciated the innovation as they could have more dynamic indicators in their computers that resembled the bars of an equalizer.
Corsair didn’t stop after the initial success, though, and is going to launch a new series of DDR SDRAM modules under the XPERT brand. These modules surpass their PRO series predecessors in a number of aspects and they now feature an additional LED-based character display that brings a lot of thrilling features to the good old memory module!
So each module of the Corsair XPERT series consists of two parts: a memory module proper and a display unit with all the necessary logics. These two components communicate across a 34-pin interface connector.
The module is equipped with a massive aluminum black-colored heatsink and has almost the double height of a standard memory stick. In fact, Corsair XPERT modules have the same height as modules of Corsair’s PRO Series. It means you may have troubles installing XPERT modules into the mainboard’s DIMM slots – just keep this fact in mind. The massive heatsinks of Corsair XPERT modules attach to the chips with the help of a special thermal compound and ensure a better cooling of the memory chips, also improving their overclockability.
The display unit is an independent device, i.e. a module of XPERT memory can normally work without it. This unit is twice wider than a standard DIMM slot – 20 millimeters, to be precise – so Corsair provided for two ways of joining together the memory module and the display unit. The latter has two interface connectors on its edges, and connecting the module and the display unit through different connectors you can move the oversized part of the Corsair XPERT forward or backward relative to the DIMM slot.
This option is vitally important in some cases. First, it allows installing more than one Corsair XPERT module into the system. Second, you may need to move the display unit when the memory slots on the mainboard are too close to the CPU socket. Still, you should account for the fact that an installed Corsair XPERT module blocks its immediate neighborhood, and there are hardly any mainboards available that would allow using more than two such modules at once. By the way, although there are two interface connectors on the display unit, you can’t use them both simultaneously. That is, each Corsair XPERT module requires its own display unit, and they will be in fact selling that way: each module will come accompanied with its own display device.
For the most punctilious of our readers we have the following to say: the height of a Corsair XPERT module with the display unit mounted on is 54 millimeters; its weight is 142 grams.
The module’s display unit has two decorative logos of Corsair highlighted with blue LEDs, an activity indicator, and a 10-position character LED-based indicator on the side facing the user.
The activity indicator resembles the one you can see on Corsair’s PRO series modules: the color bar of this indicator changes depending on how actively the memory is being accessed at the moment. The indicator of the Corsair XPERT module has more segments (twelve), but is smaller than the one in the PRO series.
But of course, it is the character LED display that’s the prominent feature of Corsair XPERT modules. Each of the nine display positions consists of several red-highlighted sections that can output numbers and letters of the Latin alphabet.
Let’s see what use Corsair makes of this indicator in its XPERT series modules. After the system is turned on, the display is showing in a loop the name and the characteristics of the module as well as some info about its current status.
This monitoring information will be most helpful for any overclocker. Among the displayed data are the real frequency and voltage of the module and the current temperature under the heatsink.
It’s possible to output these numbers on the display because Corsair XPERT modules are equipped with an additional hardware monitoring controller and a thermal sensor.
Besides the innovative hardware part, the Corsair XPERT memory boasts an interesting program called Memory Dashboard. Thus, Corsair becomes the first manufacturer of overclocker-friendly memory modules to complement its products with special software.
The Memory Dashboard utility is a tool for controlling and monitoring the status of the memory modules. This program allows viewing all the information about the memory installed in the system, including the SPD info and the current memory settings. Besides that, the Memory Dashboard can report the real frequency, voltage, temperature and activity of Corsair’s XPERT series modules.
The Memory Dashboard is also employed to control the module’s display unit – the user can choose the outputted messages and their format. The Memory Dashboard can program the display to output any string of text up to 23 characters long. If the message is less than 10 characters long, it is just shown on the display. If it’s longer, it is being scrolled across. The duration and speed of the scrolling is set up through the Memory Dashboard, too.
The messages and the custom settings made through the Memory Dashboard are stored on the hard disk of your computer. It means that on the system startup the modules display their default messages (the module name, frequency, voltage, and temperature), and it’s only after the OS and the Memory Dashboard are booted up that your custom settings come into action.
Seeing is believing, so we are offering you a small video clip that shows how a module of Corsair XPERT memory really works. The clip is in the WMV format and weighs 400 kilobytes. You can download it here.
Talking about the thrilling features of Corsair XPERT modules with their indicators we nearly forgot about its main purpose – it is computer memory after all! And we can test its performance as we always do with memory modules that come to our test labs.
The 512MB stick we’ve got belongs to the CMXP512-3200XL series, i.e. it is DDR400 SDRAM intended to work at its rated frequency with the minimal timings. That’s exactly what is written in the module’s SPD chip.
Well, let’s see how our Corsair XPERT CMXP512-3200XL module performs in practice. Since the manufacturer had sent us just one stick, not a dual-channel pair, we decided to check it out on a system with a single-channel memory controller, based around a Socket 754 Athlon 64 processor. We’d like to note that Corsair’s XPERT modules are not selling yet, so the characteristics of units that will be actually selling may be slightly different from those of our sample.
We assembled a testbed from the following components:
The goal of our tests was to find the highest frequencies the Corsair XPERT CMXP512-3200XL module would be stable at, at different timings and voltages. We run our tests in Windows XP and check the system’s stability by running 3DMark 2001 SE and 3DMark05 that put the memory subsystem under a stress, and by launching a small utility called SuperPI which can sometimes crash even the most stable computers. We set the Memory Timing parameter to 1T for the duration of our tests. The results are displayed in the following diagram:
As you see, the Corsair XPERT CMXP512-3200XL memory can conquer rather high frequencies, although it officially belongs to the Low Latency variety. With CAS Latency = 2.5 the memory can normally work at clock rates up to 260MHz, i.e. better than DDR500 SDRAM. At the minimal timings the memory can be clocked at up to 220MHz after you increase its voltage to 2.8v.
Corsair’s DDR SDRAM modules of the new XPERT series are highly promising products. It’s a clever, unique and beautiful solution – there are just no other modules with display indicators in the market. What’s the more pleasant is that the display is not just a purposeless embellishment. It is really useful, reporting about the parameters of the memory’s operation to the user. The Memory Dashboard, the first utility ever released by a memory manufacturer, is specifically intended for monitoring the status of your DDR SDRAM.
Besides that, Corsair XPERT is just high-quality memory capable of working either as DDR400 with the minimal timings or as DDR500 with less aggressive timings.
So it’s hard to remain indifferent to Corsair XPERT as it’s a unique product with excellent characteristics. The only downside is, as usual, the price. Corsair XPERT CMXP512-3200XL memory is expected to begin to sell in February, and a kit of two memory modules of 1GB in total with their display units enclosed is going to cost about $450.