Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer (BL2KIT25664ST1608OB) Memory Kit Review

At first glance Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer is regular DDR3-1600 SDRAM. However, as soon as you install it into your system and power on, you immediately understand how wrong your first impression was. It not only glows during work, but also comes with special system monitoring software.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
05/23/2011 | 12:04 PM

Our recent tests of different platforms with Sandy Bridge processors and various memory modules proved that the most optimal solution today will be DDR3-1600 SDRAM. On average, memory like that costs a little more than the common DDR3-1333, but a few extra bucks may guarantee higher performance that will be comparable with the scale of your additional financial investment. However, if you are eager to agree with our arguments and your primary goal is to purchase not some unique high-speed overclocker memory, but something like DDR3-1600 SDRAM, then you will face a different problem – problem of choice.

 

There are a lot of different DDR3-1600 SDRAM kits from a wide variety of overclocker memory makers in stores today. It is not surprising at all, actually, because DDR3-1600 SDRAM has long turned from elite offerings to mainstream solutions. These memory modules may differ slightly in price and default timings, but their primary distinguishing feature is, actually, their exterior appeal. In fact, the manufacturers understand it also very well, that is why they have been experimenting with heat-spreader size, shapes and colors for quite some time now. Another popular trend is adding some LED lighting to the modules that would reflect the intensity of processor requests. Actually, if you have a system case with one of those transparent windows on the side, then you will have no problem finding a memory kit that would meet your aesthetic vision.

However, even among mainstream DDR3-1600 SDRAM memory kits there are unique products that stand out nicely. One of products like that is going to be the main subject of our today’s review. I am talking about Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer series from Micron. This particular memory series has three unique advantages: well-known manufacturer – LexarMedia Company owned by Micron, unique looks created by colorful LEDs, and a useful Ballistix MOD Utility tool that comes with the modules.

Closer Look at Crucial BL2KIT25664ST1608OB (Ballistix Smart Tracer)

We are very well familiar with Crucial Ballistix Tracer memory module series. Their distinguishing feature is a row of LEDs along the top edge of the heat-spreader, which blinking visualizes the work with the memory sub-system. In early 2011 LexarMedia Company decided to extend the functionality of these LED indicators and came up with the new Ballistix Smart Tracer series. The addition of the word “Smart” indicated three innovations. Firstly, the glow from the modules LEDs goes not only towards the top but also to the bottom of the modules casting additional light on the DIMM slots as well as the mainboard PCB around the. Secondly, the users now can change the LED indication algorithms by adjusting LED color and brightness. And thirdly, the modules acquired a thermal diode.

The manufacturer sent us a 4 GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer kit with BL2KIT25664ST1608OB part number that consists of two BL25664ST1608OB modules. It is important to point out that while the product variety within Ballistix Tracer series is extremely broad, the newest Ballistix Smart Tracer series cannot boast to be so numerous yet. In fact, Lexar offers stand-alone typical DDR3-1600 modules with 2 GB capacity and kits made of two or three DIMMs like that. Moreover, the basic modules are only available in two modifications: with blue and orange or red and green LEDs.

The frequencies and timings of all products in the Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer series are exactly the same. These modules are designed to work at 1600 MHz frequency with 8-8-8-24 timings and 1.65 V voltage. In other words, Ballistix Smart Tracer modules do not differ in frequency, timings and capacity, no matte within what kit and with what LED colors they are sold.

Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer kit we got for review this time arrived in a traditional plastic blister package with paper inserts that bear a lot of marketing info.

It is interesting that the manufacturer didn’t print specific inserts for their new Smart series: the packaging tells us about the previous simpler product series called Crucial Ballistix Tracer. Could it be that Lexar marketing people do not expect the new product refresh to sell too well? In my opinion, it would be very strange on their part: 4 GB Ballistix Smart Tracer kit is only price higher than its analogue from the Ballistix Tracer series in the official MSRP sheet. If we compare the prices in actual stores, we will see that both kits are priced identically.

The modules exterior also doesn’t blow your socks off. In fact, Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer modules look exactly the same as the regular Ballistix Tracer, but with black heat-spreaders. Besides, there is a graphical Ballistix Tracer logo on the modules, which indicates clearly that it is a new advanced series and not the previous one.

I have to point out that continuous use of the same heat-spreaders for Crucial memory products has its definite advantages as well as drawbacks. One indisputable advantage is the fact that they are of standard height, which makes them compatible with any system with a large CPU cooler inside. As for the drawbacks, the major one is the heat-spreader configuration, or I should probably say the absence of one. The thing is that Crucial continues using a completely flat aluminum plate to dissipate heat from the chips, which is considerably less efficient than heat-spreaders with slight ribbing on them. However, DDR3-1600 memory is not one of those super-hot components, so it will most likely be able to work perfectly fine even without any additional heat dissipation at all.

The heat-spreader plates are attached to the chips in an old-fashioned way – by using sticky thermal tape. However, they are held extremely firmly in place: we couldn’t take the heat-spreader plates off the chips.

If you look at the modules from the top, you will notice ten two-color LEDs (which can glow in two different colors). They are the ones responsible for the lighting, which makes Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer popular among modding fans. There are eight additional LEDs at the bottom of the modules right beneath the heat-spreaders. These LEDs illuminate the mainboard PCB.

The LEDs on our memory kit with BL25664ST1608OB part number can light up in blue or orange color, but the manufacturer also offers similar modules with red and green LED combo. So, the users can choose the color combination that suits their aesthetic preferences best of all.

When the system is on, the LEDs may light in one or another color, according to the user’s preferences. The bottom LEDs are constantly on illuminating the DIMM slots, while the top row of LEDs glows and blinks reflecting the memory sub-system utilization.

The formal specifications of the Crucial BL2KIT25664ST1608OB kit look as follows:

The manufacturer states that all modules are tested in AMD and Intel platforms and can be used in any configurations.

The modules have XMP profiles with the information about three supported operational modes recorded in them:

The SPD of the modules reviewed today is filled out to ensure that they will be compatible with the mainboards and therefore specifies Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer as DDR3-1333 modules with 9-9-9-27 timings.

LexarMedia Company, which ships Crucial branded memory modules belongs to one of the largest memory chips manufacturers out there – the Micron Company. Therefore, it is not surprising at all than any Crucial modules use Micron memory chips. This is one of the reasons why these modules have not very high frequencies – it is only a DDR-1600 kit. Unfortunately, Micron chips cannot boast the same frequency potential, as Elpida or Powerchip chips, for instance. You can come across these chips in high-speed overclocker memory kits. As for Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer specifically, you will find Micron D9KPT chips under their heat-spreaders. Memory built with these chips will usually overclock to substantial frequencies only after you significantly increase the voltage, which is not recommended on Intel platforms.

Micron D9KPT chips and LEDs with a controller are not the only components hiding beneath the Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer heat-spreaders. This DDR3-1600 SDRAM has another nice unique feature, which will definitely please many overclockers out there. These memory modules have built-in thermal diodes. It means that this particular memory allows monitoring its thermal state using pretty standard utilities.

However, do not forget about Ballistix MOD (Memory Overview Display) Utility offered directly by the manufacturer and developed specifically for Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer kits.

First of all, this program allows browsing through the memory settings in the system:

Second, it allows monitoring the modules temperature. This can be done via primary utility interface or via a compact desktop widget:

Third, Ballistix MOD Utility also offers special tools for adjusting the LEDs modes on Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer modules. You can change their color (the modules use two-color diodes), brightness (or turn them off completely) and select one of the four blinking patterns for the top LEDs.

I have to say that LED settings will be saved and will remain on without relaunching the management utility even after powering the system off and back on.

You can learn more about the Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer LEDs from the following video available on YouTube.com.

As for us, it is time to check out how well Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer modules can overclock.

Testbed Configuration

We are going to test the Crucial BL2KIT25664ST1608OB (Ballistix Smart Tracer) in an LGA1155 system with Core i5-2500K CPU overclocked to 4.7 GHz.

The system also included the following hardware and software components:

Keeping in mind the overclocking specifics of contemporary systems with LGA1155 processors inside, the idea behind our today’s test session was to determine the ability of our memory kit to function at non-nominal frequencies of 1866 and 2133 MHz. We also tried to find the most aggressive timings when the memory would remain stable.

During our tests in overclocked modes we used only Intel recommended voltage setting of 1.65 V. You can improve (sometimes quite significantly) the overclocking potential of DDR3 memory modules by raising this voltage, however, in this case the processor memory controller is under serious risk of untimely degrading. Therefore, we prefer to follow Intel’s recommendations and do not encourage increasing the DDR3 SDRAM voltage beyond 1.65 V.

Test Results

It is a known fact that increasing the memory sub-system frequency has greater effect on performance than lowering memory timings. Therefore, we decided not to investigate the ability of our Ballistix Smart Tracer modules to work in DDR3-1333 mode: this mode is simply ineffective.

Our modules worked in DDR3-1600 mode not only with their nominal timings, but also with more aggressive ones set at 8-8-7-24-1T.

The next memory mode for Sandy Bridge platform is DDR3-1866 and Crucial kit can cope with it just fine, too. However, we had to use less aggressive timings of 9-9-8-27-1T to guarantee modules’ stability.

However, at 1866 MHz Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer works noticeably faster, sow e shouldn’t worry about using more lenient timings. Frequency is the primary factor for Sandy Bridge platforms.

Unfortunately, the next threshold of 2133 MHz remained unconquered by Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer kit. At least at the safe recommended voltage of 1.65 V.

I have to say that in both cases the modules temperature exceeded 60 degrees, which means they heated up quite substantially. I believe it can be regarded as one of the indications of poor cooling efficiency of the flat aluminum heat-spreader plates for heat dissipation from the memory chips. However, we didn’t experience any overheating issues during our test session, which is a good sign.

Conclusion

Of course, DDR3-1600 SDRAM modules from Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer series are a pretty funky product with good characteristics. If we view this memory as regular solution for contemporary systems, they will become a good option with acceptable characteristics with a fair price tag for solutions of such class. In other words, in terms of price-to-performance ratio the BL25664ST1608OB modules can’t boast any outstanding results, but at the same time they are not among outsiders either. They can work not only in default DDR3-1600 mode, but can also be overclocked to the next speed bump of DDR3-1866, which boosts your system performance for free. Of course, Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer modules cannot compete against high-speed overclocker offerings, but they are not designed for that anyway.

Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer type of memory is not that much an overclocker toy, but mostly a product that should appeal to computer aesthetes. Its key feature is built-in illumination, which will be great inside beautiful system cases with clear side panels. Therefore, various options for software LED management, including change of LED color, are totally appropriate. And in this respect Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer is beyond competition.

Another great advantage of the Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer memory is the fact that it is the first memory for computer enthusiasts that comes with special bundled software. Of course, this software was necessary for managing the LEDs. But do not forget that this brand name utility also has another important function: thermal monitoring, which may be very useful during system overclocking.

Summing up the results of our today’s test session we would like to award Crucial BL2KIT25664ST1608OB (Ballistix Smart Tracer) memory kit with our Ultimate Innovation title: