by Ilya Gavrichenkov
09/06/2005 | 02:09 PM
As you may have noticed we started to pay more attention to DDR2 SDRAM lately. And it has happened not just by chance. There is no doubt any more that DDR2 is going to take over the positions of DDR memory in all computer market segments. And even though right now DDr2 is an attribute of Pentium 4 platforms only, this memory standard will very soon be widely supported by Athlon 64 platforms with Socket M2 form-factor, which are planned to be announced in the beginning of next year. That is why we started paying special attention to detailed performance analysis of DDR2 memory. On the one hand, these materials help LGA775 platform owners to select the best overclocking friendly memory solutions for their today’s systems, and on the other they help AMD platform fans to prepare for the transition of their favorite systems to DDR2 SDRAM.
I would like to stress that the articles on DDR2 memory that we have already published on our site aroused huge response and interest not only from our readers, but also from the leading manufacturers of overclocker’s memory solutions for high-performance systems. Our lab receives a lot of samples, so we will continue introducing to you new memory solutions.
The today’s article is devoted to a memory modules kit for hardware enthusiasts offered by Crucial. We received their DDR2 memory modules from the Ballistix series targeted for overclockers. Although Crucial Ballistix is a very popular memory modules series in the world, and particularly in the USA, we haven’t posted that many reviews of these solutions yet, unfortunately. However, we are going to correct this mistake and in the future offer you detailed reviews of all their most exciting products.
Crucial is a company from slightly different weight category than Corsair, OCZ and other manufacturers. The unique thing (and it is certainly an advantage) about Crucial, is that they originate from one of the largest memory chip makers, Micron Company. So, unlike other overclocker’s memory kits makers, Crucial has direct access to the memory chips for their modules.
So, as I have already told you we are working on filling in the gap in reviews of Crucial memory solutions, and today we would like to introduce to you Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 intended to conquer the 1GHz summit. So, this article will be a logical continuation of our recent review called DDR2 SDRAM for Overclocking Fans: Getting Beyond 1GHz.
We received a kit of two Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 modules 512MB each. These modules were intended for use in systems with the dual-channel memory controller. The part number of a kit like that is BL2KIT6464AA1005, which serves to identify these memory modules. Note that Crucial is also offering the same memory modules of higher capacity: 1GB each.
The Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 kit we received arrived in our lab in a common carton box, with the memory modules packed into antistatic plastic bags. Unlike many other memory makers, Crucial doesn’t use any transparent plastic packaging with multi-color leaflets inside, but ships its memory in traditional cartons. This type of packaging doesn’t have any remarkable distinguishing features, but serves its purpose well enough protecting the modules against physical damage during transportation.
The memory modules included into Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 kit are built on black PCBs and are equipped with standard aluminum heat-spreaders with yellow anodization. The heat-spreaders carry the URL of the company’s official web-site – crucial.com, and the name of the product series – Ballistix, both written in black color. There are no technical details or specifications mentioned anywhere on the memory modules. There is only a small sticker with the product part number, which you can use to find the info about these memory modules on the manufacturer’s site.
The official specifications of the Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 (BL2KIT6464AA1005) look as follows:
So, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 joined the team of DDR2 memory modules intended to work at 1GHz+ frequencies with the highest latencies. However, as our practical experiments have proven so far, modules like that can very often work at frequencies below 667MHz but with very aggressive timing settings, in other words, modules like that may very often turn out universal.
SPD of our today’s heroes contains the following information:
The funny thing is that Crucial didn’t encode into the SPD the manufacturer’s name as well as the product part number. According to the SPD, these memory modules can only work at 1GHz frequency with the timings set to their nominal values of 5-5-5-15.
Unfortunately, the fact that there is only overclocking friendly work mode listed in the SPD causes some compatibility issues. Far not all the mainboards out there can interpret the 1000MHz memory working frequency correctly, so that some of them may simply refuse to work at all. For example, we could pass the POST on our ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI (Intel Edition). Our memory modules would only work on this mainboard if the frequency and timings were set manually. In this case, however, you need another set of DIMM modules to start the system with default parameters first.
The memory chips used in Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 memory modules are made by Micron, which is actually not at all surprising. Namely these are MT47H64M8BT-3:A chips. According to the specification, these memory chips are designed to work at 667MHz frequency with CL=5. How does Crucial manage to make these chips work at 50% higher frequency than their nominal value? The answer to this question is quite obvious: it is possible due to extremely high voltage.
The nominal voltage for almost any DDR2 SDRAM chips equals 1.8V. This is one of the DDR2 standard requirements approved by the JEDEC committee. Crucial declared the nominal voltage of 2.2V for their Ballistix PC2-8000 series, which is 22% higher than the standard. This voltage increase allows to significantly improve other technical characteristics. In this case it would be quite natural for you to have some concerns about the reliability of these memory modules if they are working at significantly increased voltage for a long time. However, I have to assure you that you should forget all your worries in this respect. Firstly, the manufacturer took good care of the additional heat dissipation, and secondly, there is life-time warranty for this memory. So, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 is very unlikely to break down, and if something still happens to these modules, you will get replacement immediately.
For our memory tests we assembled the following system:
The BIOS settings for our mainboard were the following:
This is exactly the same system as the one we used for the tests of other overclocker’s memory modules, so we will be able to compare our today’s results with what we have already discussed in the previous articles.
We verified stability of operation in two steps. First, we used the Memtest86+ utility version 1.60 to make sure there were no errors at work. Then we reconfirmed this result by running S&M 1.7.2 and Prime95 24.13 utilities in Windows XP. This two-step approach ensures that we get trustworthy results.
Although Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 work at 2.2V voltage according to their official specification, we decided to run the first bunch of tests at a lower voltage setting of 2.1V. The thing is that other overclocker’s DDR2 SDRAM memory modules that we have already tested in our lab, namely Corsair TWIN2X1024A-5400UL, Mushkin XP2-6400 DDR2 and OCZ DDR2 PC2-8000 Platinum Enhanced Latency Dual Channel, were tested exactly at this particular voltage setting. And we were first of all interested in comparing the results of our Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 against those of competitor’s products working at the same voltage setting.
According to the results obtained at 2.1V voltage, which is a nominal setting for the majority of overclocker DDR2 SDRAM modules, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 cannot boast any remarkable performance achievements. At this voltage they fail to reach 1GHz frequency even at the least aggressive timings of 5-5-5-15. And once we ajust the memory timings more aggressively, we set them to 3-2-2-8, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 loses stability at 667MHz frequency. In this mode Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 definitely loses to other overclocking friendly memory modules out there.
However, we can hardly expect the memory modules working with the voltage set below the nominal value to show any outstanding results. So, let’s pass over to the tests with 2.2V voltage setting, which is the official nominal value for Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000. Before we start though, let me point out one thing here. You should keep in mind that far not all LGA775 mainboards allow increasing the memory voltage to 2.2V. Therefore, before you make up your mind about getting a pair of DDR2 SDRAM memory modules, such as Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000, you should double-check the voltage settings your mainboard supports.
It may seem that a 0.1V voltage increase is not that much of a change, however, the performance results improved dramatically. According to our practical tests, DDR2 SDRAM chips from Micron respond very well to the voltage increase. They really worked at 1GHz frequency with 5-5-5-15 timing settings once we sent 2.2V to Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 modules. And when the timings were set to more aggressive values of 3-2-2-8, these modules ran stably at 667MHz frequency. It indicates that we can call these memory modules a universal solution.
Well, we have just obtained the desired result, however, it is still too early to celebrate complete victory. Let’s take a closer look at the top working frequencies when Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 DDR2 SDRAM modules can retain stability and compare these results against those of other overclocker’s solutions. The graph below shows the comparative results for our testing participants obtained at their nominal voltage level. Besides, we have also included the results obtained at higher voltage settings of 2.3V, which is the maximum for the mainboard we used in our test platform this time.
The results we have just seen for different types of overclocker’s DDR2 SDRAM allow us to make a very favorable conclusion about Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 memory kit. This memory ensures stable and reliable performance at frequencies higher than those of its competitors and with almost any latency settings. And this actually means that if your LGA775 system is equipped with Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 memory, you will be able to get higher performance rates during overclocking. You can check out our previous article called DDR2 SDRAM for Overclocking Fans: Getting Beyond 1GHz for more details about the influence of DDR2 SDRAM latencies and working frequencies on the overall system performance.
However, it is important to understand that Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 memory works at higher frequencies than the competitors due to slightly higher nominal voltage. All other memory modules, except Patriot PDC21G8000ELK, support 2.1V as their nominal voltage setting. Only Crucial Ballistix and Patriot memory modules are designed to work at 2.2V.
When the voltage of our testing participants was increased up to 2.3V, the situation got slightly different. In this work mode the memory solutions from Mushkin, Corsair and OCZ manage to reach somewhat higher frequencies than Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000. However, none of the memory modules managed to overcome the important psychological milestone of 1067MHz. That is why it is still impossible to use Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and overclocked younger models from the Pentium 4 family with the memory-to-FSB frequency divider of 1:1.
Well, this was our introduction of DDR2 Crucial Ballistix memory series to you. The memory modules we have just tested, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000, proved up to our highest expectations. They demonstrated their ability to run stably at frequencies over 1GHz, and besides that proved stable at frequencies below 690MHz with the most aggressive timings settings.
This way Crucial Ballistix memory modules get into the team of overclocker memory solutions, which we have already reviewed on our site before (see this article for details). However due to higher 2.2V nominal voltage and manufacturer’s stability guarantees, the memory from Crucial managed to reach better results than their competitors from Corsair, OCZ, Mushkin and Patriot.
All in all, Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 turns out a very tasty bit for overclocking fans. Although you should keep in mind some issues we have pointed out in our review today, namely the insufficient information encoded into the memory SPD. Unfortunately, this may cause some compatibility problems with Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000.