DDR3-1600 SDRAM: Technological Breakthrough or Marketing Trick?

We managed to get our hands on the new overclocker DDR3 memory kits from OCZ (PC3-12800 Platinum Channel EB Edition) and Super Talent (W1600UX2G7) that are designed to work at 1600MHz speed. Let’s take a closer look at these solutions and find out if these memory kits will be able to win against the best DDR2 products.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
08/21/2007 | 06:54 PM

The recent test session that involved Intel P35 based platforms with DDR3 SDRAM revealed that this type of memory wasn’t ready yet to provide any significant performance advantage over the traditional high-speed DDR2 SDRAM (for details see our article called DDR3 SDRAM: Revolution or Evolution?). Relatively high latencies of mass DDR3 SDRAM modules made the new memory running at 1333MHz speed lose to the widely available DDR2-1066 with 4-4-4-12 timings in majority of applications of all kinds. However, this situation shouldn’t encourage you to draw any hasty conclusions.

 

The fact that Intel chipsets officially support only 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM with 7-7-7 timings is no stopper for those memory makers who are used to being ahead of the industry standards. If you are following the news, you should know that the leading manufacturers of overclocker memory modules are already shipping DDR3-1600 SDRAM to the market and get ready to start selling DDR3-1800 SDRAM. These high frequencies became available thanks to Micron’s efforts and beginning of Z9 chips manufacturing. The Z9 chips continue the good tradition set by overclocker-friendly DDR2 Micron D9 chips that can hit frequencies far beyond the nominal after careful selection and voltage increase. Although Micron Z9 chips are nominally only DDR3-1066, they were the ones that allowed raising the actual DDR3 SDRAM frequencies to a totally new level. This certainly gives progressive users some hope that DDR3 SDRAM will finally be able to outperform the good old DDR2 SDRAM in real applications.

So, our today’s article will be devoted to analyzing the level of performance that the latest overclocker DDR3-1600 memory modules from the leading manufacturers have to offer. However, before we get to the actual benchmark results, we would like to say a few words about the application field for these high-speed DDR3-1600 memory kits. The thing is that memory modules working at such frequencies cannot be used in Intel P35 based systems with any of the officially supported processor bus frequency settings, such as 800/1066/133MHz. This chipset simply has no dividers in its arsenal to clock the memory at frequencies like that. Therefore, DDR3-1600 SDRAM is currently of interest only to overclocking fans, who speed up their processors by pushing the FSB frequency to the limits. Luckily for the memory makers, there are quite a lot of users like that out there. Especially since contemporary Core 2 processors boast very decent hidden overclocking potential, which they simply cannot pass by.

Therefore, it seems quite logical to compare the new high-speed DDR3-1600 SDRAM against DDR2 overclocker memory kits, which is going to be the main goal of our today’s article. But before we share with you the benchmark results, let’s take a closer look at our testing participants.

Testbed Configuration for Memory Frequency Potential Check

To check out all the features and overclocking potential of the new high-speed memory kits we put together the following platform:

Memory overclocked with the FSB:Mem dividers of 1:1 and 5:6. System stability was checked with Memtest86, S&M and SP2004/ORTHOS.

New Overclocker Memory Kits

Super Talent W1600UX2G7

Since Super Talent was the first overclocker memory maker to start using Micron chips for their high-speed DDR3 SDRAM we would like to begin our discussion with their DDR3-1600 memory kit.

Super Talent W1600UX2G7 kit consists of two DDR3-1600 (PC3-12800) memory modules, 1GB each. The kit is shipped in a standard plastic casing, which contains the modules themselves and a paper flyer with some general words about the advantages of DDR3 memory from Super Talent.

The modules themselves look a little unusual, they have chips only on one side of the PCB. However, this isn’t surprising at all, as they are built using 1Gbit micro-chips.

As a result, the black aluminum heat-spreader transferring the heat off the chips is stuck only on one side of the modules. The other side is an empty PCB surface that bears a sticker with the modules marking. This sticker contains info on product part number, capacity, nominal frequency, timings and chips manufacturer.

Super Talent guarantees that W1600UX2G7 modules are operational at 1600MHz frequency with 7-7-7-18 timings and 1.8V voltage. In other words, to reach the claimed frequency the manufacturer suggests using 20% voltage setting. The complete specification of this solution looks as follows:

 

Super Talent W1600UX2G7

Capacity

2 modules 1GB each

Frequency

1600 MHz

Timings

7-7-7-18

Voltage

1.8 V

Chips

Micron Z9

Cooling system

Cast aluminum heat-spreader on one side of the module PCB

The manufacturer claims that these memory modules are pre-tested on Asus P5K3 Deluxe mainboard before getting into the market.

The modules SPD reads the following:

As we see, the ensure compatibility Super Talent sets in SPD the default chip specifications at which they should work with 1.5V voltage.

As for the actual potential of the Super Talent W1600UX2G7 kit, our practical experiments showed that it is only a little better than what the specs claim. These memory modules could run stably at the following maximum frequencies (with different timings and default 1.8V voltage):

As we see, with timings set to 7-7-7-18 the modules remained stable only at 1632MHz, while with less aggressive timings of 9-9-9-24 the frequency increased only to 1652MHz. However, at their default speed of 1600MHz these modules could run stably not only with 7-7-7-18 timings, but also with better timing setting of 7-6-6-18.

Voltage increase has pretty big effect on Super Talent W1600UX2G7 overclocking results. Once we set the voltage to 2.1V, we could hit 1760MHz frequency with 9-9-9-24 timings and 1672MHz frequency with 7-7-7-18 timings without losing stability.

However, the obtained results, are still a little bit disappointing. The thing is that the very first Super Talent W1600UX2G7 memory kit samples that got into lucky overclockers’ hands could hit 2GHz speed and there is sufficient evidence of this fact. However, the memory kit that arrived into our lab was manufactured after Super Talent already began producing DDR3-1800 SDRAM, which means that all fastest memory chips are now being used for this particular memory type instead. Therefore, there is no hope that Super Talent DDR3-1600 will demonstrate some phenomenal overclocking results, which is actually proven by our experiments.

OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel Enhanced Bandwidth Edition

OCZ Company, that deserves the title of one of the leading overclocker memory makers, also couldn’t pass on the opportunity to offer their DDR3-1600 SDRAM. Therefore, no wonder that OCZ is currently offering a few types of DDr3 SDRAM on Micron chips. We were lucky to get our hands on one of the most advanced OCZ memory kit – the PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition.

This kit consists of two 1GB modules designed to operate at 1600MHz with more aggressive timings than Super Talent W1600UX2G7 has to offer. The OCZ modules support 7-6-6-20 default timings. Although their nominal voltage is also higher and is set at 1.9V.

OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition ships in a standard package: the modules sit in a traditional plastic box.

One of the principal differences between OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition and the above discussed Super Talent kit catches your eye immediately: OCZ decided not to save on heat-spreaders and installed them on both sides of each module. Despite this fact, the memory chips on OCZ DDR3-1600 DIMMs are still only on one side of the PCB. The heat-spreaders are also quite interesting, as these are brand name meshed copper plates made with XTC (Xtreme Thermal Convection) technology that boast very good cooling efficiency. The heat-spreaders have platinum-color sputter and are decorated with a stylized Z3 logo.

There is a sticker with the product part number, frequency, capacity and nominal timings on o0ne side of each module. It was funny to discover that the info on the stickers of the kit we received was actually different from the actual OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition specification on the official company web-site.

Basing on the official data from the site we would like to sum up all the technical specs of this solution in a table below:

 

OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition

Capacity

2 modules 1GB each

Frequency

1600 MHz

Timings

7-6-6-20

Voltage

1.9 V

Chips

Micron Z9

Cooling system

Copper meshed XTC heat-spreaders on both sides of the DIMM

Note that OCZ also promises that their modules are safely operational at higher voltage of 1.95V, too, although this setting is 30% higher than the nominal voltage spec for the chips used.

OCZ stresses that their DDR3-1600 SDRAM modules are optimized for Asus mainboards where they go through pre-production testing.

SPD of OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition is quite standard. Everything here indicates that the modules are compatible and operational in any mainboard without additional voltage increase necessary.

The practical tests aimed at finding the maximum frequencies and different timing settings for these memory modules to remain stable bore the following results:

The frequencies on the chart above were obtained with the specified voltage of 1.9V. I have to point out here that OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition showed better results than Super Talent W1600UX2G7 with any timings. So, with the timings set at 7-7-7-18, OCZ kit remained stable at frequencies up to 1704MHz, and by lowering the timings to less aggressive 8-8-8-21 we could get it to run at 1808MHz. At the default 1600MHz frequency OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition can work not only with 7-6-6-20 timings but also with more aggressive 7-6-5-18 timings.

Raising the voltage will improve the overclocking potential of OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition even more: this is a typical feature of the Micron chips. So, with the voltage set at 2.1V this memory kit remained stable and functional at 1752MHz with 7-7-7-18 timings.

This way, OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition shows generally better results than Super Talent W1600UX2G7. However, it has its inevitable effect on the pricing. The price difference between these two memory kits with similar characteristics is about 15%, which results into a pretty significant sum of money considering high DDr3 SDRAM prices these days.

Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G

Of course, we wouldn’t pass by the new Kingston modules when working on our review. Although the Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G kit we received is designed to work only at 1375MHz frequency, we absolutely had to include it in our article. The thing is that Kingston chose a different way of improving their DDR3 SDRAM modules performance: instead of pushing up the frequency, they focused on reducing the latencies. Thus, the Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G kit we are going to talk about now can work with CAS Latency of 5, which gives us every right to consider it a high-speed overclocker solution.

So, Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G kit is a pair of 1GB DDR3 SDRAM modules with the default frequency of 1375MHz and 5-7-5-15 timings. The nominal memory voltage is 1.75V.

Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G owes this dramatic difference in specifications to the totally different chips that are used to build the modules. These are Elpida chips. Unlike gigabit Micron chips, these are only 512Mbit, so the modules are actually two-sided. As a result, stamped aluminum heat-spreaders on Kingston modules are installed on both sides of the DIMMs. They are pretty standard, but are of bright blue color that goes very well with white-red decorative logos on top.

The stickers on top of the heat-spreaders inform you of the kit part number and the modules default voltage. More details on the modules specs are listed on the package: besides the part number, you can find the data on kit capacity, nominal working frequency and latency.

The complete list of Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G technical specifications is provided in a table below:

 

Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G

Capacity

2 modules 1GB each

Frequency

1375 MHz

Timings

5-7-5-15

Voltage

1.75V

Chips

Elpida

Cooling system

Stamped aluminum heat-spreaders

An important advantage of Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G memory kit over other overclocker solutions is its ability to work with the default bus frequency of 1333MHz. Mainboards for computer enthusiasts based on Intel P35 chipset can clock system memory at 1333MHz without FSB overclocking. And Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G currently offers the best timings combination among all DDR3-1333 memory modules available in the market.

SPD of Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G is pretty standard, it doesn’t contain the characteristics mentioned in the product specs. It is designed to ensure the memory will be operational in “compatibility mode”.

Note that Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G modules are equipped with a built-in thermal diode. It is one of the new features of DDr3 SDRAM, which is kind of optional still.

Our practical study of Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G’s overclocking potential revealed a very curious picture. The diagram below shows the maximum frequencies when Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G remained stable and reliable with the default voltage of 1.75V.

Although the results of Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G kit are always lower than those of the solutions built with Micron chips, the Kingston kit does work at 1375MHz with 5-7-5-15 timings – a work mode that neither OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition, nor Super Talent W1600UX2G7 can support.

The voltage increase doesn’t really affect Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G modules: with the voltage raised to 2.1V we could only get as high as 1486MHz. So, looks like Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G is primarily interesting thanks to its low timings at frequencies around 1333MHz or so.

Testbed and Methods

Now that we have discussed in detail our testing participants – the new overclocker DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600 memory kits – it is high time we turned to discussing their practical performance in different real applications. Will the above described solutions be able to offer us a higher level of performance than the DDR2 SDRAM modules? – This is the primary question we need to answer by the end of our test session.

As we have already said before, we can only test DDR3-1600 in overclocked Intel P35 Express based systems with FSB running at increased frequency (so far this is the only chipset supporting DDR3 SDRAM). For our test session we set the FSB at 400MHz. With different dividers this configuration allows setting the memory frequency at 1000, 1200, 1333 and 1600MHz, which will do just fine for our comparison of DDR2 and DDR3 memory subsystems performance. So, the test processor was overclocked to 3.6GHz obtained as 9 x 400MHz. We tested DDR3 SDRAM in the above described system based on Asus Blitz Extreme mainboard. The DDR2 SDRAM performance was measured in a similar system built on Asus P5K Deluxe mainboard. We compared the performance of DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600 against that of overclocker DDR2-1000 SDRAM working with 4-4-4-12 timings and DDR2-1200 SDRAM with 5-5-5-15 timings.

The complete list of memory modules that took part in our test session is provided in the table below together with the links to screenshots from diagnostic utilities showing all the timings settings, including the secondary ones. Note that all secondary parameter settings were left in Auto on purpose.

Memory
work mode

Timings

Modules

Details

DDR2-1000

4-4-4-12

OCZ DDR2 PC2-8000 Platinum
Extreme Edition Dual Channel

Screenshot

DDR2-1200

5-5-5-15

OCZ DDR2 PC2-9600 FlexXLC Edition

Screenshot

DDR3-1333

7-7-7-15

Kingston KHX11000D3LLK2/2G

Screenshot

DDR3-1333

5-7-5-18

Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G

Screenshot

DDR3-1600

7-7-7-18

Super Talent W1600UX2G7

Screenshot

DDR3-1600

7-6-6-18

OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum
Dual Channel EB Edition

Screenshot

As for other components that we used during our tests, here is the list for your reference:

Performance: DDR3-1600 vs. DDR2

Memory Subsystem Synthetic Benchmarks

First of all let’s check out the practical bandwidth and latency of the new DDR3 SDRAM. For our tests we chose Everest Ultimate Edition 4.00 utility.

During reading from the memory DDR2-1200 showed the maximum bandwidth. Even DDR3-1600 with 1/3 higher theoretical speed, cannot outperform the previous generation overclocker memory modules. Looks like the high latencies of DDr3 SDRAM played a bad joke on it. However, DDR2-1000 with the most aggressive timings of 4-4-4-12 reads from the memory slower than DDR3-1600 and than DDR3-1333 with 5-7-5-15 timings.

Writing into memory is limited by the processor bus bandwidth that is why the results of the second Everest test cannot give us any new food for thought.

During file copying within the memory subsystem latency is of utmost importance. That is why the highest score in this test belongs to DDR2-1200 with 5-5-5-15 timings, while DDR3-1333 with 5-7-5-15 timings and DDR2-1000 with 4-4-4-12 timings are in the second place. DDR3 modules with CAS Latency 7 perform much worse here.

The practical latency measurements show that high-speed DDR2 memory outperforms even overclocker DDR3 SDRAM. In other words, today’s race between DDR2 and DDR3 again turns into “bandwidth against latency” competition.

Now let’s check out the results of complex benchmarks and real applications

SuperPi, PCMark05, 3DMark06

The highest result in the computational SuperPi test belongs to DDR2-1200 SDRAM. However, DDR3-1600 SDRAM with 7-6-6-18 timings runs neck and neck with it. Therefore, we can actually hope that another slight frequency increase or timings lowering may push DDR3 to the leading positions fairly soon.

Almost the same is true for PCMark05 results. By the way, note that despite its relatively low frequency, especially according to today’s standards, DDR2-1000 lets the systems runs at pretty decent speeds. This is another piece of evidence that we should retire DDR2 SDRAM just yet.

Performance in 3DMark06 hardly depends on the memory subsystem parameters. Nevertheless, all the tendencies described above find their way here, too.

3D Games

And the gaming tests demonstrate a completely different state of things. DDR3-1600 SDRAM with 7-6-6-18 timings (it is the nominal work mode for OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition) provides slightly higher fps rate than DDR2-1200 in all games. However, any other DDR3 SDRAM modifications participating in this test get defeated by high-speed DDR2.

We would also like to point out that unfortunately, DDR3-1333 with 5-7-5-15 timings cannot compete with DDR3-1600 SDRAM featuring higher bandwidth. We see this tendency in all the tests, including 3D games. In other words, overclockers will undoubtedly find memory modules built with Micron chips more useful than the modules built with Elpida chips.

Video Encoding

During video encoding tests DDR3-1600 with the most aggressive timings again presents a pleasing sight for our eyes. However, we can only talk about parity with the fastest DDR2 SDRAM taking part in this test session.

Office Applications

During data archiving the leader is DDR2 SDRAM, however the situation changes to the contrary when we get to Excel calculations. DDR3-1600 platforms perform best here.

Final Rendering

Final rendering is a type of tasks that doesn’t really depend on the memory subsystem performance that much. The diagram proves this fact one more time.

Conclusion

Despite the progress that has been made, everything we have already pointed out in our previous article called DDR3 SDRAM: Revolution or Evolution? stays true. Unfortunately, the new overclocker DDR3 memory didn’t make a very positive impression. I would say it made a pretty ambiguous impression. The thing is that according to the benchmark results we have just discussed, neither DDR3-1333 with extremely low timings, nor DDR3-1600 could offer us better performance than the good old DDR2 SDRAM. Although in some applications the new DDR3 SDRAM proves more efficient, in the majority of tasks the situation is completely opposite.

In other words, DDR3 SDRAM manufacturers are going in the right direction. One more effort and we will be able to claim that the new memory has finally outperformed the previous generation overclocker solutions. However, in the meanwhile the evident advantages of the new memory technology are lower power consumption and support of larger capacity modules.

However, we haven’t yet exhausted the potential of the new DDR3 Micron chips in our tests. We saw that memory built with these chips can work perfectly fine at 1600MHz, but very soon we will be proud to offer you some extensive tests of the faster DDR3-1800MHz.

Micron Company gave the overclocker memory module makers a great opportunity to expand. Elpida chips that used to be employed for overclocker DDR3 solutions before cannot boast as high a frequency potential. DDR3-1333 memory with more aggressive timings built on these chips loses to DDR3-1600, not to mention faster solutions, of course.

It is important to understand that the DDR3-1600 OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Dual Channel EB Edition and Super Talent W1600UX2G7 memory kits we have talked about today are niche products with pretty narrow application field. They can only be used in overclocked systems and have pretty ephemeral advantages to offer. At the same time, only real dedicated enthusiasts will not be scared away by the price of these solutions, especially since the same manufacturers are already offering even faster products. The same is true for DDR3-1333 memory kit from Kingston - Kingston KHX11000D3ULK2/2G – which is almost always slower than high-speed DDr2 SDRAM, according to our tests.