04/09/2004 | 01:10 PM
All overclocker PC memory falls into two categories: one provides relatively low timings at a low maximum frequency like 233MHz (466DDR) and another allows working at 250MHz (500DDR) and higher, sacrificing timings. Both approaches are generally equal, providing similar performance under the same conditions, if we don’t specifically seek for exceptions to this rule.
The market is not yet accustomed to DDR500 and faster memory modules. However, there are several companies offering such products already – just enough for us to carry out a comparative testing session. We picked up memory modules from six manufacturers: Corsair, GeIL, Hynix, Kingston, Transcend and SimpleTech.
So, we are set to seek out the most overclockable memory module that would work at the maximum possible frequency. Sticks of the DDR500 type are physically incapable of keeping the timings low, whatever the memory voltage is. The minimum timings for the most of the tested modules to work in the DDR500 mode and at 2.9V Vdimm are 2.5-6-3-4. Whatever we did, we just couldn’t make our modules dance to the enchanting 2-5-2-2 time even with the Vdimm = 3.4V.
Meanwhile, there is a small speed difference between 2.5-6-3-4 and the DDR500-standard 3-8-4-4 timings, and it is well compensated by the higher operational frequency. Thus, at least for Intel processors and 32-bit Athlons, it’s better to have memory that works as DDR566 with 3-8-4-4 timings rather than one that keeps 2.5-6-3-4, but as DDR533 (this is not a mere supposition, but a real picture confirmed by benchmark applications; further information will be given in our exploration of memory performance with different frequency/timings combinations, now being prepared for publication). That’s why our testing is reduced to searching for the maximum memory frequency in the synchronous mode (1:1 of the FSB clock rate).
As for lower timings, all the tested modules were found capable of working as DDR500 (DDR533 for GeIL PC4200 and SimpleTech PC4000) with 2.5-6-3-4 timings. We also found that the manufacturers are very conservative about the nominal timings for their sticks. Otherwise, we left other timings alone and clung to 3-8-4-4.
Our exploration tool is the most fastidious benchmark for the system RAM: Lobby High Detail (Game 3) from 3DMark 2001 SE b.330 suite. We publish the maximum memory frequency at which the testbed went through the test, with a precision of 1 megahertz. The frequency may be made a couple of megahertz higher for passing SiSoft Sandra Memory Benchmark, but the system is not truly stable at that.
We carried out our tests in the dual-channel mode only. On the one hand, we reduce the randomness factor (modules differ among themselves – some are prone to overclocking, others aren’t), but on the other hand, we check the memory for compatibility in the most relevant operational mode for today’s computer systems. Moreover, some modules came to us in “coupled” packages, originally intended for working in the dual-channel mode. If you are an owner of an Athlon 64 processor, you will achieve higher frequencies since the processor-integrated memory controller is a single-channel one.
Regrettably, our decision about carrying out tests in the dual-channel mode expelled A-Data Vitesta DDR500 memory from the list of our testing participants since we had only one module like that.
Once again, overclockability depends on the particular properties of the given memory stick. However, the dispersion is smaller with PC memory than with graphics cards and processors, so our picture of the current DDR500 market is quite true to life.
Besides the main parameter, the performance, we evaluated two subsidiary ones: the looks of the modules and their accessories shipped with the modules.
A remark for the curious: by sending a good voltage (like 3.5V and more) to modules on Winbond BH+5 chips, you can make them work in the dual-channel mode at 260-270MHz and higher frequencies and with 2-5-2-2 timings. That’s the only way to combine really low timings with high clock rates. The same experiment with DDR500+ memory produces another result: 300MHz and higher clock rates in the synchronous mode, but the timings remain “bad”. Extreme memory overclocking is somewhat off topic for this review, so we only used easy methods (like a simple modding of the Vdimm for mainboards) to increase the overclockability of the tested modules.
We used two testbeds for our testing session. The first of them was working in practically standard conditions. We set the Vdimm to 2.85V and the real value was fluctuating from 2.88 to 2.89V. For testing purposes (to be able to swap memory modules often and quickly), we used a short-length graphics card, which didn’t block the DIMM slot clips:
The second testbed was used for checking the ultimate performance of the modules. The Vdimm was volt-modded to the maximum possible 3.2V, while the real voltages were 3.25-3.31V (thanks to the PSU that offers control over the voltages). This testing demonstrated the maximum achievable frequencies at “moderately extreme” overclocking.
Other system components didn’t affect the performance values.
We’ve got two modules, 256MB and 512MB capacities.
2x512Mb kit Corsair TwinX XMS4000
2x256Mb kit Corsair TwinX XMS4000
Corsair is now shipping all its memory in transparent plastic packages. Two compatibility-tested modules are sealed inside (you may remember that it was this TwinX series from Corsair that became the originator of the current fashion for two-module kits tested for ideal compatibility with each other). Besides the sticks, there is a colorful inset with their names, earned awards and review quotes. The insets for 2x256MB and 2x512MB kits differ in the background color. You unfold the inset to read the installation instructions.
The modules bear black aluminum heat-spreaders from Thermaltake with wire clips. Corsair thus distinguishes itself from other manufacturers who use unified spreaders. The heat-spreaders carry the Corsair logo and the XMS series logo (Xtreme Memory Speed includes all top-end memory from the company, including TwinX and TwiX PRO). The holographic sticker offers more info about the sticks: they have standard 3-8-4-4 timings working as DDR500 – these settings are written into the SPD. A simple paper sticker tells you about the modules belonging to the TwinX series.
Memory chips known as “Hynix 43” are located under the heat-spreaders.
The most curious fact about those chips is their not being DDR500 chips, according to the manufacturer’s specs. “Hynix 43” are those Hynix DDR400 chips that show excellent overclockability (it’s not a problem for them to notch DDR500 and more with timings like 2.5-7-3-4). It’s really strange Corsair took the risk of using such chips in its modules. On the other hand, “legitimate” DDR500 with Hynix D5 chips are no better than Hynix 43 ones at overclocking. So Corsair’s decision looks odd, but absolutely justified.
The maximum frequency with 3-8-4-4 timings was 268MHz for both kits. On our extreme testbed with 3.3V Vdimm both TwinX kits reached 280MHz (DDR560) – they again showed absolutely the same results.
Two kits of half-a-gigabyte modules from GeIL are included into this review. The first kit is DDR500, the second is DDR533.
2x512Mb kit GeIL PC4000 Ultra Platinum
2x512Mb kit GeIL PC4200 Ultra Platinum
You open the transparent acryl package by sliding the upper part sideways. The modules are in antistatic bags. You can learn the contents of the package by reading the sticker that informs you about the capacity and type of the modules. You also receive a unique bonus: a syringe of golden 5%-copper thermal compound from GeIL.
The cooling of the modules seems to be like any other, but that’s not quite so: the heat-spreaders are made of copper and nickel-coated so one module of the Platinum series weighs much heavier than an ordinary memory stick. The surface of the spreaders is well polished, but gets easily smudged with your fingerprints. In the center of the heat-spreader, there is the GeIL “automobile” logo (covered with a film that you should remove before using the memory). On the other side, there is a “technological sticker” with a barcode. All module characteristics are listed on the holographic sticker with the dragon. By the way, the DDR500 kit has standard timings of 2.5-7-4-4 rather than the ordinary 3-8-4-4 combination.
As you know, GeIL itself manufactures chips for its modules. Both kits use 3.5ns chips and best samples are selected for DDR533 modules.
This fact explains the high frequencies GeIL PC4200 memory notches at overclocking: 277MHz (DDR544) with 2.85V Vdimm, and 289MHz (DDR578) with 3.3V Vdimm. The results are several megahertz lower for the PC4000 kit: 268MHz and 280MHz, respectively.
We had two DDR500 modules in two packages.
2x256Mb Kingston HyperX KHX4000/256
This is the standard package of the HyperX series: a small plastic box with a transparent cover that holds the module in its place by means of special juts. A detailed installation guide lies beneath the module. The colorful sticker displays the product marking and the company and HyperX logos. It’s glued in such a way that you cannot open the package without tearing it off.
Kingston took a simple way to solving the cooling problem: traditional aluminum heatsinks with metal clips. The heatsinks are anodized to blue color and their descent is indicated by the colorful Kingston and HyperX logos. By the way, in comparison to older HyperX series, the heat-spreaders have become brighter, while the logos used to be white – the company has made some progress. The module carries a sticker with some technical info, like the rated Vdimm (= 2.6V).
Kingston uses chips from Hynix in these modules as the package indicates:
Overclocking brought average results. The ceiling for the standard timings (3-8-4-4) was 257MHz (DDR514). After the Vdimm went up to 3.3V, the testbed was stable until 272MHz (DDR542). Such results may be a proof of the fact that kits of two compatibility-tested modules are a good idea after all. On the other hand, the more probable explanation lies in the low overclockability of the memory chips (Hynix D5) – this supposition is confirmed by the results of the tested original Hynix modules.
Our today’s review includes three module kits on Hynix chips, from Corsair, Kingston and Transcend. Now we add to them the original Hynix DDR500 sticks that come directly from the chip manufacturer.
2x256Mb Hynix PC4300U-30440
These modules are “value” DDR500 as they cost just a little more than ordinary DDR400 SDRAM. The inexpensiveness of the product explains why they come in the OEM version, without any package. The origin of the sticks is indicated by the sticker on the chips. They have ordinary timings and ordinary voltage and there is only one strange thing: Hynix marked its DDR500 (PC4000) memory as PC4300 – this is a non-existent standard, roughly corresponding to DDR540.
A green printed circuit board carries eight chips marked as D5 (meaning DDR500 chips from Hynix).
Alas, there is no hope for 270 (540DDR) MHz: like the Kingston HyperX KHX4000/256 memory, the D5-based modules from Hynix reached their peak at 255 (510DDR) MHz with 2.9V Vdimm. Moreover, it was very hard for the Hynix product to overcome DDR540 in our second testbed, with a higher voltage. 274 (548DDR) MHz was the maximum point the value DDR500 managed to reach.
SimpleTech, an American memory manufacturer, is mostly involved into flash-cards and readers production, but pays some attention to PC memory, too. Their new Nitro series includes DDR500 modules and we’ve got two kits for our tests.
2x512Mb kit SimpleTech Nitro PC4000 SNX4000C3K/1Gb
2x256Mb kit SimpleTech Nitro PC4000 SNX4000C3K/512Mb
The Nitro series received our praises for the stylish package and overall ideology: the box is an irregular-shaped “cover” you can put down vertically. A bright yellow-black inset of hard paper, all in Nitro logos and hazard warnings, is visible through the plastic. The text on the backside is well-worded making you know why you need such modules at all. They list specifications, but never mention timings. On the face side, there’s the installation instruction and the warranty notice. The modules are additionally sealed into transparent plastic boxes.
The product is pleasing to the eye with its orange aluminum heat-spreaders and the biohazard logo in the center – that’s the way the Coolest Memory on Earth should look like. You subconsciously wait for an extreme effect from installing such modules into your computer. Our respects go to the marketing men from SimpleTech for the positive emotions during our tests. :)
The chips under the heatsinks are marked as SimpleTech. Of course, this is a remarking, but we couldn’t find out what chips the Americans use for their modules. Looks like this is something really good. I may venture a supposition that the chips come from Infineon, a long-time partner of SimpleTech, but that’s only my guess. The PCB is made of bright-red textolite, thus complementing the gamut of the heatsinks.
Anyway, the looks matters less than overclocking potential for us and we were glad to see that Nitro memory had no problems with it: 272 (DDR544) MHz for 2x256MB modules and 2MHz less for the half-gigabyte sticks. That’s a very good result, only surpassed by the GeIL DDR533 and the paranormal Transcend. At 3.3V Vdimm, SimpleTech’s Nitro memory becomes the absolute winner with a result of 292MHz and 290MHz (DDR584 and DDR580), respectively.
I would also like to mention that SimpleTech’s Nitro PC4000 modules allowed us to score the world’s record result in PCMark 2002 Memory Benchmark – 18743.
We took two DDR500 modules, 256MB each, coming as a kit:
2x256 kit Transcend DDR500
The plain polyethylene package with the sticker that informs you about the type and number of the modules contains two sticks wrapped into antistatic material. The modules are equipped with aluminum heatsinks of the traditional design (with two clips). The heatsinks are silver-colored and carry the Transcend and DDR500 logos.
The timings written in the SPD are normal: 3-8-4-4. This info is also mentioned on the heatsink sticker.
These modules also use D5 chips from Hynix:
The Transcend modules behaved abnormally during our tests, quite contrary to the Kingston and original Hynix memory that didn’t do well at overclocking. The Transcend memory was stable at …288MHz (!) in our first testbed (Vdimm = 2.85V and 3-8-4-4 timings). This is DDR576! After this fantastic result, we were thrilled to see the memory in our second testbed at a higher voltage. However, we were disappointed as the overclockability of the modules degenerated after 2.9V (figuring out what caused this weird situation, we checked the memory on both testbeds at 2.9, 3.0, 3.2 and 3.3V) and the Transcend modules only passed our tests at 280MHz.
For a more illustrative comparison, we represented the test results as a single diagram:
The Corsair memory was good, although not record-breaking in our tests. 268MHz at the relatively low voltage is quite high. We also enjoyed the ideal overclocking stability of two different module kits.
The GeIL modules combine the best attributes of overclocker memory: with high overclockability, excellent manufacturing quality and reasonable pricing.
The low result of the Kingston HyperX is probably caused by an unsuccessful pair of modules. You can get around this by purchasing two-module kits that are promised to have been tested together by the manufacturer.
Hynix PC43000. Another and more probable cause for the relative failure of the HyperX was revealed in our tests of the value sticks from Hynix itself. Our experience suggests that Hynix D5 chips have a small overclocking potential. As for the PC4300 modules from Hynix, they are an acceptable choice for economical overclockers. Enthusiasts will probably go for more “advanced” memory, though.
SimpleTech Nitro has too high a price, in the best traditions of Corsair. However, the quality is our guiding factor so we choose the SimpleTech Nitro as the best DDR500 memory: all three constituents of the resulting mark are at the highest level.
Transcends’s DDR500 modules can be recommended to people who are not into experiments with voltages as they behave quite unpredictably at high voltages. Anyway, their overclockability is satisfactory for a majority of users.
DDR500 still belongs exclusively to the hi-end sector of the market and the players are all big sharks here. There are no noname DDR500 modules yet, and the only affordable value product comes from an industry giant. At the same time, the modules we have just presented in this review differ greatly among themselves in performance from just-meeting-the-standard-requirements to really exceptional products.