by Ilya Gavrichenkov
03/30/2012 | 08:29 AM
We’ve long got used to the never-ending progress of computers in sheer computing power with new generations of processors and graphics cards. Indeed, modern multimedia content authoring applications and 3D games want more and more hardware resources but what about system memory? Is it a resource that needs to be augmented as well? If you compare the system requirements of today’s Windows 7 and 8 with those of the decade-old Windows XP, you can see that they are in fact comparable. The majority of everyday applications do not really need more than the typical 2 or 4 gigabytes of system memory, too.
Midrange and top-end computers currently come with no less than 8 gigabytes of memory, but not because of some real necessity. DDR3 SDRAM has just become exceedingly cheap. Moreover, Intel gives us a push towards larger amounts of system memory by introducing triple- and quad-channel memory controllers in its top-end platforms. Users are invited to install more memory modules and thus have more system memory in total.
There’s nothing wrong about this trend, though. You can’t have too much of memory. With large amounts currently in use, many users create memory-located RAM disks for storing temporary files. This solution is especially effective if an SSD is used as the main system disk. Moreover, having 8 gigabytes of system memory or more, you can switch off your swap file and make your computer somewhat more responsive.
But discussing the benefits of having a lot of system memory is actually beyond the scope of this review. We'll just take it for granted that typical overclocker-friendly memory modules currently come in 4-gigabyte capacities, which means that you can’t help using 4GB modules if you want to build a computer with high-speed DDR3 SDRAM. With memory chip prices going down, makers of enthusiast-targeted memory have switched their focus to large-capacity kits. If you are looking for a quad-channel kit for your LGA2011 computer, you must have already found out that the majority of offers are 16 gigabytes in capacity.
It’s about such products we are going to talk in this review. We'll take as many as five quad-channel 16GB DDR3 SDRAM kits from GeIL, a long-standing leader among overclocker-friendly memory makers.
These memory kits belong to four product series. While most other leading memory makers have recently moved their focus elsewhere (to SSDs, power supplies, various peripherals), GeIL has never steered away from its initial course and still offers a very broad selection of DDR3 SDRAM modules to everyone’s taste. That’s the point of this review, actually. We want to compare products which are very close to each other in their specs but differ in exterior design and pricing, so that we could find out the most attractive offers.
From a technical standpoint, these memory kits from GeIL are DDR3-1600 and DDR3-1867.
Designed for LGA2011 platforms, they differ from each other substantially. Let's have a closer look at each of them.
The Black Dragon series is positioned by its manufacturer as an embellishment for your system rather than just fast memory. Lacking conventional massive heatsinks, these modules feature a highly original 8-layer PCB with a picture of a traditional Chinese dragon on one side. Unfortunately, the memory chips cover the picture, making it rather hard to identify what is depicted.
The highlighting is far easier to see. There are bright red LEDs in the corners of each Black Dragon module. Unlike the highlighting of the Crucial Ballistix Tracer series, it doesn't do any indication. It's a purely aesthetic element.
The lack of heatsinks helps us get a clear view of the employed memory chips but GeIL took care that we wouldn’t identify their actual maker. The original marking is erased from the chips and replaced with GeIL’s own meaningless nomenclature. However, there are some indications that the chips are made by Powerchip whose produce is quite often used in overclocker-friendly products.
The eye-catching exterior is not the only advantage of the Black Dragon series. The reduced height of the modules makes them compatible with massive CPU coolers. If you plan on using a tower-design super-cooler, the Black Dragon series may be an optimal choice because, on one hand, it is an overclocker-friendly memory kit with advanced specs but, on the other hand, these modules are but slightly taller than standard.
You can see the full specs of this DDR3-1600 kit (part number GB316GB1600C9QC) below:
Take note that this memory is supposed to work at the standard DDR3 voltage of 1.5 volts, which is yet another advantage.
The Black Dragon series supports XMP. The single profile contains full information about recommended timings. According to the profile data, the VCCSA voltage is not supposed to be increased and that’s okay because the CPU-integrated memory controller shouldn’t find it difficult to maintain the clock rate of 1600 MHz.
GeIL has advanced quality assurance procedures, so every Black Dragon module passes presale testing which is called Die-hard Burn-in Technology. Its point is in stress-testing finished products for 24 hours at a temperature of 100°C. This helps cull problematic chips that might prove to be unstable under real-life loads.
The Enhance Corsa series is targeted at overclockers who can’t help raising the base clock rate above the default 100 (or 125) MHz. This leads to a proportional increase in memory frequency, and the Enhance Corsa series is expected to ensure stable operation at such settings without your fine-tuning any frequencies or timings. To be specific, the DDR3-1600 Enhance Corsa kit we've got is guaranteed to be stable at clock rates up to 1700 MHz, using the same timings. In other words, you can easily increase the base clock rate of your system by 5-6 MHz without lowering the memory frequency divider.
The Enhance Corsa series is distinguishable for its aluminum heatsinks of bright orange. The heatsinks aren't very good, though. First, they are too tall and may conflict with massive air coolers. Second, they are not very efficient as they lack protruding fins. And third, they are too slim and get deformed just too easily.
The heatsinks are attached to the chips with dual-sided thermal tape and, fortunately, you can easily take them off to make the modules compatible with more CPU coolers. This can’t have a negative effect on cooling because DDR3-1600 doesn’t heat up much at 1.5 volts.
Even with the heatsinks removed, we cannot learn the maker of the memory chips. GeIL rebranded them, too. In fact, the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 and the Black Dragon PC3-12800 CL9 modules have the same marking on the chips.
Well, the two kits do have the same specs (our Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 has a part number of GEC316GB1600C9QC).
The XMP profile of the Enhance Corsa kit is set up for a clock rate of 1700 MHz although contains the same timings as the Black Dragon DDR3-1600.
It means that the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 can be used with its default settings at a base clock rate of 125 MHz. The memory frequency is going to be DDR3-1666 in that case.
Like the Black Dragon series, the Enhance Corsa memory passes a presale stress test and comes with a lifetime warranty.
The GeIL EVO Corsa kits are outwardly similar to the Enhance Corsa series. They too have aluminum heatsinks of the same design but yellow-green in color. As for its technical specs, the EVO series is optimized for higher clock rates. Both EVO Corsa kits we’ve got for our tests support DDR3-1867 mode.
Like with the Enhance Corsa series, you can easily take the heatsinks off the EVO Corsa modules if they conflict with your CPU cooler. This shouldn't affect their temperature because they work at the standard voltage of 1.5 volts. Their heat dissipation should remain rather low even if you overclock these modules and increase their voltage above that level.
The chips of the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 modules are rebranded, too. The real maker seems to be Powerchip, again. According to GeIL’s marking, the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 kits with different default timings do not actually differ from each other. Moreover, they have the same chips as the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800. Our practical experience of using all these modules suggests that they are indeed very similar.
Here are the official specs of the GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 memory kit (GOC316GB1866C10QC):
The second kit, GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 (GOC316GB1866C10QC), has more aggressive timings but doesn’t differ in the other parameters:
Although the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 and EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 kits seem to be almost identical, there is one important difference between them. The XMP profile of the CL9 kit has a full set of timings for default operation mode (9-10-9-28-2T). There is no info about VCCSA, but it can be left at its standard value of 1.1 volts.
As for the CL10 kit, our ASUS Rampage IV Formula mainboard couldn’t read its XMP profile at all.
The profile was visible in the OS, although that was of no use for us. Thus, the GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 requires manual setting up. You can't just plug these modules in and let them work.
The above-mentioned stress test, Die-hard Burn-in Technology, is applied by GeIL to the EVO Corsa series, too. That’s why the manufacturer claims these kits to be highly reliable and provides a lifetime warranty with them.
The last product we are going to test today is a quad-channel kit from the EVO TWO series. It resembles the EVO Corsa series in positioning but employs really efficient heatsinks. Thus, the EVO TWO memory can be viewed as a better option for systems that run their memory at voltages higher than the standard 1.5 volts.
The heatsinks of the EVO TWO modules are designed as two thick aluminum plates, painted black. They have low fins and a couple of purple trapezoid inserts with taller fins. The whole arrangement is 46 millimeters high, so the EVO TWO series is the tallest in GeIL’s product range. The massive heatsinks seem to imply high cooling performance, but their fastening isn’t strong: the aluminum heatsinks are held by dual-sided adhesive tape, like with the other GeIL memory kits.
So, the heatsinks can be taken off easily to ensure compatibility with a large CPU cooler. The memory chips we found below look rather odd.
GeIL erased their original marking but didn’t take the trouble of writing anything instead. We’ve just got a neat row of blank chips here. We suspect that, like the other GeIL modules, these use Powerchip components, but the EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 kit is dramatically different in its behavior from the EVO Corsa and Enhance Corsa kits which have similar specs.
Formally, the EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 (GET316GB1866C9QC) has the same specs as the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9:
Take note that, despite the more efficient cooling, this kit has a default voltage of 1.5 volts, which is the standard voltage of DDR3 SDRAM not optimized for overclocking.
The XMP profile of the GeIL EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 is identical to that of the GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9. Moreover, both kits have the same manufacturing date of their chips: June 2011 (according to the SPD data).
In other words, the quad-channel GeIL EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 is the same as the GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9, but with different heatsinks. Like the EVO Corsa, the EVO TWO series passes the DBT test and comes with a lifetime warranty.
We are going to test GeIL memory kits in an LGA 2011 system built on Asus Rampage IV Formula mainboard, which is currently one of the best platforms for CPU overclocking, according to our tests. Since overclocking memory modules are primarily purchased by enthusiasts, we also used Intel Core i7-3960K processor overclocked to 4.5 GHz. We selected this particular frequency because it may be reached in two different ways: with the base clock generator frequency set at 100 MHz (4.5 GHz = 45 x 100 MHz) and 125 MHz (4.5 GHz = 36 x 125 MHz). This gives us additional flexibility with memory frequencies. Besides the regular DDR3-1600, DDR3-1866 and DDR3-2133, we also worked in additional modes: DDR3-1666 and DDR3-2000.
As a result, the complete list of hardware and software components in our testbed looked as follows:
As we wrote in our special review deicated to the memory controller of Sandy Bridge-E processors, it is the clock rate that has the biggest effect on the performance of a quad-channel memory kit. Therefore, it is important for overclocker-friendly kits to be able to work at higher frequencies and thus ensure performance benefits.
The GeIL kits we've collected for our today's test look promising in this respect. This brand is known for its reliability and, which is very important, each of these kits works at a voltage of 1.5 volts whereas LGA2011 platforms let you easily increase it to 1.65 volts without any problems. That's why we have high hopes of overclocking these products above their default 1600 and 1867 MHz.
Here is our testing algorithm:
The stability of the memory subsystem was verified by 10 runs of LinX 0.6.4 AVX Edition using the whole memory amount and by an additional 1-hour-long check with Memtest86+ v4.20.
This Black Dragon kit looks splendid but doesn’t speed up well. We couldn’t even make it work at 1867 MHz, although its chips are marked in the same away as the chips on the memory modules rated for 1867 MHz.
Thus, we had to limit ourselves to DDR3-1666 mode and a 4% increase in frequency. We also gained something by replacing the default timings of 9-9-9-28-2T with 8-9-8-27-1T without any stability issues.
This is one of the cheapest offers among the products covered in this review. However, the marking and some other details indicate that its chips and PCB are the same as in the more expensive EVO Corsa kits. This must be the reason why, despite its modest specs, the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 kit can boast good overclocking potential.
After setting its voltage at 1.65 volts, we made this quad-channel 16GB memory kit stable in DDR3-2133 mode with rather good timings of 10-12-10-30-1T.
Rated for 1867 MHz, this memory kit could be overclocked as successfully as the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9. It was stable in DDR3-2133 mode with 10-12-10-30-1T timings but couldn't conquer a higher frequency.
Having the same PCB, chips and heatsinks as the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 and Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9, this memory kit also notched 2133 MHz at 10-12-10-30-1T timings.
By the way, if you run your system at a base clock rate of 125 MHz, you can use any of these three memory kits (EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9, EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 and Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9) in DDR3-2000 mode with 9-11-10-30-1T timings.
Identical to the EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 in its specs, the quad-channel 16GB EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 kit behaved differently in our overclocking test. Despite its impressive heatsinks, it could not work in DDR3-2133 mode.
The highest frequency we achieved with this memory was 2000 MHz. The best timings in this mode were 9-11-10-30-1T.
The results of this test are summarized in the following table:
Here we are going to compare the different memory kits as they run on the same LGA2011 system. Each memory kit is tested in two modes: 1) automatic configuration with memory timings set up by the mainboard according to the XMP or SPD data (our mainboard couldn't read the XMP of the GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10) and 2) highest frequency with timings selected manually.
First off, we want to carry out synthetic tests of memory bandwidth and latency using the MaxxMEM2 suite that can run both in single-threaded and multithreaded mode.
We’ve investigated the correlation between performance and frequency/timings of DDR3 in our earlier review. The new tests agree with our old findings. Frequency has a higher effect on performance than timings, therefore the DDR3-1867 kits (GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 and GeIL EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9) come out on top in the default operation mode. As for the overclocked mode, the kits that notched DDR2-2133 are in the lead. These are the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9, EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL10 and EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 kits.
The different memory kits do not differ that much in real-life applications with a few exceptions that make intensive use of system memory.
Memory subsystem parameters may also affect gaming applications.
Of course, a computer's performance is not influenced much by memory frequency, let alone timings. However, if you are an enthusiast in search of maximum performance, you shouldn’t neglect high-speed DDR3 SDRAM. The general recommendations are simple: you will get best results with memory modules that are rated for a higher operating frequency, have a properly written XMP profile and overclock well. Taking all these factors in consideration, the GeIL EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 seems to be the best product here. It’s fast both in the default and overclocked mode.
There’s one more fact we can infer from our tests. As we compared systems with base clock rates of 100 and 125 MHz (the latter being necessary for enabling DDR3-1666 and DDR3-2000 modes), we found no special benefits from the higher value. Systems with faster memory are always faster even if they use the standard base clock rate of 100 MHz. It proves the theory that the base clock rate is increased from 100 to 125 MHz inside the CPU on LGA2011 platforms and has no effect on the other components.
In other words, you should strive to clock your DDR3 SDRAM as high as possible irrespective of your base clock rate in order to achieve maximum performance.
You can refer to our special review for general recommendations on choosing system memory for LGA2011 platforms. As for the article you’ve just read, it focuses on specific LGA2011-compatible 16GB quad-channel kits from GeIL.
The company undoubtedly offers high-quality products. GeIL has accumulated vast experience in developing overclocker-friendly memory, provides lifetime warranty and applies a strict quality assurance policy.
What we don’t like about these GeIL kits is that most of them come with perfectly useless and tall heatsinks which may make them incompatible with large CPU coolers. The rebranding of the chips looks like a childish thing to do. On the other hand, you can easily take the heatsinks off while the marking on the memory chips is hardly important for end-users.
If you consider buying a GeIL kit, we’d recommend you to take a look at the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 in the first place. Although formally DDR3-1600, this memory actually has higher frequency potential. We could overclock it to DDR3-2133, making it as fast as the products with more advanced specs. Considering that it is one of the most affordable series in GeIL’s product range, the Enhance Corsa PC3-12800 CL9 can boast an excellent price/performance ratio.
If you are not into overclocking, you may prefer the DDR3-1867 kits for using them at their default settings. The GeIL EVO Corsa PC3-14900 CL9 and GeIL EVO TWO PC3-14900 CL9 only differ externally, particularly in the shape of their heatsinks.
And finally, if the exterior design is really important to you, you should certainly take a look at the GeIL Black Dragon PC3-12800 CL9 which features highlighting and a picture from Eastern mythology.