DDR Memory Performance on Core 2 Duo

The spotlight as of late in the world of memory has definitely been on DDR2 due to the release of AMD's AM2 platform and the renewed interest in Intel's product line thanks to the Core 2 Duo processor series. While DDR2 has been around for a few years, its performance capability is just now reaching mature levels while pricing at the low end of the market has become very competitive. We have recently tested both value based DDR2 and ultra-high performance DDR2 memory for the Intel Core 2 Duo and AMD AM2 platforms with great success.

We are continuing to see high quality value based DDR2-533/667 memory easily reach DDR2-800 speeds with 2GB kits (2x1024MB) selling in the $150 range. In the high performance area there has been a space race for both top speeds and lowest latencies with pricing to match, unfortunately, as we have 2GB kits selling from $400 to $500. As a result of this we have seen the middle sector DDR2-800 products that combine high performance with reasonable prices almost disappear. While not dead, the availability of these items is not growing quick enough, though we expect to see this change in the near future.

2GB of RAM is becoming the new standard memory configuration for new purchases, with DDR2 being used primarily due to the recent platform releases. However, there are a lot of people who still have 1GB of RAM or less. More importantly, due to AMD's great success with the Athlon 64 processor series for the past three years there is an abundance of DDR memory still in use. There are a lot of us who like to utilize our component investments as long as possible but still believe in upgrading when the performance of new component clearly improves upon the previous generation.

At this time, the overall performance of the Intel Core 2 Duo is clearly better than previous generation processors. While the merits of not upgrading to a new Core 2 Duo platform from a recently purchased AMD Athlon 64 system can justifiably be argued, those of us with older systems based on socket 754, early socket 939, or Intel NetBurst LGA 775 systems certainly have something to think about. When faced with a limited budget but a desire to have the latest and greatest technology, it is usually necessary to cut corners or live with a previous generation component for a little longer before doing a complete upgrade.

What can the budget upgrader do? The first step is to do some research, discuss the options, and then figure out the best way to spend limited funds on the next upgrade. If the person is primarily a gamer, that usually means upgrading to the latest video card or adding additional memory. In fact, for most tasks adding additional memory is one of the most cost effective methods of improving performance, at least to a certain point. At times, the need for a new motherboard and processor is the primary concern, especially for those who do a lot of audio/video manipulation or number crunching but still like to relax with a game or two. If these games happen to be mostly simulations or role-playing games then a new CPU is also a cost effective way to improve performance.

With this in mind, sometimes the best option is to mix and match components that are still useful with the latest technology. The move from a socket 754 or 939 system to the new Core 2 Duo platform can be an expensive undertaking. In fact, it is almost as expensive to move from a P4 LGA775 system to Core 2 Duo as it is to come from older AMD systems, except your memory has a very good chance that it will work in the new motherboard. In order to reduce the overall cost of a platform change several motherboard manufacturers offer combination boards that allow mix and match capabilities on the memory and GPU interfaces.


ASRock has built a very good reputation on offering these types of solutions. The more performance oriented crowd will often snub these products due to their sometimes quirky nature but you cannot deny their value. In the case of the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA, this board allows you to move to the new Core 2 Duo platform at a minimum cost. Besides offering good performance for a great price this board also allows you to utilize your DDR memory or AGP graphics card. We provided a preview of this board in our initial Conroe Buying Guide and after numerous requests for additional information we have decided to do a series of articles around this board and other value alternatives.

Our article today will look at how well DDR and DDR2 memory perform against each other on this board. We are not comparing various memory suppliers against each other nor are we comparing this board's memory performance against others, yet. We are simply investigating any drawbacks of using DDR memory with our retail E6300 Core 2 Duo processor on this ASRock motherboard to determine if your money can be better spent in other areas.

Our next article will look at the performance of our EVGA 7600GS PCI-E card against its sibling 7600GS AGP card on this board. We will finish our investigative series with a full comparison of this E6300 equipped board against its AM2 counterpart, AM2V890-VSTA, armed with an AMD 3800+ X2 along with results from other ASRock value boards featuring the Intel i865 and 945P chipsets. Our goal is to lay out the cost and performance of each platform so you can make an informed decision when upgrading on a limited budget. Let's see if DDR2 makes any difference on this budget board or if your ragtag DDR memory is more than sufficient to the task at hand.

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  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    From the link you provided:

    "The 4MB L2 cache can increase performance by as much as 10% in some situations. Such a performance improvement is definitely tangible, and as applications grow larger in their working data sets then the advantage of a larger cache will only become more visible. "

    Also keep in mind a 3.5% average is much like claiming a new GPU is unnecessary because it only effect's your computing experience 10% of the time. If it's effects are highly pronoumced during those times it could still be worthwhile. The 4meg parts have a 10% inprovement in some apps and games, and that is a pretty big deal.
    Reply
  • Paladin165 - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    cmon man, get real. I would never buy a new GPU if it only offered a 10% increase. Also, the big increases are in DIVX compression, itunes, content creation, etc. Most of the game benchmarks are around 1%. In fact the 5% oblivion dungeon benchmark is a little hard for me to beleive, as oblivion shows virtually no gain from extra cache in other tests (http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?.... The only game that shows a substaintial increase is Quake at 6.7%.

    The situation is in fact the opposite of a GPU. The GPU increases your performance during the "10% of the time" when it counts, during games. The extra cache on the Conroe seems to increase performance when it doesn't count.

    For the record, I agree with you about AMD carrying the better budget offerings at present. Intel has only the ASrock board to offer the budget gamer, which comes with some big sacrafices (lack of overclocking, 4XPCI-E). However, I am buying this board so that I can afford a better core 2 processor (6400 or 6600), which I will put in a better budget motherboard in a few months. I figure I'm basically "renting" this motherboard for 6 months or so. So I think going with budget conroe offers a much better upgrade path. Once we have cheap boards that can overclock the 6300/6400 30-40% (which should happen in only a month or two) your argument will be obselete because the overclocked Allendales absolutely crush the X2 chips.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    "Once we have cheap boards that can overclock the 6300/6400 30-40% (which should happen in only a month or two) your argument will be obselete because the overclocked Allendales absolutely crush the X2 chips."

    That's true, and I look forward to it. I just think AMD has spoiled me with the idea that there is very little reason to spend extra $$$ so long as I'm willing to work a bit and accept some risk. If Intel prices move a bit to make the same situation true, I will be happily enjoying my fast Conroe machine.
    Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    wow, thanks for a great article, something actually applicable to the real world ;)

    looking forward to the next parts. although I'm still going for an e6600 with a highly overclockable mobo (probably the asus pdxyzdeluxesomethingorother), its good to see things in perspective.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    I don't normally join the ranks of the review bashers (who of course mostly come out of the woodwork when Intel is reviewed favorably against AMD), but this review seems to have a fatal flaw.

    The stated purpose is to show what you do or don't gain by trading in your DDR memory when moving to a Core 2 Duo platform. The review compares DDR to DDR2 performance on the same platform, which at first glance seems reasonable. However, in the prior review of another mainboard based on the same PT880Pro chipset (the review linked at the bottom of page 3), your conclusion about that board states:

    quote:

    However, the performance of the board was dismal at best in our benchmarks compared to the more recent Intel and NVIDIA chipsets.


    The charts in that review show that BOTH DDR and DDR2 performance was equally dismal.

    Since the primary reason for purchasing this board is for DDR support, presumably no one who wants to upgrade to DDR2 would bother with it. Therefore any performance comparison of DDR to DDR2 on this board is pointless for the stated purpose of the article. It artificially cripples DDR2 performance, making DDR look quite good and even superior.

    For a proper comparison, you need a reasonably priced competitor that doesn't suffer such low DDR2 performance; perhaps a P965Express board, or even a 945 board if any of those have Conroe support.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The stated purpose is to show what you do or don't gain by trading in your DDR memory when moving to a Core 2 Duo platform. The review compares DDR to DDR2 performance on the same platform, which at first glance seems reasonable. However, in the prior review of another mainboard based on the same PT880Pro chipset (the review linked at the bottom of page 3), your conclusion about that board states:


    Our comments were based on the performance at the time of review with an early but shipping bios revision that as it turns out had some memory timing issues. The latest bios (1.5) has altered the performance of this board to some degree although DDR2-667 performance is not where it should be. In some cases the performance differences are less than 5% now when using optimized DDR2-533 settings. While this board does not have the overclocking capability of the P965 boards we have tested to date, it still performs within reason at stock speeds.

    quote:

    For a proper comparison, you need a reasonably priced competitor that doesn't suffer such low DDR2 performance; perhaps a P965Express board, or even a 945 board if any of those have Conroe support.


    You are correct. However, we did state (first page) that a full comparsion would be provided in our final article. While I wanted to post a P965 result in this article we had not received our "budget" P965 boards from Foxconn, Epox, ECS, or MSI yet (two are here now, other two next week). I felt like a comparison to a 965 board that will be in the $100 price range would be better than showing results against a $150~$225 P965 board. Also, ASRock had just provided a new bios update (memory compatibility) for the 945P and 945PL boards that we are still testing as of today. It appears at first glance our original memory performance issues with these boards have been solved also. It appears now that the VIA memory performance at DDR2-533 is within 5% of our better performing P965 boards. We will have a full comparison up next week and hopefully we can figure out a way to get DDR2-667 working at CAS3 in a stable manner (it works but we still have not completed a full round of testing without a failure, BF2 and Q4 seem the most sensitive to lockup but SuperPI passes, LOL).

    I appreciate your comments and look forward to your thoughts on the final article.
    Reply
  • NeverGuy - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    IS this board basically the same as the ASUS P5VDC-X that is selling for about the same price? Would the ASUS board have CPU voltage adjustment? Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    S this board basically the same as the ASUS P5VDC-X that is selling for about the same price? Would the ASUS board have CPU voltage adjustment?


    Close to the same, the main difference is the Asus version does not support Core 2 Duo but does offer slightly better overclocking options.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    along with results from other ASRock value boards featuring the Intel i865 and 945P chipsets.


    Yep, I didn't see that line. You have to admit though it's buried pretty deep in that paragraph. I still think THIS article would have been far more informative with 1 other value DDR2 comparison point. But the whole picture will be clear with the final article, so I'll just look forward to that.

    On a side note, I'm quite interested in this series of articles, yet I have almost zero interest in actually buying any Core 2 products for myself or for customers. Aside from the occaisional high power 3D CAD box (for running ProE usually), I travel exclusively in the budget and low-midrange market. Intel hasn't had anything compelling for me there in years, and still doesn't. I guess Core 2 info is more interesting than AM2 info, even if I'm not going to buy it.
    Reply
  • Calin - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    In reviews here, I saw a tendency to use grand words for small feats. I won't consider the 10% this board is behind others "dismal performance" - so for very little money, you could get good performance - that is the thing every budget buyer wants. Reply

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