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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  • Gary Key - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    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.


    That was overboard after reading through it again. ;-) Let's say in the future we use a different phrase. :)
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    I looked at the charts in that review. 'Dismal' was the right word. It would be one thing if ALL value boards scored 10% lower than high-end boards; then it would be wrong to call such performance 'dismal'; that would be 'value' or some other word that respects the bargain price of the board. However, when many value boards come within a percentage or two of high-end boards (at least when considering stock performance), then 'dismal' is a great word for the perfomance that board exhibited.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    or maybe even an NForce 4 DDR2 board:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    oh, nevermind that NForce4 board, it doesn't support Conroe anyway.

    Nevertheless, my general point stands.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    We've looked at this board with high-end components, and users expressed interest in knowing more. As stated in the article, this is part one of three where we look at some interesting budget options. We've now established that DDR-400 and DDR2-533 perform acceptably on this system, for a budget configuration. Next up is a look at how the AGP and PCIe options fare, followed by a final article with comparisons to other similar boards (including an 865 and 915 model - not sure about the 945 though). 945 will require DDR2, of course, so it's in a bit different category. Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    quote:

    even a 945 board if any of those have Conroe support.


    Oh, here's one, and same price too:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    Reply
  • Kougar - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    I never asked for it, but I sure as heck was wanting this EXACT article! Thank you! I already have purchased a E6300 and this same ASrock motherboard and received both, except the corner is bady bent from shipment so I haven't dared try to power the mainboard up and am awaiting a NewEgg claim to run through. Grrrr.

    The only thing this article didn't cover was my curiosity if the different types or RAM and the AGP vs PCIe graphics could possibly have any affect on the ~300FSB OC this board was able to attain in your previous article? Considering it OCs on the heels of any nForce chipset out there I think $57 is a exceptional value right now as I use a Northwood based system. My 9600XT won't handle games, but I'll at least get some serious folding@home work done... ;)
    Reply
  • artifex - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    I think the question for someone looking to upgrade on a budget isn't "will I efficiently use the new motherboard and CPU with my old peripherals," but "will I see a real performance increase by keeping all my old gear except the motherboard and CPU?"

    You could be using the new board efficiently when compared to DDR2, but still not see enough difference to make upgrading worth the cost. Or, alternatively, your memory could be wildly inefficent in the new architecture compared to DDR2, but the new gear still brings you a huge performance increase. It all depends on the existing gear.

    Right now, I have a Socket A TBred 2600+, 1GB of Mushkin DDR-333, and a Geforce 550 8x AGP card w/256MB, all on an Asus a7n8x deluxe 2.0 (I think). So in my world, the question is, if I have only $200-250 to spend to upgrade, is it better to get the cheap mobo and a cheap CPU, or invest in more memory, or what? It's quite possible that I won't see a real performance increase with the new board and CPU for that price, so it would be pointless to upgrade. In fact, it might even make sense to go buy an eMachines or something like it offered for $200-300, with some Celeron D processor in it, instead.

    Of course, this is a lot harder to gauge, not least of which because it's a lot more subjective :)
    Reply
  • Kougar - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    You should probably read through the rest of their Conroe articles then, especially the Feeding the Monster article where they have some hard numbers on this motherboard with a Core 2 Duo you were looking for. ;) Reply
  • AkumaX - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    Did you try any overclocking (heaven forbid!)

    If you did, how high did you get :D
    Reply

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