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.

Memory Specifications
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  • Calin - Wednesday, August 09, 2006 - link

    Yep, I feel stoopid :)
    Anyway, the idea is that a change in memory patterns (SDR to DDR, SDR to RDRAM, DDR to DDR2) is a battle between old very optimised technology, and new, unproven yet technology. The small difference in speed can be explained that "current" technology in processors is built for best performance with current memory - a new memory type often is not optimised for the memory access needed by the processor.

    As an example, RDRAM was (just a tad) slower on Pentium !!! (compared to high performance SDRAM). Pentium4, which was bandwidth starved with single channel SDRAM, was much faster with RDRAM (dual channel though) - as much as a P4 2000 (Willamette) with SDRAM was equal to a P4 1600 with RDRAM. As speed increased, needed bandwidth increased too - but the move to dual channel DDR was the final nail in the coffin of RDRAM on PC.
    The other example - Athlon64 is not bandwidth starved on current (dual channel DDR400) memory, so doubling memory bandwidth brought no advantage. The decrease in latency was not enough to bring extra performance.
    The situation is mostly similar with Core2Duo - more memory bandwidth brings little advantage.

    This might change for quad-core processors, as they could use twice the memory bandwidth we see now - or on the Athlon side with a more aggressive prefetching algorithm (which will eat bandwidth bringing data that seem to be useful in the near future).
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    "When faced with a limited budget but a desire to have the latest and greatest technology, it is usually has to cut corners"
    should be "one usually has to cut corners"
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    page 2:

    "...one of the widely used setups in use today." Maybe you like the extra words but you could drop the words "in use" and still be making the same point.


    "The memory features average latencies at DDR2-667 but was able to perform at lower latencies in our testing while costing around $70 for a 1GB kit.

    {transcend-ddr2.html}" <--- supposed to be a link or image?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    Blame the sleepy editor. :|

    The Transcend table was present, but the supported RAM speeds table was not. I fixed the error, as well as the other two grammar issues you pointed out. Thanks!
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, August 08, 2006 - link

    hehe no problem. =) Reply

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