About three years ago DDR2 memory first appeared on the desktop PC scene. It would be impossible to say it burst on the scene since it was introduced with the unimpressive Intel NetBurst processors. In that market DDR2 was more like a trickle since it was mainly a curiosity for a processor that was running a distant second place to the leading AMD Athlon chips, which were still powered by DDR memory.

DDR2 finally became the universal standard last May/June when AMD switched to DDR2 on their new AM2 platform and Intel introduced Core 2 Duo, the new CPU performance leader. Core 2 Duo resided on socket 775, which also was fed by DDR2. While it sometimes seems like centuries ago, it is worth remembering that Intel Core 2 Duo regained the CPU performance crown less than a year ago, and the two years prior to that all the fastest systems used AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX processors.

We compared performance of DDR2 on the new platforms in July of last year. AM2 provided better bandwidth with DDR2, but the better AM2 bandwidth did not translate into better performance. Since Core 2 Duo was faster at the same timings, it appeared the Intel Core 2 Duo architecture was not particularly bandwidth hungry and that it made very good use of the DDR2 bandwidth that was available with the chipset memory controller.

Since last May/June DDR2 has finally turned the market, and it has made some remarkable transformations along the way. The early 5-5-5 timings at the official DDR2-800 speed have since been replaced by several high performance memories capable of 3-3-3 timings at DDR2-800. The best memory at DDR2-1066 can now operate at 4-4-3 timings, and the fastest DDR2 is now around DDR2-1266 and still getting faster.

Perhaps even more remarkable, in the last year DDR2 memory prices have dropped to half of what they once were (sometimes more), and today DDR2 is often cheaper than the DDR memory it replaced. Compared to the very expensive prices at launch and into the holiday buying season we see DDR2 is now the memory price standard in the desktop computer market.

Fast forward a year and Intel is now launching their first chipsets to support DDR3 memory. In one of the sloppiest NDA launches in recent memory we already have P35 boards for sale since early May. The official chipset introduction is scheduled for May 21st and boards are "officially" launching into the retail channel on June 4th.

We can tell you that Intel does not really have an NDA, but they have been very aggressive in holding first tier manufacturers to a May 21st performance embargo and retail distribution on June 4th. Despite that, people around the world have been able to buy P35 boards from several retailers. We have retail boards we bought on the open market, which makes the 21st NDA a moot point in our opinion. Still, we value our relationship with both Intel and the major board makers, so this will not be a full P35 launch review. You will see that coming on May 21st.

What this review does address is the performance of the new DDR3 memory that is launched with P35. The new Intel P35 chipset, known as Bearlake during development, supports either DDR2 or DDR3 memory. This presented a perfect opportunity to look at the performance of both DDR3 and DDR2 on the new P35 chipset. We were also able to compare performance to a Gold Editors' Choice Intel P965 motherboard. The results of these comparisons provided interesting results about the capabilities of the new P35 memory controller. It also answered the question of whether you should care about DDR3 in any upcoming system purchase.

What is DDR3?
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  • vaystrem - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Thank you for your response :) Reply
  • cool - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    What am I missing? How can you have DDR2 800 results for the DDR3 Bearlake mobo?
    Look at the 3rd row, 4 column of the Sandra benchmarks results on page 5.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Their chart is a little bit off. It is how they did their best to speed normalize DDR2 and DDR3, so for the DDR2 column for the Bearlake it is DDR2 memory they tested, for the DDR3 version, it is DDR3 memory.

    It's probably the most useful thing in there, in my opinion. It shows you get extra speed even at the exact same timings, with memory using lower voltage. It's pretty impressive.
    Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    not very impressive to me considering the prices you'll be paying. That's $300 difference between a good DDR2 kit and a DDR3 kit (probably not even high bin or binned at all). Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Well, agreed, currently you're not getting much bang for the buck, but that's always the case when new memory comes out. Look at the price of RDRAM, it never got better :P.

    But, obviously, the prices today mean essentially nothing for the future of the technology, it's just representative of it being a very new technology right now. I'd expect it should be a tiny bit more expensive everything else being equal because some of the additions to it, but it should be insignificant. It's a much cleaner design, and you get some performance on top of it, so I think it's a good technology. I agree, for now, it's difficult to validate the price of it. It's not even like you could say that you're better off getting a DDR3 based design now so you can reuse the RAM. The latencies are so poor on the current stuff you'd probably be aghast at using it a year from now, and you'd probably be able to buy 1 GB of DDR2 today, and 1 GB of DDR3 in a year for less than 1 GB today. So, right now, I don't think it makes much sense to anyone.

    Good thing for Intel pushing it though. Anyone that dislikes them needs to recognize how important they are for moving technology forward even at their own cost. Sometimes they've failed though, such as with RDRAM and, so far, EPIC.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    DDR3 will run at DDR3-800 6-6-6-15 timings. We will add this to the DDR-800 5/6-6-6- line to clarify. The point was to run all 3 boards and the two memories at the exact same speed and timings. 800 was the only speed that allowed this. Reply
  • cool - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the explanation, Wesley.
    I was confused thinking the P5K3 was maybe one of those motherboards that can take 2 types of different RAM, namely DDR2 and DDR3. But that is not the case.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I see timings of 5/6-6-6-15 and such. What does 5/6 mean? The P965 is running at five and the others at six? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    We added this clarification to Page 4 - Memory Test Configuration:

    "While memory timings were matched to the same memory speed wherever possible, there were a few settings where the chipsets did not allow a direct comparison. DDR3-800 runs at 6-6-6-15 timings. The P965 has options to set 6-6-6-15 timings but the board would not boot under any settings or voltage we fed it at 6-6-6 timings. The closest timings that would work on the P965 at 800 speed were 5-6-6-15. The P5K DDR2 board, based on the P35 chipset, would allow setiing and running 6-6-6-15 timings. This is reflected in our charts with the line ID of 5/6-6-6- for timings. We also tested DDR2 at the fastest timings it could achieve with complete stability on both the P5B Deluxe and P5K Deluxe. This was 3-3-3-9 at DDR2-800 and 4-4-3-11 at DDR2-1066."
    Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    That's clear, I think that will remove any questions relating to the charts. Reply

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