DDR2-1000+ Memory

DDR2 is a subject whose time has finally come. AMD made the transition to AM2 on May 23rd, so the two main processor makers - AMD and Intel - are now both firmly in the DDR2 camp. While Intel moved to DDR2 with the introduction of Socket 775 (Socket T) almost two years ago, the average enthusiast has not really been too concerned with what Intel was using. AMD was clearly the performance leader and they used DDR. That means many enthusiasts have not paid much attention to DDR2, which has grown up quite a lot since it was first introduced. Now, of course, even AMD is using DDR2 and the Enthusiast world is getting ready to change again with the introduction of Core 2 Duo (or Conroe). Conroe is shaping up as the most significant processor introduction since Athlon64, and - you guessed it - we are still talking DDR2.

No matter what brand you choose or flavor you roll these days, DDR2 is the memory everyone is using in their top platforms. That means your next memory purchase will be DDR2. Whether AM2 or Conroe, you should be looking for the magic combination that produces the best-performing DDR2 memory that you can find (or afford).

If you haven't looked at DDR2 memory in a while, you will definitely need to reeducate yourself. DDR2 no longer means more expensive. DDR2-533 is now priced roughly the same as DDR400 in the same capacity. This is also the rough equivalent in performance, with DDR2-533 performing about the same as fast DDR400. Not only is there parity in current market pricing, there is good news on the horizon. With the market unified around DDR2, and memory manufacturers no longer forced to split resources between DDR and DDR2, there will likely be even further DDR2 price reductions in the future.

As you move up from DDR2-533 you will generally see real performance improvements with faster memory, up to and including the DDR2-800 standard. For more information on how DDR400 performance compares to DDR2 take a look at our AM2 DDR2 vs. 939 DDR Performance article. DDR2-800 is the fastest current standard - supported by both the new AMD AM2 processors and the upcoming Intel Core 2 Duo (Conroe). There are no industry-approved standards above DDR2-800, just as there were no JEDEC standards above DDR400, so memory speeds above DDR2-800 should be considered overclocking. We have not yet seen an AM2 motherboard with support for DDR2-1067, which will be the next standard speed, but we have seen a number of Intel motherboards that support the DDR2-1067 speed. With DDR2-800 an approved speed on the new processors and chipsets, it is likely just a matter of time until official DDR2-1067 support arrives.

Two trends are clear in today's DDR2 memory. First, memory speed is rising, and second, memory timings are getting tighter. When DDR2 was first introduced you were hard-pressed to find a module with tighter timings than 5-5-5. Today we are even seeing DDR2-800 that can run as fast as 3-3-3 timings, and some DDR2-533 memory, which is 1:1 with the 1067 quad-pumped bus of Intel Core 2 duo, can commonly operate at 3-2-2 timings with additional voltage. DDR2 is getting cheaper, faster, and with tighter timings.

Into this evolving market we are starting to see many enthusiast memory manufacturers delivering new parts that boast memory speeds for DDR2-1000 and higher. We first examined a DDR2-1000 part in our OCZ EL PC2-8000 XTC: Low Latency PLUS DDR2-1100 review. That first DDR2-1000 memory based on the latest Micron memory chips proved to be the fastest DDR2 memory we had ever tested. Other manufacturers have been developing their own DDR2-1000 and faster memory based on these same Micron chips. Today we take a closer look at two of those memories rated at DDR2-1000 CAS 5 - Buffalo FireStix PC2-8500 C5 in a 2GB kit (2x1GB DIMMs) and Crucial Ballistix PC-8500 2GB kit (2x1GB). These new memories use the same base Micron chips, but we have seen in the past that binning (sorting by speed grade), SPD programming, and the PCB used for mounting chips can all influence performance. The question then is how do the new Buffalo and Crucial DDR2-1000 compare to the excellent OCZ EL PC2-8000 XTC?

High-speed DDR2 is appearing quickly in the marketplace, just in time for the new demands for better DDR2 performance. We have recently received DDR2-1066 rated (PC2-8500) memory from both Corsair and Kingston. These two new memories are also based on Micron memory chips that have been binned for even higher rated speed. We will be reviewing these new DDR2-1066 2GB kits in the near future.

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  • Wesley Fink - Monday, July 10, 2006 - link

    Crucial has advised AnandTech that "all of Crucial's memory products come with a lifetime warranty". We have updated the review to reflect this information on the Crucial warranty. Reply
  • MacGuffin - Saturday, July 08, 2006 - link

    quote:

    DDR2 1067 (2:3) Performance


    It should read DDR2 1067 (1:2) Performance.
    This needs to be fixed on Page 10, along with the link on Page 9 that points to page 10, and the Article Index drop-down list.

    Excellent Review, nonetheless.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, July 08, 2006 - link

    Fixed, thanks. :) Reply
  • PLaYaHaTeD - Saturday, July 08, 2006 - link

    I thought since the front side bus of the 965 is 1066, it would be the 'Holy Grail' to have the memory running at 1066 as well. Wouldnt this make it synchronous again? What am i missing? Reply
  • MacGuffin - Saturday, July 08, 2006 - link

    Synchronous Operation (meaning FSB:DRAM Ratio at 1:1)
    266MHz FSB -> 266MHz RAM Speed -> 533MHz DDR2

    The 1:2 Divider (which isn't synchronous) yields 1066MHz
    266MHz FSB -> 533MHz RAM Speed -> 1066MHz DDR2

    Am I right or have I gotten it wrong? I haven't used Intel since I got this Socket 754 I am typing on.
    Reply
  • poohbear - Friday, July 07, 2006 - link

    hello, just wanna clarify if the a64 can actually use any of the extra bandwidth provided by ddr2 800+? is it only for bragging rights or is the a64 actually saturated for memory bandwidth & therefore this higher bandwidth provides performance improvements? thanks in advance. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, July 07, 2006 - link

    The A64 does exhibit tremendous DDR2 bandwidth with the on-chip DDR2 memory controller, and memory bandwidth continues to improve as speed goes up. However, as we found in our testing of the AM2 in the DDR2 vs. DDR article, the AM2 design is not memory bandwidth starved, and the extra memory bandwidth makes almost no difference in real-world performance on the current AM2 platform. The improved memory bandwidth may make more of a difference in future AM2 designs. Reply
  • lopri - Friday, July 07, 2006 - link

    I thought this issue was mentioned in the article but I couldn't find it when I re-read it. I know on intel system the memory running slower than 1:1 will result in small penalty, but how about memory running faster than FSB? I vaguely remember that I've heard somewhere it's better than 1:1 cause that way memory "pushes" or "rushes to" FSB. Another theory I've heard is that faster memory can make up for possible performance loss on FSB subsystem, leading to less CPU idle time. According to this review, regardless the ratio, the performance seems to increase linearly to memory speed increase.

    So the questions being:

    1. Is 1:1 the most ideal ratio without "waste"?
    2. Or a slightly higher memory speed than FSB (such as 4:5) better than 1:1, preventing possible CPU idle time and "pushing" the data at the same time?
    3. Or under the same CPU/FSB speed, the faster the memory the better the performance - indefinitely, taking advantage of faster memory speed?

    I would think No.3 doesn't make sense because of the very FSB. In the end the FSB has been what's limiting both CPU and memory on Intel system. How could the performance get benefit from 3:5? In an ideal world there should be waste of 2. (5 - 3 = 2) Is the performance even better with 1:2? I can't imagine the FSB system being only 50% efficient, but is that the case?
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Saturday, July 08, 2006 - link

    Lopri,

    Please email me about this subject. Short story is 1:1 or 4:5 are your best ratios for the Intel platform at this time although this will change depending your choice of Conroe model. We will go over this in more detail shortly and I will respond here further once I complete some article testing.

    Thanks,
    Gary
    Reply
  • Locust - Friday, July 07, 2006 - link

    Very good article, but I have a question. How come you guys did not review Corsair's PC8500 memory modules. I have been using 2GB kit(2x1GB) for over a month and getting timings comparable to OCZ's. DDR2 800 runs at 3-3-3-5 memory settings on same mobo.
    Best si DDR 1000 @ 4-4-3-8 @ 2.2 recommended voltage.

    Good to see more vendors offering these memory speeds, now let's just hope prices will get under $400 :-)
    Reply

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