If money were no object in buying a new computer system, enthusiasts would almost always choose the fastest memory with the best timings and the largest overclocking potential. The reality for most, however, is that a new system purchase or upgrade is most often a question of where to put your money for the greatest performance return. To make those kinds of decisions on a system purchase, you really need to know the real difference in performance between buying the best and buying something half the price, and possibly putting the money saved elsewhere for a larger performance gain.

These questions of the real impact of memory speed and timings on performance are things that we have talked about in many memory reviews. AnandTech has always been an advocate of real world performance measurements, and we've shunned using just synthetic benchmarks in our testing of every type of component. This is not because synthetic benchmarks are not useful - they are often very revealing of component differences. It is because running just synthetic benchmarks can severely distort the picture of performance with real applications and real games. That is why we always use games and the pure number-crunching Super Pi in our memory tests. It is also the reason why we test using both Buffered (Standard) and Unbuffered synthetic benchmarks. We have found in much of our testing that the less commonly used Unbuffered benchmarks more closely mirror how games really respond to memory differences.

This quest for real performance differences is also the reason why we moved to testing different memory speeds at the same CPU clock speed in our Athlon 64 memory tests. The AMD CPU, with unlocked multipliers, allowed us to finally remove the CPU speed differences from our memory tests so that you could finally see the true impact of memory speed increases and memory timings on performance. As you have seen in past reviews, those performance differences are very real, although they are much smaller than many memory manufacturers might want you to believe. On the other hand, faster memory speeds and faster memory timings do improve performance, no matter what some nay-sayers are determined to prove.

Let's state, right up front, that if you're on a tight budget, memory is often a good place to save a little money by buying less than the best and moving that cash to a better CPU or a better video card. You are likely to get a bigger performance boost with the extra $150 that you save on memory by buying a faster CPU or an upgraded video card. But don't be misled. The upgrade to the next higher CPU would normally increase performance maybe 5 to 10% - about the same as the difference in performance between cheap, slow memory and fast memory with tight timings. Video cards usually yield more than a 10% boost for that same $150.

If you do need to balance and buy less than the best in memory, the need for help is even greater than if you can afford whatever you want. Some Value RAM is pretty basic and slow, and some is just about as good as the best and most expensive that you can buy. For that reason, it was well beyond time for our first Value RAM roundup. There are some disappointments and a few very pleasant surprises. We think that you will be surprised by how much performance there is in some cases, and how little in others, when you're shopping for Value RAM.

The Memories
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  • CanadianDoc - Sunday, April 17, 2005 - link

    1 GB (2 x 512 MB) of Crucial Ballistix PC 3200 now lists for $192 U.S. at crucial.com.

    On any mobo, it runs at 200 MHz (DDR 400) at 2-2-2-6 timings at 2.8 V, outperforming any other RAM in this review.

    As shown by AnandTech (www.anandtech.com/memory/showdoc.aspx?i=2386), on a DFI nF4 mobo, it overclocks to 280 MHz (DDR 560) at 2.5-3-3-6 timings at only 2.9 V, where it closely matches the top performance of any RAM available at any price, bar none. IMHO, this is real value.

    Adding a Venice 3200+ overclocked to 10 x 280 MHz = 2.80 GHz (www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/athlon64-venice.html), a Thermalright XP-90 heatsink with a SilenX 92mm 14dBA fan, a Seagate 7200.8 SATA NCQ hard drive, and a Gigabyte X800 XL video card with SilentPipe cooling (GV-RX80L256V), in an Antec Performance One (P160) case (www.anandtech.com/casecooling/showdoc.aspx?i=2346) with an XG Magnum 500W heatpipe PSU (available later this month, according to www.xgbox.com), you have the makings of an ultra-quiet gaming rig with near state-of-the-art performance at a great bang-for-the-buck price.
  • ozzimark - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    you can. i'm a big advocate of crucial ballistix

    speaking of that company, why were they missing from the testing too?
  • BaronVonAwesome - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    195 seems a bit steep for value RAM. I'd like to point out that you can get Ballistix from Crucial for less than 210 I believe.
  • Den - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Thanks for pointing out that the part numbers are on page two. As many others have said, it would have been really nice to see the best the different rams would do at 2.9v in addition to what they would do with DFI voltage. Also it would have been nice to see a greater range of memory tested but I understand you are limited by not being able to afford to buy and test what you want. Beggars can't be choosy. Thanks for doing this though, the general concept was good and there was some interesting information.
  • NXIL - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Paying $100 to buy some Corsair Valueram (Newegg--had an $88 special yesterday) would have been the fair and reasonable course of action.

    Consumer Reports has been testing products fairly for decades--they don't accept advertising, and, they buy the cars, electronics, and other items they test anonymously. Of note is that "Sharper Image" has sued them recently (SI lost) when they tested one of their bogus "air purifiers"--seems to make the air less clean, actually, by releasing ozone.

    Anandtech should get some Corsair RAM and test it--and, they should buy samples of the other brands tested, and compare the "off the street" samples with the ones provided by the manufacturers. Unless I am mistaken, video card makers were found to be rigging their drivers to test better with certain benchmarks. It would not be too surprising to find that memory manufacturers had taken some of their special high cost "binned" chips and sent them out with a "value" label on them.

  • MadAd - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Oh dear ... I left this review for 2 days till I had time to read it properly, I'm sorry to say I wish I had not bothered.

    1) Should have been titled value ram from non value companies. Wheres the real value ram?

    Since the price began to drop we seem to be up to our ears in stuff ive never heard of purporting to be cas3@3200 - Stupid me for thinking that thats what a value roundup should include, noname oem kit, not some hand selected bunch of good-but-value-priced ram from the majors.

    2) Why is the following question being avoided and ignored? Namely why wasnt any corsair memory got from another source and included in the test?

    A reader posted some assumptions however further to that it could be i) they use pretty much the same chips all over and dont want to give the game away that the extra $100 doesnt get you much increase and ii) anandtech dont want to bite the hand that feeds so bowed down to the request rather than doing whats right and finding the truth come hell or high water.

    Im not usually this negative but I do feel quite let down, sorry.
  • classy - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    I think a lot of folks are missing it. I think some people need to look at this way. You would have upgrade your cpu 1-2 speed grades to equal the performance increase that using the VX or BH5 memory would bring. Even at stock speeds. Now yes you need more voltage, but DFI I believe produces the best A64 borads as well as the best athlon XP board, Ultra B, which all are capable of supplying the necessary voltage. You can also use the ddr booster on some boards. Its a great alternative to increase system performance without spending a lot of money. And this is memory that you can grow with for at least a couple of years. I believe AMD said it won't go DDR2 until 2007. Great article, good stuff, and nice to see other ways to bring a performance increase. Nice job Wesley
  • unclebud - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    84 comments in 2 days!!! haven't seen that in a while...
    thanks for the article! good reading as usual
  • XRaider - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    The cheap OCZ is faster then the Plat. Rev2 !!! Ain't dat a Bitch!!! >:-(
    WTF is up with OCZ. shooot.
  • srstudios - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Wesley, I hate to be a nag, but now you have both the OCZ PC3200 Gold, and the OCZ PC3200 Premier with the same model number. PC3200 Gold P/NOCZ4001024ELDCGE-K
    is correct.

    The Premier should be PN- OCZ4001024PDC-K, at least I think that's the correct part. http://www.ocztechnology.com/products/memory/ocz_d...

    I have a gig of the 'old' BH-5, Mushkin Black L2 PC3500, do you think they would play nice with this new value BH-5? I don't think I would combine them, just wonder if you guys have any thoughts about it.

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