DDR2 is a subject whose time has come, but whose interest is lagging behind. In a few months everyone will be asking what memory they should use with AM2 or Conroe, but for now everyone seems to be like a deer caught in headlights waiting for what will happen. One thing IS certain in today's climate and that is your next memory purchase will be DDR2. Whether AMD or Conroe you should be looking for the fastest and lowest latency DDR2 memory you can find.

The problem, of course, is the lingering perception that DDR2 memory means high latency. That certainly appeared the case when DDR2 was first introduced, but DDR2 development continues. One of the first real DDR2 stars was Micron D fat body chips, which seemed to be used in every early DDR2 memory once memory companies realized how good they were. In a day where DDR2-400 was 1:1, the Micron DDR2 chips could be pushed all the way to DDR2-800 and beyond - and they could reach these speeds at the fastest timings (the lowest latencies) you could find in the market.

A few Intel enthusiasts paid a lot of attention to the Micron fat body D chips, but the rest of the enthusiast world was running in droves to the AMD platform which used older DDR memory instead. As a result Micron fat body D chips were only being talked about by a few die-hard Intel enthusiasts. Then Micron did what they have done many times before with some of their great enthusiast parts. They discontinued fat-body D chips, claiming yields (translate to profits) were not good enough to continue making what were clearly the best DDR2 chips on the market.

Since that time, nothing has really come along that is quite as good as the discontinued Micron fat-body D chips. Progress has been made by several memory manufacturers, and the current darling of DDR2 chips is made by Elpida. 2GB kits (2x1GB DIMMs) based on Elpida chips perform nearly as well as the legendary Micron chips. You can clearly see this typically excellent Elpida DDR2 performance in our recent review, Mushkin XP2 PC2-5300 DDR2 - Xtreme Performance Memory.

The computer enthusiast world is now looking for even more in DDR2 memory. With AM2 expected in June/July, potential buyers are talking about the possible impact of very low DDR2 latencies with the on-chip memory controller that will be featured in the new AM2 processor. With Conroe looking to regain the performance crown, potential buyers are also realizing that without the deep pipes of Intel NetBurst, not only will performance improve, but low DDR2 memory latencies might finally make a performance difference on the Intel platform. The new mantra for DDR2 memory has become low latency, but it is important to understand what that means.

It is too much for this review to look deeply at the DDR2 architecture, but it is important to understand that CAS latency does not work the same way in DDR2 as we have seen in DDR memory. As a result CAS 2 is not even an option in current DDR2 controllers, with CAS 3 a very fast option for DDR2 memory. We have all learned in DDR that the best tRAS performance is NOT normally the fastest tRAS setting, but one that is balanced to the chipset/memory controller architecture. This lesson also carries over to DDR2, with the result that best performance often comes with higher tRAS settings.

All of this leads to the quesion of what are the fastest DDR2 memory timings you can possibly find today in DDR2 memory? The answer is CAS 3, with a current range of CAS 3 to 6, RAS Precharge of 2, with a range from 2 to 6, RAS to CAS Delay of 2 with a range of 2 to 6, and tRAS (RAS Activate to Charge) dependant on chipset/memory controller with a broad range from 4 to 18 in some BIOS. tRAS settings are generally higher in DDR2, with best performance settings commonly in the 9 to 15 range. All of this translates into the lowest latency memory you can conceive today having timings of 3-2-2-9.

With 3-2-2 as the DDR2 Holy Grail, you have a clear idea of the expectations for any new DDR2 memory. There has been huge speculation that Micron's newest memory chips might be this new DDR2 "standard bearer", and it seems it has taken a very long time for Micron to finally deliver these new chips. The first memory we have received with the new Micron DDR2 chips is OCZ EL PC2-8000 XTC.

Rated at DDR2-1000, this OCZ announces right off the bat that it is serious new memory. Past DDR2 has struggled to reach DDR2-1000, so rating this new OCZ at DDR2-1000 is a "look-at-me" announcement. The rated timings of 4-5-4-15 at DDR2-1000 are also exceptionally fast for DDR2 memory at that speed. By the way, for those of you who have trouble translating PC speed ratings to Memory Speeds, all you have to do is divide by 8. Thus PC2-8000 is DDR2-1000 speed, PC-5400 is DDR2-667 (results are approximate), PC2-6400 is DDR2-800, etc.

The OCZ PC2-8000 features the new Micron memory chips, and as you can see from the package it also is a featured member of the Platinum series with the latest "mirrored" XTC perforated heatsinks, and the EL (Enhanced Latency) technology introduced by OCZ. The real question is whether the new Micron chips and the other nice OCZ features translate into groundbreaking DDR2 performance. Is this a memory you would proudly pair with a new AM2 or Conroe processor?

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  • DoctorBooze - Tuesday, April 4, 2006 - link

    I'm a bit mystified why there's any better performance at any speed over dual-channel DDR2-533 - is it just because the CPU ended up overclocked?

    Am I right in thinking that CAS 2 for DDR2-533 is the same amount of time as CAS 4 for DDR2-1066?

    Also, what's performance like with a single-channel setup using DDR2-1066 since that would also theoretically be a 1:1 configuration, wouldn't it?
  • Calin - Wednesday, April 5, 2006 - link

    The improved performance is based on the fact that RAM is no longer random access memory - it is faster to bring several kilobytes of data forming a single block than to bring several kilobytes of data from separated areas of the memory. And, while the speed to bring 1024 bytes, each 4 bytes from a different area of the memory means that each access is made with delay of (CAS2 + RAS2 + ... + tRAS) multiplied by memory clock is the same as CAS4 + RAS4 + ... + tRAS for a memory that has twice the speed, if you bring a single block, you only need CAS and RAS once, and the rest comes at memory clock, one block at a clock. So, if you make long transfers, you can almost forget about CAS and RAS, and only use the memory speed.
    So, faster memory with higher CAS (Column Address Select) and RAS (Row Adress Select) timings will still move loads of data faster, even if single bytes will go as fast as with slower memory with lower CAS and RAS

    What is CAS and RAS?
    A memory is a huge space of addresses. However, you can not access all those addresses at the same time - memory is accessed in blocks formed by rows and columns. In order to access data from memory, you must be in the correct block (row and column). Once in a block, the data from memory can be read by simple commands (selection of address). If the row, column or both changes, the memory must change the block it shows - so, here are the CAS and RAS timings needed for the memory to select a different block.
  • Visual - Tuesday, April 4, 2006 - link

    ... or amasingly complex
    im just standing here and boggling at the complexity of overclocking intel systems. well, it turns out just as simple as amd when i think about it, but the mem ratios that allow the ram to run faster than the cpu fsb (as opposed to only slower like on the athlons) kinda make it too weird to assimilate :p
    and with ratios,fsb/cpu/mem frequencies,timings and whatnot to consider at once it does get messy for someone unexperienced like me.

    its interesting to see the significant performance differences that the proper settings can bring. in particular, it looks like with a fast memory like this and a proper oc one can get a good 20-30% above stock in gaming performance, and so can match amd systems even with the netburst cpus. who made me think netburst was dead?

    also it makes me think if the conroe benches weren't ran with something like this - very fast memory, low latencies, overclocked fsb. cant be bothered to look for your old article on it though, i'll just wait for the next benches to come up.
  • Calin - Wednesday, April 5, 2006 - link

    My ECS K7S5A (built somewhere in 2002 probably) could run my Duron 600 processor at 100 or 133 FSB, and the memory at 100 or 133 FSB for SDR or 200 and 266 for DDR, independent on each other.
    This is not something new. I remember older systems having the same possibilities.
    The Athlons (Socket A Athlons) were able to run memory faster than the FSB, however, there was an important performance loss because of the increased latency. In some cases, an Athlon on 100MHz FSB was slower with 133MHz memory than with 100MHz memory, as the increased bandwidth advantage was negated by increase in latency
  • Jjoshua2 - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    On page three HL2 is reported as over 850 fps on 1:2.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    We reran and updated the Half life 2 - Lost Coast results after the article was published. The enthusiastic typing error is now corrected.
  • Barbarossa - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    Wow, looks fast. I have to wonder if it's available anywhere though. I followed all your links at the top of the article, but those take me to different parts than the one you reviewed, and a quick search at Newegg, ZipZoomFly, and TigerDirect shows that nobody has it in stock.

    Does this part actually exist or is this just a cherry-picked press release part?
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    This memory is currently available at Atacom.com and possibly other sites. More info is at http://www.atacom.com/program/print_html_new.cgi?c...">http://www.atacom.com/program/print_htm...m_code=M....

    It is incredibly expensive at $560 for the 2GB kit.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    It's a brand new part, and it's not yet in our pricing engine. The links at the top are generated by key words from our pricing engine and do not always bring up the appropriate parts. The part numbers you'll want are:

    1x512: OCZ2P1000512EE
    2x512: OCZ2P10001GEEK
    1x1024: OCZ2P10001GEE
    2x1024: OCZ2P10002GEEK

    Availability should commence shortly.
  • Missing Ghost - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link




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