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.

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  • shambf00 - Monday, December 4, 2006 - link

    Gary, please, how were you able to change the memory ratio?

    I have DDR 400mhz on this motherboard with the E6300, however, the motherboard sees it as DDR 333mhz even after I set the speed manually.

    Can you (or anyone else who knows about this) tell me where to change the memory ratio so my ram can run at it's normal speed?


  • lumbergeek - Friday, February 9, 2007 - link

    The only way I was able to change the memory ratio (this board with E6300, 2GB Mushkin low-latency DDR400 and an AGP ATI 1650pro) was to play around with the manual setting for RAM and FSB - the board seems to select the multiplier on it's own. If anyone knows how to adjust it manually, I'd love to know about it myself!
  • tomppi - Thursday, August 24, 2006 - link

    ..have had some 2-3-2-6-1 kingston memory for 2 years now (KHX3200AK2_1G)
    used to be on a ASUS A7N8X-E Deluxe. only did 2.5-3-3-12-1
    now with the asrockdual-vsta i can't keep it stable unless i run at ~3-3-3-12-2 (400mhz)

    why can't I even come close to the speeds shown in this article :(
  • GoatMonkey - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    I have a possibly stupid question. Will this board work with only one stick of memory or do they need to be added in pairs. I have a single 1GB DDR400 stick in my Athlon XP3200 that would be nice to be able to use, but if I have to buy new memory anyway I might as well get the DDR2.
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    No Question is Stupid. :)

    However, sometimes my answers might appear that way. ;-)

    The board works fine with a single stick of memory but you will be regulated to single channel operation. This places a 3%~7% performance penalty on most applications although you will need benchmarks to tell the difference in most cases.
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    Perhaps it might be worthwhile to show performance numbers for the single-channel situation in one of the upcoming articles? I'm sure many people are in similar situations. My 754 machine just has a single 1Gb DDR400 stick as well, so if I were to consider a value Core 2 cpu & board combo (of the sort Fry's may offer in the coming months) I might want to continue using that memory if it will work and not completely cripple the performance.
  • veryevilmike - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Is the asrock 775-HDTV rev2 (using the ati xpress200 chipset) one of the budget boards on the review list? It is limited to single channel but was contemplating this as a stopgap for a few months until rd600 & co arrive, when the board would become a cheap htpc. its also one of the only uATX conroe boards available.

    All up, congrats on doing such a useful 'realistic' review early on in the piece - makes a nice change from all the super-expensive stuff that is not in the picture for 99% of people.
  • GoatMonkey - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    Sounds good to me. I could go with that for a while and later upgrade to the DDR2 and new video card, and a better motherboard at some point after that. An e6600 should be available for around $350 (one of these days anyway), and then this board for under $75 or so. Roughly $400 to $425 for a significant upgrade and an easy path for other components sounds good to me.

  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    Now after the most obvious subject line of all time, here's what I'm thinking:

    I continue to be impressed with Conroe's performance, but grow more and more dissapointed with Conroe's performance scaled to price. With s939 basically any price paid could get you very near FX-57 speeds. Cheap DFI Infinity board + Cheap Opteron 144 or a lucky 3000+ = 2.6+ghz on air with a good cooler. An FX-57 might hit 3.0ghz on air if you were very lucky.

    Conroe doesn't seem to work that way. Sure the top 2 or 3 processors perform the same, give or take, but the lower cache processors loose a lot of performance (much more than the above mentioed Athlons). Then, getting a cheaper motherboard really lowers maximum overclock. Then high-performance memory costs a lot more, and probably adds more performance as well. Finally really cheap parts like this totally cripple performance.

    I think as more people come to relize this we will see a reality check from the community, where many on the high end will end up with awesome Conroe systems, but many others will realize with their budgets a nicely upgraded s939 X2 system with their existing servicable DDR memory and a newly discounted X1900XT will be a better overall platform dollar for dollar. This user is certainly beginning to lean that way. And heck, by the time I have to upgrade for a second time Conroe should be available with a 1066mhz FSB anyways.
  • Paladin165 - Wednesday, August 9, 2006 - link

    "the lower cache processors loose a lot of performance"

    Wheres your evidence for this? Hasn't it been established that the performance hit is around 3% on average? (http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

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