Crucial Ballistix DDR2 PC2-5300
Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 XMS2-5400
There are several new technologies waiting for their promised turn in the spotlight, such as PCI-Express, the BTX form factor, and Intel's latest set of chipsets for the Pentium 4. To these you can add DDR-2, an evolutionary upgrade to the current memory standard, DDR-SDRAM.
We have the pleasure of reviewing and comparing the performance of DDR2 offerings from two of the worlds leading Memory manufacturers, Crucial (a division of Micron) and Corsair.
What is DDR2? Well, it's a new memory standard, as defined by JEDEC (Joint Electronic Device Engineering Council), whose members include many of the major computer memory and chipset manufacturers. JESD 79-2A to be exact. DDR2 picks up where DDR memory currently stops.
While you might have seen reviews of recent video cards with DDR2 memory, the memory used in these cards is actually a separate type developed specifically for the video card market, and slightly different to the 'desktop' DDR2 memory we are now exploring.
DDR2-SDRAM is considered an evolutionary upgrade over existing DDR memory. It maintains the same core functions, transferring 64 bits of data twice every clock cycle for an effective transfer rate twice that of the front-side bus (FSB) of a computer system, and an effective bandwidth equal to its speed x 8.
Of course, DDR2 introduces some new features which allow it to ramp up to much higher speeds (with correspondingly higher bandwidth) and higher memory densities, all the while using less power. Sounds good doesn't it? Let's look at the 'big' facts first, before we explore the memory in detail. DDR2 memory uses a new form factor, a 240 pin DIMM (Dual Inline Memory Module) which is NOT compatible with current DDR memory slots. Intel and other manufacturers are already selling boards based on the i915P 'Alderwood' and i925X 'Grantsdale' chipsets which support DDR2 specifically, and are not backwards compatible.
Crucial Technology's UK PR team were kind enough to send us 2 of their very stylish looking 512MB DDR2 PC2-5300 chips for our dual channel memory tests. As you can see above the Ballistix memory has a copper coloured heatspreader on both sides, which is held together with a metal clip. I use the words "copper coloured" purely for descriptive purposes, we all know that copper is great at keeping chips cool, but it's very heavy!. These chips are not and therefore, I must assume that this is a lighter material like Aluminum.
Corsair have sent along 2 of their 512MB XMS2 Pro DDR2 5400 chip as well. You can see in the picture above that the Corsair offering has a corrugated aluminum heatspreader which is being held together on both sides without any visible clip. Also, to improve desirability among hardcore speed freaks (like me!), Corsair have embossed their trademark "XMS" onto the heatspreader. For those who do not know "XMS" stands for Xtreme Memory Speeds. These chips also have a Performance LED structure at the top which we will look at in the comparison section of this article.
I have always believed that Corsair were superior chip manufacturers when it came to higher speeds on their DDR series. Lets see if the same is true of their DDR2 range of products.
As you can see in the image above the Corsair memory module is larger than the Crucial equivalent. This could be looked at in two ways.
The first being, that because it is larger it will remain cooler because it has a larger surface area. This is a valid point, however, we should note that the extra space is being used for the performance LED's.
The second way of looking at the additional height on the Corsair memory, especially these days, when size is everything is to see if the modules interfere with any other components or indeed the case itself. This thought may not cross your mind when purchasing modules but remember, many motherboards have DIMM sockets at the end of a board which often gets covered by your chassis hard disk and floppy disk holder.
Above we see the reason for the extra height requirement of the Corsair memory module. The Performance LED's. These are two rows of 12 Light Emitting Diodes (LED's) which light up as the memory is used. Whether or not this is something that appeals to you depends on you as an individual. I personally don't stick my head under my table when I'm using my PC, but it did look impressive during testing.
It may be worth noting that Crucial's Ballistix range now includes a similar feature for those interested in their products who may like flashing lights.
Our test setup includes some really high end products to achieve the highest results from our DDR2 memory. We have a factory unlocked CPU which we successfully managed to run with a 1066MHz FSB.
As you probably know, memory used to be one of the first things to have problems when you try to overclock it. Our test setup should allow us to get really high speeds without too many problems.
The chart above shows the results of our mainstream memory test. As you can see the results are higher than standard DDR memory. Both sets of memory, from Crucial and Corsair perform very well. The results vary by 10 points in favour of Crucials Ballistix at default settings, to 12 points in favour of Corsairs XMS2 Pro at the overclocked FSB of 1066 (4x266).
There are so many advances happening in the computing industry at the moment. Blink and you'll miss it! As I write this review both Crucial and Corsair unveil their latest line of products.
What can we say, both Crucial Ballistix DDR2 PC2-5300 and Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 XMS2-5400 performed admirably. In fact the results were to close to call. There is no clear winner and as such we must declare a draw. The first in The Hardware Review's history.
The Crucial Ballistix DDR2 PC2-5300 would be our choice for the average user who does not plan on overclocking their system.
The Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 XMS2-5400 is the better choice for overclockers and enthusiasts, especially those with windowed cases, who like flashing lights in their system (not warning lights though! :)).
We therefore award both Crucial and Corsair The Hardware Review's Gold Award.
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