Interview: John Beekley of Corsair Memory

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The Tough Questions

LR: In 2005 we saw Mushkin and OCZ come out with new heat sinks that increase air flow for better heat removal. The Corsair heat spreaders have remained unchanged since 2002 if I recall correctly. Any changes in the works?

John: Well, I think that ?increased air flow for better heat removal? is questionable science at best. Fact is, air is about the WORST conductor of temperature in existence. Heat is far more efficiently removed from memories via conduction (through a medium like metal, or water), rather than convection (through the air). And, heat is removed most efficiently through the metal pins into the ground plane of the PCB. The secondary means of heat removal is through the back of the die into the package, and from the package into air via convection. 

Once you are trying to dissipate heat into air, what matters is the surface area exposed to air. A heat spreader does just what is says, it spreads the heat over a larger surface area for more efficient dissipation. And, a heat sink takes this one step further, by adding fins and increasing the surface area that much more. Mesh-type heat sinks are the worst of both worlds, as the contact area of the mesh with the package of the IC (the conductive path to the convective surface) is small, creating a thermal bottleneck, and the airflow is blocked by the tape used to hold the thing on.

We are in the midst of running a bunch of controlled testing in a thermal chamber to determine the performance impact of heat spreaders and heat sinks. We are not done yet, but I suspect what we will find in that the best performance comes from heat sinks with huge honking fins. We’ll keep you posted on what we find.

LR: I have asked Corsair every year since 2003 about water cooled heat spreaders to go along with your memory line and water cooling solutions. Will we see this in 2006? 

John: Wee keep looking at it, and we keep backing away. A high-performance memory watercooler would circulate water directly adjacent to the memory packages. So, in order to have adequate water flow, the water blocks would need to have substantial thickness. And this thickness invariably causes interference problems with processor heat sinks, other memory modules, etc. We just haven’t figured out a way to come up with a functionally feasible and commercially viable product here. 

LR: Corsair put a lot of focus on water cooling back in 2004 and in 2005 it seems that Corsair has lost the “drive” on the cooling front. The Corsair COOL was shown at CES last year, but the hype quickly died down after people called it a copy cat system. Then in late 2005 rumors of the Corsair “Pod” water cooling system were found to be true, but no product was shown at Computex. What are the future plans with water cooling? 

John: We have some new stuff coming up very soon, but I can’t really say much about it yet. And, I wouldn’t really say we have lost the ?drive? here; these products are difficult and time consuming to develop, and it takes a ton of effort to drive the cost down to a price that makes sense for the market. Believe me, I wish it were easier and faster!

EDIT: At CES 2006 Corsair showed off the Nautilus 500 Water Cooler, which is the ‘pod’ cooler witha new name. Corsair has finished design and is currently building units with hopes to have them out in Q1 2006.

LR: Let’s talk about the future of computer memory in 2006. It looks like we are going to see DDR3 and FB-DIMM’s enter into the market space this year. Which should enthusiasts be more interested in? 

John: I think that 2006 will be all about DDR2, actually. FBDIMM is a server technology, and will have no impact on the enthusiast in the one-to-two year future. And DDR3 in volume is a long way off, except in graphic applications. The most interesting memory-related events in 2006 for the enthusiast will be [1] the launch of DDR2 Athlons, and the impact on AMD’s current reign as performance champion, and [2] the launch of more games and operating system revisions that require 2 GBytes of memory for optimal performance.

LR: We just recommended to our readers that they need 2GB of memory for 2006. By the end of 2006 how much memory will be in a leading high end enthusiast computer system?

John: Well, I’m a memory guy, so I’d like to think we’d be at 4GB or more! But, looking back into the past, you’ll see that enthusiasts started the move to 1GB of memory with the launch of the NForce 2 chip set in late 2002, and completed this transition with the launch of the Intel Canterwood in mid 2003. The move to 2GB really started with the launch of Battlefield 2 earlier this year, and is moving forward aggressively. But, as the past has shown us, system memory requirements generally double once every 2.5 to 3 years. So we’ll be stuck at 2GB for a while, I’m afraid…

Legit Reviews would like to thank John Beekley for taking the time to do this interview and we hope our readers got a little peak at the inside perspective of the memory industry.  Corsair Memory has been leading the enthusiast memory revolution from the start and their thoughts on the industry have been known to be dead on!

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