Value or Performance?

The Challengers

Now that building your own notebook has become a trend among enthusiasts, the hardware industry is starting to offer more options for consumers.  When it comes to notebook memory, you used to only have one choice, value memory. Last year, Corsair memory changed all that when they launched an XMS SO-DIMM part that was Low Latency (LL).  Prior to the launch of the XMS LL SO-DIMM's, there was no easy way to adjust your memory timings in a notebook.  The majority of notebooks on the market do not allow consumers to change memory timings in the BIOS, so you are essentially stuck with the settings pre-programmed in the SPD.  Using our ASUS M6N notebook we picked up some Kingston PC-2700 ValueRAM and the recent Corsair XMS PC-2700LL modules. 

The Challengers:

Kingston ValueRAM PC-2700 512MB (Part: KVR333X64SC25/512)   Kingston's Module

The Kingston ValueRAM modules that we have are using uBGA IC's in a 32MB x 16 configuration.  The Kingston modules are rated at 2.5V and come with timings of 2.5-3-3-7.  These are what we are considering the industry standard for value memory.  Kingston Technology Company, Inc is a $2 Billion company and have a memory part available for pretty much any notebook made today.  These modules can be easily found through online retailers for ~$90 shipped.

Corsair XMS PC-2700LL (Part: CMXSD512-2700LL)

Corsair's Module

The Corsair XMS LL modules use TSOP IC's in a 64MB x 8 configuration, which differs from the Kingston modules. The Corsair modules are rated at 2.6V and come with timings of 2-3-2-6. This SO-DIMM was specifically designed for performance and gaming notebook computers due to the low latency settings. This memory module has been marketed as being ideal for mobile performance. The These modules can be found through online retailers around $125 shipped.

So, to sum things up, you have a value part and a performance part that are different in both design and latencies.  There is currently a $35 price premium on the performance SO-DIMM memory, so lets benchmark and see if we can justify the higher pricing.

Trying to Find a Winner

Our Test System

Everest Version 2.0:

Everst 2.0 is a professional system information, diagnostics and benchmarking program for Win32 platforms. It extracts details of all components of the PC. It also tests the actual read and write speeds of your memory giving a fairly accurate look of true memory performance.

Everest Benchmarks

Sisoft; Sandra 2005:

Sisoft Sandra 2005 is designed to test the theoretical power of a complete system and individual components. The numbers taken though are, again, purely theoretical and may not represent real world performance. Higher numbers represent better performance in memory bandwidth.

Sandra Benchmarks

Memory Bandwidth Results:

It is obvious that the low latency Corsiar XMS PC-2700LL SO-DIMM doesn't improve on memory bandwidth of the Kingston ValueRam with mild timings. Although the Kingston ValueRam only proved to be significantly faster in the Sandra 2005 unbuffered bandwidth test.  All the other testing showed that the modules were performing too similar to note any noticeable differences.  

Doom 3 & Comanche 4:

While the above benchmarks are great tests of memory bandwidth they do not show what real world performance is like.  Here we took two often benchmarked games and took a look to see if the low latency SO-DIMM's made any difference in actual game play.  Low latency memory should shine in games right?

Game Benchmarks

Game Testing Results:

Once again the Kingston ValueRam series module edged ahead of the Corsair XMS 2700LL SO-DIMM.  The slight  difference observed is not significant and would never be noticed during actual game play. 

Time to gather our thoughts and come to our conclusion on low latency memory for notebooks.

Final Thoughts & Discussion

Kingston ValueRam

Nathan Kirsch's Thoughts:

This article was one of, it not the most, enjoyable memory article that Legit Reviews has written in some time.  This is because we got results that were totally unexpected.  On the desktop side it is common knowledge of the enthusiast community that running low latency memory will provide throughput advantages. Thus leading to better benchmark scores and better frame rates in games.  Now that we have tested a number of different SO-DIMM memory modules it shows that memory timings play little, if any, factory in improving benchmark scores or game play frames per second (FPS).

Let us quote something we found in a Corsair news letter from May 2004:

"Want more performance out of your laptop or notebook? Want the convenience of mobile gaming without sacrificing performance? A lot of our customers do. So we've brought our legendary XMS memory technology to the world of mobile computing. It's the only performance memory packaged as a 200-pin SO-DIMM. To develop these modules, we worked closely with ASUS and other laptop manufacturers to develop a performance memory specifically suited to the unique demands of laptop computing."

The Corsair XMS SO-DIMM's worked great in our notebook, passed stability testing, and ran at extremely tight timings of 2-3-2-6 with ease.  Sadly, we didn't note any performance increase that their news letter talks about and we also used an ASUS notebook.  We talked to Corsair about our benchmarking results and they said that notebooks with integrated graphics would see better results than our notebook with discrete graphics.  My only concern with that is that any high end notebook where XMS SO-DIMM's would be used is more than likely going to have discrete graphics onboard. 

On the other hand, we were very impressed with the Kingston ValueRam part and its performance.  Better yet the Kingston ValueRam is priced roughly $30-$35 under the Corsair XMS LL SO-DIMM!  Which again proves that paying more money for a product doesn't always mean you are getting better performance. If it did then we wouldn't be here!  

Legit Bottom Line:

Low Latency memory does not have a significant impact on notebook performance.  Save your hard earned money and spend it on more memory capacity or another part of your DIY (Do-It-Yourself) notebook project.