Getting to Know One of the Corsair Founders:
For the first interview of the month we bring you one of co-founders of Corsair Memory -- John Beekley. We have known John for nearly five years now and just recently interviewed him to see his perspectives on Corsair and the memory industry in general.
LR: Welcome John, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Tell us a little about yourself, your role with Corsair Memory, and the company itself.
John: Well, I'll try to keep it short and sweet, since I know that many of your readers are probably pretty familiar with us already. Corsair is quite simply the supplier of the world's finest computer memory, and has been around for twelve years. I am one of the three cofounders of the company, and have worn various hats in Marketing and Engineering. Right now I am VP of Applications Engineering, which means that my crew and I are in charge of product definition, component characterization, technical publications, partner relationships, tech support, web-based knowledge tools, and other fun stuff.
LR: Let's get right to it. The entire year of 2005 has been one of growth for Corsair. How is the company morale and focus after all the changes? When I say changes I am speaking of doubling in size, moving to a bigger location, a newly revamped website, and hiring even more employees.
John: Growth provides lots of challenges, no doubt about it. Corsair is a pretty exciting place to be right now, with all that is going on. But, I think our mission has not really changed that much over the years - we still spend most of our time working on designing, building, and selling computer memories with unsurpassed performance, reliability/stability, and functionality. Through all the growth, this has not changed.
LR: Corsair has always been dubbed the "Gamers Memory" by many who use it. In 2005 what have you done to support the gaming industry?
John: I think I would be inclined to revise this slightly to ?Enthusiast Memory?, as I think enthusiasm for computer hardware (rather than games) more accurately characterizes our customers, ourselves, and our reputation. And we have invested heavily in the Enthusiast community this year. This is an area of particular personal focus for me, so I will try to control myself and be brief. Here are a few examples: First, we have put together lots of tools to make it easy to become an enthusiast. These include an unsurpassed configurator that provides not only compatibility information, but memory recommendations, test reports with benchmark scores, easy links to forum threads about particular boards, etc. We have spent a lot of time developing white papers on memory for new platforms. We have worked closely with major component partners in the memory, processor, and core logic areas to goad them into focusing on enthusiast products. We have put together extremely comprehensive technical support tools. We host a memory-related forum, and post answers and guidance several hundred times per week. And, of course, we support a multitude of Lan parties, trade shows, etc. We are very active participants in, and supporters of, the hardware enthusiast community.
Going A Bit Deeper
LR: That is great to see a company stepping up and giving back to the community that they help begin. The latest event you mentioned is giving away $5,000 in Corsair products that's a ton of money in memory and cooling products! Any other events in 2006 that you will be supporting like this?
John: Hate to say it, but you'd have to ask the Marketing guys about this. I would venture to say that they have a trick or two up their sleeves...
LR: This year Corsair launched the "Corsair Configurator". Was the launch a success and how has it helped your consumers?
John: The configurator has become a huge resource for our customers. Right now, multiple thousands of users per day use the configurator to see what memory Corsair recommends for the system they are building. And, we invest a ton of time into keeping it updated with new boards and optimum memory recommendations. Right now it contains over 1,400 motherboards; this is not a ?canned? configurator, each of these boards has been individually assessed by Corsair's lab guys for memory compatibility and optimal memory configurations.
LR: What site features do you offer that make a consumers life easier from component selection through to system tweaking and problem resolution?
John: Probably the coolest tool we have done recently is our system build log. We just launched our first one; it's an extremely detailed log of a high performance gaming system build, from component selection to overclocking and benchmarking. It has over 200 photos, with great detail devoted to every step. We have already received lots of feedback from users, lots of them are using the build log as a guide for building their first system. I believe that tools like this help turn ordinary computer users into hardware enthusiasts, which is good for all of us.
We have also developed a new tool called Tech Support Xpress. It is basically a web-based memory troubleshooting wizard, based on the knowledge that we have collected over the years in the tech support department. This tool makes it incredibly fast and easy to resolve memory problems, get help from tech support, or return problem parts.
LR: Rumor has it that just a number of days ago Corsair shipped out ~52,000 modules in a single day. How does this compare to a day in 2003 or 2004?
John: Well, let me put it this way. We shipped about the same number of units in December 2005 as we did in ALL of 2003. And, I'm old enough to remember when 1,000 units a day was a BIG day!
LR: What module part number is the most popular these days? I'd guess PC-3200 ValueSelect.
John: Yep, that is our most popular part.
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  the launch of DDR2 Athlons, and the impact on AMD's current reign as performance champion, and  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!