Crucial Finally Does DDR3 Memory Kits

It's been two months since Crucial launched launched their first Crucial Ballistix DDR3 memory modules and while they were months behind other DDR3 manufacturers their 1600MHz kit has been a success. Since Micron and Crucial are one and the same it shouldn't be a surprise that Crucial memory kits are able to perform above average. Legit Reviews first spotted their 1600MHz DDR3 memory kit running 2000MHz back at the Intel Developer Forum and knew from that second on that these kits would be a contender on the high performance desktop market. The kit we are looking at today is part of the Ballistix line, which is a higher performance series that is specifically built for enthusiasts who want to push the performance envelope of their system.

Crucial DDR3 PC3-12800 Part Number BL2KIT12864BA1608K Memory Kit Review

The kit that Crucial sent out for review is the 2GB DDR3 PC3-12800 (1600MHz) Ballistix Series Kit. Since that is hard to remember, the part number is BL2KIT12864BA1608. This kit works on Intel P35 and X38 Express platforms and will also run just fine on upcoming months Intel X48 Express chipset. The Intel X48 Express chipset will be the first on the market to support 1600MHz Front Side Bus (FSB) processors and 1600MHz memory clock frequencies from the get go.

Before we get into the details of this new Crucial memory kit, be sure to read our previous DDR3 memory articles to make sure you know what the changes in DDR3 are and how it performs compared to DDR2. 

If you feel you have a firm background on DDR3 modules and what the performance level was on various kits, then let's take a look at what Crucial has done on thier first ever DDR3 memory kit.

Crucial DDR3 PC3-12800 Part Number BL2KIT12864BA1608K Memory Kit Review

The new Ballistix DDR3 modules sport a new look thanks to the redesigned heat spreader with a clip-less design, giving the modules a cleaner look. The new Ballistix heat spreader design also features a Micron company logo on the heat spreader, which means that the modules use Micron memory IC's. Crucial also uses black Printed Circuit Boards (PCB's) on their Ballistix series, which give the modules a a tougher look over traditional green PCB's. When it comes to warranties, Crucial warrants the original end customer of its products that their memory kits are free from defects in material and workmanship affecting form, fit, and function for life. So, all Ballistix modules carry a lifetime warranty.

Crucial DDR3 PC3-12800 Part Number BL2KIT12864BA1608K Memory Kit Review

The 1600MHz dual channel memory kit comes rated with 8-8-8-24 at 1.8V and it was able to run either a command rate of 1T or 2T with no issues at this clock frequency. This is due to the fact that Crucial's 1600MHz memory kits use highly screened Micron ICs that have been found to offer great timings and high clock frequencies. The kit is manufactured using lead-free solder, so this memory kit is 'green' so to speak. Since Intel P35 and X38 chipsets don't officially support 1600MHz memory kits the SPD is programmed at looser timings and frequencies. When we first ran this kit on our ASUS P35 motherboard the BIOS shows a SPD (default) of 1066Mhz at 7-7-7-20. This is for motherboard compatibility precautions as you want your system to post. You then need to manually go into the memory settings and set the timings to 8-8-8-24 1T at 1.8V for them to run at their labeled speeds.

Now that we know what kit we are looking at today, let's move on to testing!

R.S.T. Pro PCI Express Stress Testing

How Do We Define Stable Memory?

Have you ever run across a review web site that reviews a product and shows a couple amazing scores and gives it an award? Sure you do as most review sites do just that, but how stable was it? I would be willing to bet that most sites don't know what stable memory is and therefore give fairly inaccurate results. Yes, I hate to break the news, but there is more than just running a memory bandwidth test and calling memory stable! Ever wonder what some of the memory companies use to test their modules? So did we, and we found out that they use the RAM Stress Test Professional 3 (R.S.T. Pro3). It is a Self-Booting, Operating System Independent memory diagnostic card for exercising and validating RAM. The R.S.T. Pro PCI Express’s powerful memory package is small in program size allowing the firmware to load itself into the least amount of memory possible. This allows for true low-level testing of RAM starting at memory address 2k exercising the complete range of a computer’s RAM. There are many good approaches for testing memory. However, many tests simply throw various patterns at memory without much thought or knowledge of memory architecture. Ultra-X is able to continuously develop new sophisticated proprietary memory test algorithms to locate the most evasive memory failures. R.S.T. Pro PCI Express has the broadest range of algorithms, for current and future memory chip technologies and this is why Legit Reviews has used R.S.T. Pro testers for nearly five years now to test our review samples.

Crucial DDR3 1600MHz Memory Review

By using the R.S.T. Pro PCI Express memory tester we are able to find memory errors that other testing methods could not find or reproduce. Since we want and encourage our readers to follow up our testing on their own, we suggest using free testing programs at home.  We highly suggest a program called Memtest86 which is a stand alone memory test for x86 architecture computers that boots off a floppy disk. This software was getting old was unable to run on all platforms, so we will stick to the RST Pro2 for the time being. In recent years Chris Brady and some of the guys over at x86-secret have come up with Memtest86+, which is an updated version of the original program and it still happens to be free.

We considered the memory stable when it was able to run 1 extended pass of Memtest86+ and a full loop of testing on the R.S.T. Pro PCI Express. If any errors are found using the R.S.T. Pro PCI Express then the memory modules have failed memory stress testing.

By this combination of tests we feel that this review is one of the most accurate completed in terms of memory stability. Sure, not everyone will agree with our stability testing methods, but not everyone can afford the cost of a memory tester like this nor the time that went into this testing.

Bottom Line:

There is no industry standard for professional reviewers, but hopefully reviews like this will cause other professional reviewers to change their methods and ways of looking at memory.

Crucial DDR3 1600MHz Stability Testing Results

Results:

The R.S.T. Pro PCI Express memory tester was run on the Crucial DDR3 PC3-12800 2GB Memory Kit and tested the Base/Extended memory. After 5 loops no errors were found! Memtest86 was used and confirmed these results.

The Test System

The DDR3 Test System

The DDR3 Test System

Testing Procedure:

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP Professional build 2600 with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 9.0c. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. All of the modules were run in dual channel mode with a 120mm fan placed on top of them to keep them cool! The XFX GeForce 8800 GTX used ForceWare 158.22 video card drivers and the ASUS P5K3 motherboard was updated from BIOS version 0405 that was used in a previous DDR3 article to BIOS version 0604 by using ASUS flash.  This BIOS update did impact the performance numbers, so if you own this motherboard you will want to update to the latest BIOS. The ASUS P5K3 motherboard was used for all the benchmarking charts, but it should be noted that the newer ASUS P5E3 motherboard with BIOS 0702 was used for overclocking.

Memory Settings: (The Processor was set to 400MHz FSB x 8 Multiplier = 3.20GHz on all kits)

Here is the Intel P35 Express DDR3 Test platform:

DDR3 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E6750

Motherboard

ASUS P5K3 Deluxe

Memory

See Above

Video Card

XFX GeForce 8800 GTX

Hard Drive

Western Digital RaptorX

Cooling

Intel Retail Box

Power Supply

Thermaltake 850W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Everest Ultimate 4.00

Everest Ultimate Edition 4.00 Build 1142:

Everst Ultimate Edition 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.

Read Test:

Everest 4.00 DDR3 Read Bandwidth

Write Test:

Everest 4.00 DDR3 Write Bandwidth

The Copy Test:

Everest 4.00 DDR3 Copy Testing

Memory Latency Testing:

Everest 4.00 DDR3 Latency

Results: Everest Ultimate 4.00 build 1142 showed slight differences between the Corsair 1600MHz and OCZ 1600MHz memory kits, but it wasn't significant. It just goes to show the difference between 7-6-6 and 7-7-7 timings doesn't impact synthetic memory bandwidth benchmarks. The Crucial Ballistix does good in all the tests, but the higher timings show on the read and latency tests.

Now let's move on to some Sandra XII benchmarking!

Sandra XII and Sciencemark 2.0

Sisoft; Sandra XII:

Sisoftware Sandra 2008

Sisoft Sandra XII just came out a couple months ago and we have started to include it in out benchmarking, so our readers would be able to compare their modules to this kit if they are using the just released version of Sandra!  With Sandra XII you can now easily compare the performance of the tested device with its speed and its (published) power (TDP)! Sandra XII also has SSE4 (Intel) and SSE4A (AMD) benchmark code-paths, which is great for those of you testing next-generation AMD & Intel chips.

Crucial Ballistix 1600MHz DDR3 Sandra Scores

Results: Sandra XII showed higher memory bandwidth in the OCZ kit, but the 276MB/Sec difference is only a 3.4% performance improvement. Again, the relaxed CL8 memory timings on the Ballistix kit are causing the differences.

ScienceMark 2.0 Final:

Science Mark 2.0 is an attempt to put the truth behind benchmarking. In an attempt to model real world demands and performance, ScienceMark 2.0 is a suite of high-performance benchmarks that realistically stress system performance without architectural bias. All of our testing was completed on the 32 Bit Final benchmark version that is dated March 21st 2005.

Crucial Ballistix 1600MHz DDR3 Sciencemark Results

Results: In Sciencemark 2 the memory bandwidth test showed a 2.3% performance difference, but this time it was in favor of Corsair.  The results are close, but this makes sense as all of the memory kits use the same exact Micron D9 memory IC's.

WinRAR 3.70 and Super Pi

RARLAB - WinRar v3.70

WinRAR has a multithreaded version of the RAR compression algorithm, which improves the compression speed on computers with several CPU, dual core CPU and processors with hyperthreading technology. Multithreading is enabled by default, but you can disable it in "General" part of "Settings" dialog.

Crucial Ballistix 1600MHz DDR3 Super Pi Results

Results: The WinRAR 3.70 benchmarking results graphed out nicely and showed that the 1600MHz CL7 memory kit from Corsair had higher performance. The Ballistix kit actually tied the CL7 kit from OCZ in this test, which goes to show timings don't play a huge role in WinRAR.

Super PI Mod v1.5:

Super PI is a program a lot of enthusiasts use to benchmark overall system performance, as the program is capable of calculating pi up to 33.55 million digits on a timer. Many overclockers and enthusiasts are in a battle to get the lowest 1M Super Pi time possible. The benchmark results below include Super Pi results to 1 million places and 2 million places.

Crucial Ballistix 1600MHz DDR3 Super Pi Results

Results: Super Pi Mod v1.5 showed a one second difference between the Ballistix 8-8-8 kit and the OCZ Platinum 7-6-6 kit. Super Pi has always been known to like tight timings and this again proves true. 

STALKER and Company of Heroes

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl uses the 'X-ray Engine' to power the graphics. It is a DirectX 8/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time, which makes it one of the more impressive engines on the market today. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilize deferred shading (such as Unreal Engine 3 and CryENGINE2), the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area is rendered to the same amount of detail.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

Results: At the default 1024x768 game resolution and default game settings we found that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was more than playable on with DDR3 memory modules on the P35 chipset.  Less than a 0.7 frame per second difference was observed between the the three memory kits. The slight performance lead was in favor of the OCZ memory kit, which might have been related to the tigher memory timings. We ran the benchmark six times per kit and took the average of the score, so the results are spot on!

Company Of Heroes

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is set during World War II where the player follows a military unit, known as Able Company, as they fight their way through some of the greatest and bloodiest battles, including the D-Day landings at Normandy.

Company Of Heroes Benchmark Performance

Results: It's only fitting that the final benchmark came out in a tie.  All throughout testing it was impossible to 'feel' a difference in performance between all three of these kits, so this is a perfect way to conclude the benchmarking!

Overclocking

For overclocking we changed test systems from the ASUS P5K3 motherboard (P35 chipset) to the ASUS P5E3 Deluxe (X38 chipset) and had some issues at first.  When we first put our 2GB Crucial Ballistix kit on the motherboard it failed to post.  The fans would come on, but the post screen never would come up.  We used another kit of DDR3 memory and set the board to default settings and to the specific timings for the kit and neither seemed to work.  We then noticed my board had  BIOS version 0504 (10/23/07), which was a couple versions old.  After updating to BIOS 0702 (11/17/07) the board posted with the Crucial kit and overclocking went on. 

Crucial 1600MHz DDR3 Overclocking

To start overclocking we kept the FSB the same and tried to see just how tight I could get the timings to see what I could get. At the stock voltage of 1.8V, the system was able to post with 7-6-6-14 timings and a command rate of 1T, but CPU-Z 1.42 never did display the correct command rate.  This 8-8-8-24 memory kit can easily do 7-6-6-14 timings at 1600MHz!

Crucial 1600MHz DDR3 Overclocking

Now that we know tight the timings can get with no changes let's see how far we can get with the stock 1.80 Volts on the memory and CL8 timings.  With the default timings of 8-8-8-24 and an aggressive 1T Command Rate we were able to reach 1800MHz, which is an extra 200MHz over the stock clock frequency of 1600MHz. 

Crucial 1600MHz DDR3 Overclocking

Now that we know how tight we can get the timings and how far they can go on stock voltages the next step it to increase the voltage and find the new max of the memory kit. We increased the voltage from 1.80V to 2.20V.  This increase in voltage got the kit an extra 160MHz on the memory as our new stable max is 1960MHz.  We couldn't hit 2GHz with stability at CL8 timings, but we tried!

Crucial 1600MHz DDR3 Overclocking

Instead of using 8-8-8-24 timings we wanted to see what happened with 7-7-7-20 timings and the results were impressive.  With the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 processor running at 450MHz Front Side Bus, we were able to reach 1800MHz at 2.20V with 7-7-7-20 1T timings.  It was stable at these settings and 1800MHz at CL7 timings offers nice performance increases over 1600MHz at CL8.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Various DDR3 Memory Kits

The 2GB DDR3 PC3-12800 (1600MHz)Crucial Ballistix Memory Kit is one of ten 2GB DDR3 memory kits (by five different memory companies), that we have tested over the past couple months. It doesn't stand out from the crowd when it comes to performance, but that was never expected from this kit. All of the high performance DDR3 memory kits from Corsair, OCZ and Crucial use Micron D9 IC's, which means performance should be close to the same. It's obvious from our testing and overclocking that Crucial was very conservative with their ratings on this kit as it was able to do tighter timings and higher frequencies. The Crucial Ballistix memory kit does include Intel Extreme Memory Profiles (XMP), which is nice for those that don't want to manually set their memory timings and voltages in the BIOS. In order to use Intel XMP the modules must be installed into a motherboard that supports it like Intel P35 and X38 based motherboards.

When it comes to picking DDR3 memory kits companies are selling kits at a variety of frequencies, which can be a bit overwhelming for those that are new to DDR3 and the chipsets that use it.  Right now there are six speed grades that DDR3 memory is available in: 1066MHz, 1333MHz, 1375MHz, 1600MHz, 1800MHz and 1866MHz. Which is the right kit to invest in?  Keep in mind that the Intel only officially supports 1333MHz on the Intel P35 and X38 Express chipsets.  When it comes to density all Intel P35 Express chipsets support up to 8 GB of memory addressability, so density is certainly not a limitation these days when it comes to selecting a kit.  So, why buy a 1600MHz memory kit when the chipsets are only rated to run at 1333MHz?  Because motherboard makers like ASUS and Gigabyte have included the dividers to reach these speeds and it has been shown to improve performance.  This also means that the memory kit can be used again in upcoming motherboards.  When Intel releases the Intel X48 Express chipset series it will feature some memory tweaks in the chipset and support for 1600MHz memory.  With a 1600MHz kit you will exceed the specifications of today's chipsets and meet the next generation that is due out in the coming weeks.  

The price tag on this memory kit is enough to scare many folks off, but it comes in lower than a number of the 1375MHz and 1800MHz kits that we have reviewed in previous months.  The 2GB kit that we reviewed today will normally set you back about $479.99, but there is a $100 rebate on this kit right now at Newegg. At $379.99 plus shipping this is one of the lowest priced 2GB 1600MHz DDR3 memory kits on the market.  It overclocks with the best of them and comes from a well known company based in the states, so if anything does go wrong with the kit the lifetime replacement warranty should be easy to use.   With the rebate Crucial beats the price on other brands and is building these kits with the same exact Micron D9's that others are using. Micron D9's are by far the best memory IC on the market for reaching high clock frequencies.

Legit Bottom Line: The 1600MHz Crucial Ballistix DDR3 memory kits are built to go fast even though the factory timings don't reflect that.  They overclock with the best of them and feature a sexy black PCB and a neat clip-less heat spreader!