Review By John Grabski - January 30, 2005 Edited By Ed Piotrowski
DDR memory has definitely served its purpose well in the enthusiast segment since 2001. The format stumbled out of the gate with inefficient and often incompatible chipsets (AMD 760, VIA Apollo). The format grew once cost effective and solid performing DDR chipsets were available (VIA KT266A, SiS 735, et al). Motherboards based on these chipsets rendered PC100/133 chipsets obsolete. Around this time, it grew apparent to gamers and general enthusiasts alike that the bandwidth offered by DDR made a performance difference in games at the time (Ghost Recon, Serious Sam: Second Encounter, Black & White, Max Payne).
Over the past few years, we've seen the rated speeds of DDR memory run the gamut from DDR200 (PC1600) all the way to the present ceiling, DDR550 (PC4400). Not every step up in speed has been sanctioned by chipset and CPU manufacturers. They have stuck with officially supporting PC1600, PC2100, PC2700, and PC3200. Not long ago, if your memory PC2100 or 2700 memory was capable of PC3200 speeds (regardless of latency setting), you were considered lucky and among the overclocking elite. Now, with PC3200 being the accepted baseline standard, and the performance ceiling pushed even higher, overclockers are looking for memory that will do one of two things:
perform at front-side bus speeds of 250 to 280 MHz at higher latency settings
- OR -
run very low latency settings at as high of a speed as possible
(typically between 200 and 225 MHz).
Corsair, a memory manufacturer that has traditionally catered to enthusiasts looking for the right mix of performance and stability, is offering the TwinX XMS4400 DDR550 modules to enthusiasts. Equipped with Samsung TCCD chips, it has great performance potential, as other memory using the same chips perform wickedly fast in modern bandwidth tests.
Founded in 1994, and originally catering to the mission-critical server market segment, Corsair has developed a keen eye for the needs of the modern extreme gamer. The company's XMS line is the industry's most awarded memory, and the
products owe much of their success to Corsair's continuing effort to using the highest manufacturing quality control standards and extensive research.
THE PRODUCT AND TEST SETUP
The platinum finish heatspreaders that cover the Samsung TCCD chips are both attractive and functional. As an informative bonus, the rated speed and latency settings are listed on the holographic label: "550MHz 2.5-4-4-8." Most higher frequency memory can only do such speeds at a cas latency setting of 3, so seeing the 2.5 rating here should be pleasing to the eye of the enthusiast.
The TwinX branding signifies these modules were tested together in a dual-channel configuration before packaging. This was done to eliminate incompatibility issues. This memory was certified at rated speeds on an Intel i875 platform.
This rig was designed from the ground up to be as overclocking friendly as possible. Although not as well known as the MSI K8N Neo2 boards for overclocking capability, the Gigabyte GA-K8NS Ultra-939 is able to push along quite nicely at 275 HTT when equipped with the right BIOS.
Many memory reviews focus primarily on the capabilities of the memory at different timings. The review setup used to test this RAM was previously saddled with 2x512mb Corsair ValueSelect PC3200, which is certified to run at DDR400 at 2.5-4-4-8 timings. This limited the system when overclocking, and the only way to attain stability at the highest possible HTT (which happens to be 275) was to set the ram on a 133 MHz divider in BIOS, causing it to run at 177mhz. This memory speed enabled timings to be tightened down to 2.0-3-3-7.
Upgrading memory is a task sometimes undertaken to allow for a better or more stable overclock, and that's exactly what I hoped to accomplish here. The charts on the next page will detail the benefits of moving from value-priced memory to the XMS. They will display the performance pinnacle reached by both system configurations, hopefully demonstrating the benefits of upgrading memory on a system tailored for gaming performance.