Memory Buyer's Guide - November 2012 (Part 1)

11/23/2012 8:59:47 AM

Ram can have a big effect on how fast your PC feels

From multitasking bet ween several applications to rendering large video clips, ample amounts of fast memory can make your computer swifter than a similar system with less RAM. Enthusiasts can take advantage of the overclocking capabilities found in today’s high-end modules to push frequencies higher and timings lower for even greater performance. Here, we’ll cover the latest in the world of PC memory.

Intel Systems

If memory bandwidth is important to you, Intel’s X79/Sandy Bridge-E platform is the clear performance king, because it offers a quad-channel memory controller that can access four memory modules at the same time. Our system testing found that a quad-channel DDR3-1600 setup typically hit around 40GBps in SiSoftware Sandra’s 2012’s Memory Bandwidth tests. Comparable triple-channel setups (using the X58 chipset) provided us with around 30GBps, while dual-channel systems hit 20GBps. The quad-channel memory architecture is only currently available on the X79 chipset. Most X79 motherboards offer either four or eight memory slots, and to take full advantage of the speed these boards offer, you’ll want at least four identical memory modules.

Description: Intel’s X79

Intel’s X79

Intel’s new Z77 chipset utilizes the familiar dual-channel memory architecture, and the Ivy Bridge platform allows for overclocking via a memory multiplier and base clock, a feature that was more limited in Sandy Bridge processors.

AMD Systems

With AMD’s 9-Series platform, which includes the 990FX, 990X, and 970 chipsets, AMD increased the native maximum memory frequency to 1,866MHz, which is slightly faster than the DDR3-1600 native maximum frequency found on Intel’s X79 and Z77 chipsets. The 9-Series chipsets all offer dual-channel memory support. AMD’s Llano APUs also added support for DDR3-1866 and dual-channel memory, which is a big improvement over the Brazos chipset’s single channel, DDR3-1333 speed.


Both Intel and AMD recommend modules rated at 1.5V for use on their newest chipsets. One of the key reasons to opt for 1.5V memory is the fact that the memory controller is now built into the processor. According to Intel, it’s possible for higher memory voltages to degrade the CPU. We’ve seen enough 1.65V modules to conclude that the higher voltage seems to be okay, but you’re unlikely to find any memory modules above 1.65V. If you plan on overclocking the memory and need to raise the voltage, it might be a good idea to invest in a 1.5V kit that will give you some voltage headroom.

Heat Spreaders

Modern heat spreaders often offer an aggressive look with tall fins that help to more effectively dissipate heat, thanks to the larger surface area. Each memory vendor typically produces a variety of heat spreader designs for its modules at any given time, and some even offer different colors to match your system build. Tall heat spreaders can sometimes be physically incompatible with large CPU heatsink/fan combos, so make sure the memory you select will be able to fit underneath your system’s CPU cooler.

Memory Profiles

When Intel announced the X79 chipset, it also released version 1.3 of its XMP (Extreme Memory Profiles) that allows for memory vendors to use profiles that are ideal for performance builds. Intel also indicates that you can manually save SPD parameters in the BIOS to create your own profile for custom overclocks. Intel XMP 1.3 profile support can be found on many current Z77 motherboards, as well. AMD’s OverDrive tool lets you optimize RAM speed and timings on an AMD motherboard via its Black Edition Memory Profiles.

You’ll find that nearly all vendors in our buyer’s guide bring something special with their modules. Whether it’s a unique heat spreader, built-in profiles, low latency timings, or another innovation, we’ll detail what makes DRAM special in our buyer’s guide. You’ll be able to find the capacity, memory frequency, and reported timings at the bottom of each listing. Prices with an asterisk (*) were the current online price at the time of this writing.

Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR3-2133 (CMD16GX3M4A2133C9)

Price: $309


Why You’ll Dig It: Dominator Platinum high-performance DDR3 memory is designed for world-class system builds. It’s built with hand-screened integrated circuits, undergoes rigorous performance testing, and incorporates state-of-the-art cooling for reliable performance in demanding environments. Corsair designs the kit to operate at 1.5V with tight timings 9-11-10-30. Corsair integrates an LED light bar at the top of the module for some visual pop, and you can swap the light pipes within the bar to match the lighting of your system’s color scheme. The Domi-nator Platinum lineup is compatible with Corsair’s Airflow Pro memory cooler and works with the Link Dashboard application to give you real-time temperature readings and fan speed info.

Who Should Apply: Dominator Platinum is the world’s most stunning memory, perfect for demanding hardware enthusiasts.

Capacity: 16GB (four 4GB modules)

Speed: 2,133MHz

Timings: 9-11-10-30

Description: Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR3-2133

Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR3-2133

Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 8GB DDR3-1600 (CML8GX3M2A1600C9)

Price: $54.99


Why You’ll Dig It: Vengeance Low Profile heat spreaders have a reduced height of 1.03 inches (26.25mm). They’re designed for high-performance systems with extra-large CPU coolers, small form factor system builds, or any other space-constrained application where standard Vengeance memory might not fit. All Vengeance modules are built with integrated circuits that have been selected based on performance potential, which gives you some headroom for overclocking. Corsair provides support for Intel’s XMP settings, and this kit has a profile for 1,600MHz with timings of 9-9-9-24 at 1.5V. The Vengeance Low Profile modules are available with black, blue, or white heat spreaders.

Who Should Apply: This memory is ideal for system builders who require the ultimate in value and compatibility. The Vengeance Low Profile modules provide excellent performance at an affordable price.

Capacity: 8GB (two 4GB modules)

Speed: 1,600MHz

Timings: 9-9-9-24

Description: Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 8GB DDR3-1600

Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 8GB DDR3-1600

Kingston HyperX Red 8GB 1600MHz [Part #KHX16C9B1RK2/8]

Price: $44


Why You’ll Dig It: Nothing is quite a menacing as an all-red system. And if you’re having trouble finding a memory kit to match your big red build (or red and black system), look no further than Kingston’s HyperX red modules. This kit delivers a speed of 1,600MHz with timings of 9-9-9 at 1.65V via its Intel XMP profile. Like the rest of Kingston’s HyperX lineup, the HyperX red memory is covered with a lifetime warranty and free tech support. The HyperX red heat spreader is only slightly larger than the module, so you won’t have to worry about clearance issues with large CPU coolers.

Who Should Apply: Builders looking for memory to compliment the red components inside their system. Its low latency is good for performance enthusiasts.

Capacity: 8GB (two 4GB modules)

Speed: 1,600MHz

Timings: 9-9-9

Description: Kingston HyperX Red 8GB 1600MHz

Kingston HyperX Red 8GB 1600MHz

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