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Spare a thought for the poor memory manufacturers. After a somewhat prolonged honeymoon period of ever-faster modules with ever-faster systems to run them on, they’ve suddenly got nowhere to turn until DDRII breaks onto the scene with any great presence.
Heatspreaders have been introduced in both black and in Platinum. Speeds are pretty much as high as most overclockers need them. The range has been thoughtfully divided up between several levels of user and several levels of budget. Latencies have been whittled away to almost nothing, and then relaxed again to allow them to hit some stratospheric frequencies. So what’s next for a well respected memory company just trying to earn an honest crust? How about lights?
No I’ve not been sat with the lid off the Tipp-Ex again, the latest product from memory giants Corsair really does come with its own set of go-faster lights. And I have a couple of sticks of XMS4000 on test today.
Through the now familiar Corsair style hard plastic blister pack, one thing becomes apparent, these memory modules are big. At 1.75in they are certainly tall enough to cause problems in some types of smaller case where the motherboard layout causes your memory to sit below the back of your optical drives. If you’re in any doubt break out a ruler and check your clearance, ideally not a steel one.
Along the top edge of each memory module are two rows of nine coloured activity LEDs, one row representing each bank. They are arranged as three red pairs, three amber pairs and three green pairs, which illuminate to signify different levels of memory activity. As memory activity increases, more of the LEDs illuminate. If you’ve seen a HiFi with LED volume level indictors then you’ll get the picture.
Unlike the regular XMS memory that has quite a slim line aluminium heatspreader fitted, the “PRO” series memory comes with a slightly more substantial aluminium jacket. No doubt much of its increased size is to accommodate the additional internal workings needed to operate the LEDs, but a little extra surface area never hurt any heat-producing electrical component before, provided it’s doing its job that is, which is where I have some reservations. Even overclocked and running at 2.7 and at one stage 2.9 volts, the heatspreader never got much more than luke warm which triggered a few concerns about the efficiency of the thermal epoxy Corsair has opted to use or the way in which it has been applied.
Reading the spec sheet I noticed that once again Corsair was testing at, and therefore presumably recommending a voltage of 2.75V. I had expected this figure to be a touch higher to allow for the requirements of the LEDs but maybe they draw less than I imagined they would.
I turned once more to our trusty ABIT AI7 installed with a Pentium 4 that I know to be good to at least 275MHz in order to see how far we could get, and as I did with the Corsair XMS4400 modules I commenced testing at my usual setting of 2.6V. Unlike the XMS4400 the 4000Pro really didn’t like such a low voltage and refused to stay in Windows without rebooting even at its rated 250MHz.
With the voltage raised slightly to 2.8v (there’s no 2.75v option on the AI7), stability was restored and it was time for a little benchmarking. Although Corsair’s XMS4400 is capable of over 275MHz I used it as a performance yardstick and ran the same benchmarks at the same speeds to compare results. Both sets of memory were run at the suggested 3-4-4-8 and so the results should be fairly comparable all things being equal.
At 2.8v I found I was able to reach 260MHz, but only just. At this setting I could run most of the stock benchmarks but 3DMark 2001 simply didn’t like it and I had to reduce the FSB back down to 252MHz before it would run through. Increasing the voltage to 2.9v actually made things worse which once more leads me to question the efficiency of the heatspreader. But for the LEDs I’d have ripped the spreaders off and tried without them just for curiosity’s sake.
By the way, if you’re fortunate enough to own an Athlon64 system you may have problems with this memory. It certainly didn’t run in my MSI K8T Neo based Athlon64 test system at least.
Coming off the back of testing Corsair’s awesome XMS4400 memory I now have to make a deliberate attempt not to be too harsh here. I can’t really complain that this memory doesn’t overclock very well because at 250MHz (500MHz DDR) it’s already a long way beyond conventional memory. As a responsible reviewer I should only complain when it falls short of its claims, not when it doesn’t exceed them by enough to please me.
Yes, the activity lights are a gimmick, as are illuminated cooling fans, case windows and UV reactive motherboard fixtures, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to want them. Having said that if you don’t have a side window in your case and don’t plan on getting one any time soon, there’s little point in paying extra for memory that lights up in the first place.
The Pro series memory is big, fast and unique and has opened up yet another market for Corsair, and for that the company should be applauded. I just get the feeling that you’re sacrificing a little bit of “go” in exchange for the show.