People scoffed when Bill Gates spoke of his hopes for the day when every home PC would come equipped with a minimum of 32MB of memory. Of course this was back in the mid 90s when even modest amounts of memory cost a small fortune and when it wasn’t unusual for criminals to break into businesses, steal the memory and leave the rest of the PC behind. Memory was, quite literally, worth its weight in gold.
Fortunately, as with so much PC related hardware, the prices began to plummet, to the point where today anything less than 256MB is considered frugal and even mainstream graphics cards boast a generous 128MB as standard.
Prices today are generally so low that the emphasis has shifted from how much you can afford to how fast you can afford. The criterion has moved from quantity to quality, and even though the price range from best to worst may be vast, I can attest to the fact that the quality variation from the best to the worst memory can be every bit as cavernous.
On test today we have a full 1GB of Corsair’s latest TWINX XMS4400. Comprising of two 512MB modules, they are hand tested and then packaged as a matched pair to ensure that they operate reliably together in dual channel memory based systems, though even single channel memory chipsets rely on intense levels of interoperability when running at very high frequencies.
The “PT” at the end of the moniker means Platinum, and simply identifies this memory as having the silver rather than the black heat spreaders installed. You may very well question the effectiveness of heat spreaders as a thermal aid, in fact I do question it, but there’s no denying it makes them easier to handle, harder to damage and a whole lot better looking.
I’m not a fan of the current trend for selling memory under the premise of its bandwidth rather than its frequency. I understand that this may have been useful in distinguishing it from RAMBUS in the days when RDRAM was a serious competitor but those days are gone now and I see no reason why XMS4400 can’t be sold as what it is, 275MHz or, if you prefer, DDR550.
I also think the 2.75V test voltage should be displayed clearly on the holographic sticker on the heat spreaders to avoid any confusion over what settings it can be run at. The latencies and frequency are displayed here so there’s no reason not to show the voltage too.
At 3-4-4-8 the recommended latency settings for this memory may seem a little sluggish if you’re used to lower frequency, high performance memory like Corsair’s 3200LL. This is rated to run at a more impressive sounding 2-3-2-6 but the theory is that the faster the frequency the less effect longer latencies have on overall memory performance. The fact that increasing the latencies makes such high frequencies possible in the first place is a more accurate explanation for why they’re used though.
Testing was a surprisingly simple affair in that I was able to hit the rated 275MHz almost immediately without even needing to twitch the voltage beyond my default 2.6volt setting. More frustrating was the fact that I couldn’t squeeze any more out of the test system due primarily to a combination of our CPU having hit its ceiling coupled with a few Northbridge related glitches. Boosting the voltage to Corsair’s suggested 2.75volts or beyond did nothing to open up any further progress but I was able to run endless loops of tests with no stability issues whatsoever.
If you’re a regular PC user who simply wants to tweak your memory a little for increased performance without Overclocking the rest of your system then this is not the stuff for you. At 100, 133 or even 166MHz the performance you can expect from XMS4400 is probably best described as pedestrian. It’s only really at 200MHz and beyond that you start to see what the high price tag is really about, raw speed.
Unless you plan to run your processor to within an inch of its life there won’t be much of a return for what is a fairly considerable outlay. At £262.99 including the dreaded VAT only the bone fide speed demon need apply. For everyone else, splashing out on XMS4400 is a bit like buying a Ferrari Enzo to do the school run.
Ultimately, the XMS4400 is blazingly fast so long as you can push it hard enough. It’s expensive, but if you absolutely have to use the fastest memory you probably won’t care.