Crucial Ballistix PC4000 (DDR500) Review

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Product: Crucial Ballistix PC4000 1GB Kit (2x 512MB)
Provided By: Crucial Memory
Price: $201.99 @ Crucial.com

Introduction:

The high-end computer market has really advanced over the past two years.  We've seen the introduction of Precott CPU's from Intel boasting 2MB of L2 cache.  Intel's latest platforms also now use DDR2 which scales faster that traditional DDR, albeit at slower latency.  In the past two years we've also seen AMD enjoy success with the launch of their Athlon 64 processor.  Combine that with a speedy nForce 3 or nForce 4 chipset and you've got yourself a screaming system.  As good as any of these processors are, they are only as good as the motherboard and RAM that they use.  If you've got a great board, and processor, but run PC2100 or PC2700, you are seriously crippling your performance.

Today, we are taking a look at a pair of PC4000 DDR modules from Crucial.  This is their Ballistix series of memory and features pretty decent timings and performance.  For those of you who are unaware, Crucial is the front-end for Micron - a memory company who's been around a long time.  In this review we'll see if Crucial has a decent product with the Ballistix PC4000 (DDR500) or if they are relying more on their name to sell a product.  It should be a good time.

Package & Bonus:

I talked to Samuel over at Crucial about a sample for review and he was prompt to get things set up.  He got my address and within the week a package had arrived from the U.S.A. with the goods.  It was shipped in a UPS box and included the goodies you see below.

Package From Crucial
 Package From Crucial

Arrived Safe & Sound
 Arrived Safe & Sound

Bonus Shirt
 Bonus Shirt

Currently, Crucial is offering free shipping to anywhere in the contiguous US, and a free shirt to anyone who places an order.  Even though I was getting a review sample, I still managed to score a shirt.  Free schwag is always cool.

Before opening the memory packages, it's always a good idea to read the warning and to make sure you are grounded.  Static electricity can kill computer components instantly, and it's always a good idea to protect your investment.  Stay grounded.

Warning & Specs
 Warning & Specs

2x 512MB PC4000 Front & Back
 2x 512MB PC4000 Front & Back

Details & Specs:

The package above doesn't really disclose a lot of detail regarding these memory modules.  To find out what's cool and special we'll pull the specs off of Crucial's site:

  • Module Size: 1GB kit (512MBx2)
  • Package: Ballistix 184-pin DIMM
  • Feature: DDR PC4000
  • Configuration: 64Meg x 64
  • DIMM Type: UNBUFFERED
  • Error Checking: NON-ECC
  • Speed: DDR500
  • Voltage: 2.8V
  • Memory Timings: 2.5-4-4-8
  • Specs: DDR PC4000 • 2.5-4-4-8 • UNBUFFERED • NON-ECC • DDR500 • 2.8V • 64Meg x 64

What's nifty about this RAM, and not listed above is the two sets of SPD information.  This DDR is rated at 2.5-4-4-8 @ 500MHz as well as 2.0-3-3-8 @ 400MHz.  I was even able to run it at 2-2-2-5 @ 400MHz with as little as 2.6v!  Unlike a lot of DDR that is rated at 500MHz or higher, this stuff can be ran with very tight timings at the popular PC3200 (DDR400)! 

Now that we've got a bit of info on what this memory is rated, let's take a look at the test setup on the next page and find out what this RAM can actually do.


Test Setup & Info:

Below is the specs for our standard test machine.  For each review we use a fresh install of Windows with all of the latest critical updates applied.  We also use the latest WHQL certified Forceware drivers for the nForce 4 and Graphics card.

Installed & Running On DFI LP UT NF4 Ultra-D
Installed & Running On DFI LP UT NF4 Ultra-D

For this review we tried to benchmark the demonstrate the ability of this RAM when running at stock speeds and also when overclocking.  We used a couple of synthetic benchmarks, Everest Home and SiSoft Sandra 2005 and verified the timings and speed of the memory using CPUz.  I'd like to thank the good people over at DFI-Street for some info and help setting up some good overclocking as well.

Overclocking Results:

I discovered some interesting things regarding overclocking and memory bandwidth on the nForce 4 platform when using an Athlon 64 processor.  In times past, memory bandwidth was totally dependant on Front Side Bus (FSB) speeds, and was irrelevant to actual processor speed.  With the integration of the memory controller right onto the Athlon 64 processor itself, there is not actual FSB on an Athlon 64 system at all.  Instead you have your Hyper Transport Bus and total memory bandwidth is quite dependant on the HTT Bus as well as the total speed of the memory controller, built into the processor itself.

Essentially there is still a "FSB" when it comes to clocking your memory, but it doesn't matter if it is synchronous with your CPU or not.  To find the maximum speed of the memory, I lowered the CPU multiplier and raised the HTT/FSB until things got shaky.  For final testing I used Memtest x86+ to determine stability.  If the memory yielded no errors after 2 passes of Memtest it was determined to be stable.

Once we determined maximum speed of the memory, we started raising the CPU multiplier to an acceptable level to get the most performance out of our memory controller.  For example, if you run DDR at 200HTT/FSB and the CPU multiplier at 9x your CPU speed is 1800MHz, and your memory bandwidth results in  X MB/sec.  If you change the HTT/FSB to 300 and drop the CPU multiplier to 6x, you CPU speed is 1800MHz, and your memory bandwidth is still the same X MB/sec.  Even though the memory is running much faster, the memory controller is limiting the bandwidth.  To gain bandwidth, both memory and CPU (thus memory controller) must be overclocked for maximum memory performance.  For this reason it is hard to get accurate "real world" memory bandwidth results, but we did include some Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 benchmarks regardless.  These will have to be taken with a grain of salt as CPU speed is increased as well as memory bandwidth.  However, this will give you an idea of what is available with Crucial's Ballistix PC4000 DDR.

I was able to overclock the PC4000 from Crucial up to PC4800 (DDR600) with 3-4-4-10 timings, but not with 100% stability according to Memtest x86.  The maximum I could get the Crucial Ballistix to run at stable was 580MHz DDR (PC4720)) at 3-4-4-8 timings.  This had to be done at 2.8v, and raising the voltage didn't increase stability in Memtest at 300MHz.  This is a pretty impressive overclock on this DDR, as it can also be ran at 400MHz DDR at 2-2-2-5 timings with as little as 2.6v.  This memory performs excellent accross a broad spectrum.

Just for fun, I'm dropping in some benchmarks and screenshots of the Ballistix at DDR600.  It ran in Windows just fine, but Memtest reported errors.  You'll notice that this is at a 1:1 with the CPU at a 8x multiplier.

CPUz Fastest (not 100% stable) OC

CPUz Fastest Memory (not 100% stable) OC

Everest

In the tests following we run the system at DDR400 (PC3200) 2-2-2-5 with a 9x multiplier = 1800MHz, and DDR500 (PC4000) 2.5-3-3-8 with a 8x multiplier = 2000MHz, and finally at our maximum stable memory capability at DDR580 (PC4720) 3-4-4-10 with a 8x multiplier = 2320MHz.  Loosening timings or increasing voltage beyond 2.9v didn't help us gain a single MHz in stability.  290MHz is wide open on these modules.

Synthetic Tests:

For these synthetic tests we used Everest Home Edition, formerly known as AIDA32, and the ever popular SiSoft Sandra 2005.  These programs give you a good idea of how overclocking affects memory bandwidth, but whether you'll see it in real world applications or not is a bit up in the air.

As you can see in the Everest Benchmark below, memory performance is directly linked to the total speed of the processor and not just the FSB of the memory itself.  The top part of the graph shows performance at PC3200 running at 1.8GHz.  The next section shows performance at PC4000 running at 2.0GHz.  The biggest jump comes with the biggest increase in processor speed at PC4720 running at 2.32GHz.  Regardless, the numbers speek for themselves with the PC4000 running at it's stock speeds and hitting over 5,800MB/sec read transfer.

Everest Home Benchmarks

SiSoft Sandra shows similar results.  It scores the memory slightly lower that Everest but the trend is the same.  The largest jump in performance comes when the CPU speed is increased.  Again, this is due to the integrated memory controller on the chip itself.  Compare your scores using similar CPU/HTT speeds to determine how the Crucial Ballistix stacks up.  I think you'll find it does very well.

SiSoft 2005 Benchmarks

Now that we've seen how it shapes up in the theoretical world, let's take a look and see how this memory can increase performance in some of todays latest games.


Doom 3:

The first game we'll look at is iD Software's latest, Doom 3.  This game is killer on both the graphics system as well as the CPU/Memory subsystem.  We ran the tests at 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768 at both low and ultra detail settings.  In the graph below we omitted the 640x480 tests as they were within 1FPS of the 800x600 tests.  The 6600GT can hold it's own at 800x600 as it is not bottlenecking the system at lower resolutions.

As memory and CPU speed increased, so did the performance of Doom 3.  We see the highest increase in performance at lower resolutions as GPU does limit the performance at 1024x768.  With the added bandwidth and speed of the memory, we see a 22% performance increase when running at PC3200 up to PC4720, and a healthy 12% increase when running at PC4000 to PC4720.

These results were taken with the included demo1 timedemo.

Doom 3 Benchmark

Half-Life 2:

Again, Half-Life 2 from Valve tells a similar story, but it's hard to tell just how much performance gain we achieve through raw memory bandwidth.  Increasing the bandwidth and CPU by 33% yields up to a 20% gain in performance.  As you can see in the graphs below, the framerate is very acceptable at 1024x768 at max detail, and there really seems to be very little limitation and the graphics subsystem.  Minimum and maximum detail tests show very little difference as the 6600GT has no trouble keeping up in this game.  Keep in mind that AA and AF are turned off to free up the GPU from restricting the benchmark.  If you like AA, you'll still need a more powerful card to keep these framerates.


 

For these benchmarks we used our own Coast timedemo and the HardwareOC d3c171 timedemo.

HL2 Coast Benchmarks

HL2 d3c171 Benchmarks

That wraps up the performance testing of the Crucial Ballistix PC4000 2x512MB kit.  Head on over to the last page and we'll draw up some conclusions.


Conclusion:

The Crucial Ballistix PC4000 2x 512MB kit is a winner in my book.  This memory can be ran at some of the fastest timings around at PC3200.  Any modules that can run both 400MHz DDR 2-2-2-5, and up to 580MHz DDR 3-4-4-10 are pretty impressive.  If you are building a system to do some hardcore overclocking, or perhaps you just want some RAM that will run tight now and clock up at a later time on some newer hardware, the Crucial Ballistix PC4000 is a good choice that won't break the bank.

Overall, I was extremely impressed at how this memory scaled.  For under $300 CDN, this stuff is worth every penny as has excellent timings at PC3200 and is guaranteed to run 2.5-3-3-8 at PC4000.  Not only that, it has plenty of overclocking headroom to boot.

Pros:

  • PC3200 (DDR400) @ 2-2-2-5
  • Excellent timings 2.5-3-3-8 at DDR500.
  • Overclocks well with reasonable voltage.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Umm.

Here is how this memory breaks down.

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
9/10
Software Pack:
n/a
Stability:
10/10
Features:
8/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.2

 

This memory does very well, and earns our Top Pick award.  I'd have no trouble at all recommending this memory to anyone who wants excellent performance for their dollar.

If you have any questions, comments or general feedback regarding this review, please fire a question over to the link below.  You will have to register to post, but registration is free, fast and easy.

Thanks to Crucial for supplying the memory used in this review.