Battle of the 16GB SODIMM - Crucial PC3-10600 vs. Ballistix PC-14900

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Product: 16GB SODIMM Battle - Crucial PC3-10600 vs. Ballistix PC-14900
Provided By: Crucial
Price: ~$172 - ~$184 MSRP at time of publication

Introduction:

It's been a while since I got a chance to look at computer memory. Let's face it, memory is not that "sexy" anymore. It has become one of those things that we take for granted as most memory is fast enough and there are other things that we can do to improve our systems performance. Today I'm looking at some SODIMM kits from Crucial and putting their mainstream DDR3-1333 kit up against their Ballistix-flavored DDR3-1866. In theory, we obviously expect the faster kit to perform better, but there are a few things we should consider.

While faster memory sounds nice, not all systems can take advantage of the faster speed. Many laptops and some small systems similar to the Intel NUC, can't take advantage of faster memory. This is low-voltage DDR3L and operates at 1.35v instead of the traditional 1.5v and that too, can play a part into system compatibility. Lastly, the Ballistix 16GB Kit has XMP profiles that many systems won't recognize. Most of these smaller embedded or mobile units don't support XMP so this is a feature that could be wasted.

Crucial 1333 Package

DDR3-1333 Kit

1866 Package

DDR3-1866 Kit

 

With all that said, both of these kits promise good performance, lots of RAM and will probably improve your experience if you're currently using 4GB or 8GB of system memory. The biggest thing to note as we start this comparison is that the Ballistix kit will have lower compatibility and as such may not show the larger performance numbers in every system.

 

First Look:

As we take a look at both of these kits of memory, you’ll notice a couple of things right away. They are pretty small, and they aren’t all that flashy. Both come packaged in easy-to-open clamshells, but the 1333MHz kit comes in two separate sticks that have been matched and then paired together. The Ballistix kit on the other hand comes all wrapped up in a single package.

Crucial 1333 Kit

Crucial 1333MHz Kit

Ballistix 1866 Kit

Ballistix 1866MHz Kit

   

1333MHz Rear

1333MHz Rear

1866MHz Rear

1866MHz Rear

 

Another physical difference is that the DDR3-1866 kit comes with a sticker that looks like a heat-spreader. The truth is that both of these kits are low-voltage at 1.35v and neither will likely generate enough heat to require a heat-spreader, but the Ballistix kit tries to look a bit fancier and edgier with their “Ballistix Sport” sticker. At the end of the day, the sticker isn’t worth the extra $12 – but hopefully the increased performance will be.

Closer inspection reveals that the basic DDR3-1333 kit comes with Crucial RAM with clear markings where we don’t really see any markings on the Ballistix kit – other than the Ballistix markings on each package.

1333MHz Chips

1333MHz Chips

1866MHz Chips

1866MHz Chips

 

Each chip is a 512MB package that is teamed up with another 15 identical packages to make up the 8GB per stick capacity. The chips cover both sides of the modules and there is little room for much else on the PCB. As you can see in the images below, they are laid out well and we’ve included a couple of close-ups of the actual chips.

With all of that out of the way, we’ll take a quick stop and check out the features and specifications for these kits before we jump right into testing.


Features:

The follow list of features and specifications have been pulled from the Crucial site and posted below for your convenience. Please check here for all the detailed information for the DDR3-1333 kit and here for the DDR3-1866 kit. Please make sure to check back with the manufacturer’s site for all the updated information including compatibility.

 

DDR3 PC3-10600 Memory Module Specs:

  • Part Number: CT2KIT102464BF1339
  • Module Size: 16GB kit (8GBx2)
  • Package: 204-pin SODIMM
  • Feature: DDR3 PC3-10600
  • Specs: DDR3 PC3-10600 • CL=9 • Unbuffered • NON-ECC • DDR3-1333 • 1.35V • 1024Meg x 64

 

DDR3 PC3-14900 Memory Module Specs:

  • Part Number: BLS2K8G3N18AES4
  • Module Size: 16GB kit (8GBx2)
  • Package: Ballistix 204-pin SODIMM
  • Feature: DDR3 PC3-14900
  • Specs: DDR3 PC3-14900 • 10-10-10-30 • Unbuffered • NON-ECC • DDR3-1866 • 1.35V • 1024Meg x 64

 

On the next page, we’ll start plugging these kits into our test machine as we continue on with the performance part of the review.


Test Setup:

For this test, I'm using a new Lenovo ThinkPad T540p. This system comes pretty loaded with a Core i7-4800MQ processor and supports 16GB of DDR3. According to the information I was able to dig up on the processor, it can only handle DDR3-1600 memory, but according to the CPU-Z screenshots, it can actually handle 1866MHz memory without issues.

CPU-Z Main CPU-Z Mainboard

 

This CPU can Turbo-boost up to 3.7GHz and it should be more than adequate to push both kits of RAM if we can get it up to speed as indicated in the images below. You'll notice in the image of the Ballistix SPD below, that the memory is rated at PC3-14200 – not PC3-14900. This is because of the JEDEC specification while the XMP profiles (which were properly detected at set) allow it to run right at PC3-14900 without any adjustments in our BIOS.

CPU-Z Memory 1333MHz CPU-Z Memory 1866MHz

 

 
Core i7
CPU
Intel Core i7-4800MQ @ 2.7GHz (Turbo 3.7GHz)
Motherboard
Lenovo T540p / 20BECTO1WW
Memory
Crucial PC3-10600 DDR3-1333 CL9 16GB Kit
Crucial Ballistix PC3-14900 DDR3-1866 CL10 16GB Kit
Graphics
NVIDIA GT730M
Cooling
Stock
Hard Drives
Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 500GB 7,200rpm
Operating System
Windows 8.1 Pro x64
Notes
All Drivers/Software up to date

 

CPU-Z 1333MHz SPD CPU-Z SPD 1866MHz

 

As there isn't any adjustments we can do in the BIOS to change the RAM timings, we ran the memory at stock speeds with stock timings as correctly detected by the BIOS. We ran the DDR3-1333 kit at 9-9-9-24 1T. The DDR3-1866 kit was correctly detected and benchmarks were ran at the faster speed, but slower timings of 10-10-10-32 1T.

By looking at the SPD image above for the Ballistix kit, it has the ability to run (in theory) at up to 2220MHz at CL12 and an amazing 2400MHz at CL13. Those numbers in no way mean that the memory can run at those speeds, but with high-quality DDR3 modules that are rated to run in hot environments at low-voltage, it’s entirely possible. That being said, let’s leave the world of the theoretical and jump into reality as we start the benchmarks on the next page.

On the next page we'll start running some benchmarks to see how the memory stacks up against each other.


Benchmarking - AIDA64:

As we begin benchmarking the DDR3 kits against each other, it is important to note that we fully expect the DDR3-1866 to outperform the DDR3-1333 kit with stock timings. Our goal here is to show the different that better RAM can make in a notebook PC and how performance scales on the mobile platform. There are not a lot of reviews available of notebook memory and while we always insist of having great memory in our desktop PCs, often we settle for mainstream memory in our portables. Hopefully this memory will perform much better than the average 16GB kit and make us glad we spent the extra $13 on this kit.

Each of the benchmarks were ran a minimum of three times each with the results being averaged and charted below. These numbers are as accurate and as fair as we can possibly get. The only thing that was changed between the benchmarks was the RAM itself. We never changed out any other system components, software updates or made any other changes.

AIDA64 Performance

Right off the bat this synthetic benchmarks shows a lot more performance out of the Ballistix kit and while I did expect to see better performance numbers, I really didn't expect to see the Ballistix kit perform this much better. While the rating is for about 4.5GB/s better memory bandwidth, we actually are seeing closer to 8GB/s bandwidth gains. I’m sure that we're gaining the extra speed due to the improved latency of the Ballistix modules as well.

 

Benchmarking - MaxxMEM2:

This is a new benchmark for us at BCCHardware and while it’s not new at all, we wanted to make sure that some of the other benchmarks weren't optimized for specific performance profiles and tried to diversify to ensure accuracy in our results. As you can see in the chart below, MaxxMEM2 gives us a more realistic score on the memory performance improvement and here we are seeing much closer - and more realistic results. I’m not saying that AIDA64 is fudging their numbers, but I am saying that different methods of testing and different benchmarking algorithms make a difference - obviously.

MaxxMEM2 Performance

 

Benchmarking - SiSoft Sandra 2014:

As we wrap up our synthetic benchmark section, we take a look at the numbers that SiSoftware's Sandra benchmarks shows us. This benchmark seems to agree with AIDA64 that the new DDR3-1866 memory is significantly better than the slower DDR3-1333 kit.  We see "Float" performance up by 6GB/s and a very similar result with "Integer" performance as well. No matter how you slice it, the faster memory is much faster - if your system supports it.

SiSoftware Performance

 

On the next page we’ll cover a few real-world benchmarks such as Cinebench 3D rendering as well as some HD video encoding to see if faster memory makes a bit impact on these real world applications.


Benchmarking - Cinebench 11.5:

We've used Cinebench for years to test CPU performance as well as video card and memory performance. In some systems, memory plays a large roll - if the other components are plenty fast. In other situations where the CPU and memory are fast, the video system is the bottleneck. Cinebench tests both CPU and OpenGL rendering so we do gain a bit better insight into what to expect and if memory plays much of a roll in this performance.

Even though this is "real-world" rendering, keep in mind that your results will vary from system to system.

Cinebench

As you can see above, OpenGL performance is identical with both kits, so that clearly isn't the point of contention here. Where we do see any difference is in CPU performance which relies much more heavily on the memory. While the performance gains are a mere 0.33 in favor of the Ballistix DDR3-1866 memory, and that actually translates to 5% performance increase - just based on the memory alone. That isn't anything to get all crazy-excited about, but it is a gain that you may see over time - especially if you are rendering large projects.

 

Benchmarking - x.264 HD:

Our last benchmark is x.264 and this benchmark simply encodes video as fast as it can and keeps track of the total frames per second. I'll admit, I was expecting a bit more difference in the two kits, ast the difference was a mere 1.3 frames per second. This does translate to a little more that 2% performance improvement over the stock DDR3-1333 kit, but again, it's nothing too crazy at all and actually falls in the cracks as it is within margin of error.

x.264 HD

 

On the last page, we'll wrap up with our final thoughts on these kits.


Final Thoughts:

There has been a very large shift over the last few years away from desktop PCs and into the notebook market. These portable PCs are much more powerful and a lot more portable as Ultrabooks have really taken off. With all that said, notebook memory doesn't really get a lot of press and this is a shame.

The focus on portable computers certainly has increased and we now have a wide range of systems that sip power and extend to massive desktop replacement workstations. Even though we focus a lot of this segment, we tend to forget that these machines can actually be upgraded and improved. Crucial hasn't forgot this though and they have a wide selection of DDR3 kits that range from simple 2GB sticks - all the way up to 8GB sticks that are paired up in 16GB kits.

 

While most people will be more than happy with a large 16GB DDR3-1333MHz, the benefit of having faster memory in certain machines is undeniable. The Crucial Ballistix DDR3-1866 kit is a very good choice for computers that support XMP memory profiles and in systems such as the Intel NUC where BIOS settings can be tweaked and overclocked, this memory would really shine. In our test machine from Lenovo, the memory really shines in all of the synthetic benchmarks that measure raw memory performance and don’t take into account other bottlenecks and architecture limitations. In our real-world tests, the performance improvement is measurable, but not clearly as noticeable as it was in the earlier benchmarks.

Does that mean that the Crucial Ballistix DDR3-1866 CL10 kit is a waste of money? I don't think so at all and here's why. It costs a mere $13 more than a much slower kit and offers a lot more performance and flexibility in other systems. When I buy a laptop computer, I generally move my better RAM from a previous machine to the new machine and if you can get better RAM for a mere $13 more, this is a great performance investment to make.

If you want to move this RAM to another system or keep it in your laptop, you won't be disappointed at all. The performance is fantastic, the warranty is great and a 16GB kit is plenty good enough for most gaming laptops and portable workstations. There really is no downside with the Ballistix DDR3-1866 kit. If you have to pinch your pennies though, the Crucial DDR3-1333 kit is still a worthy choice as it does very well in real-world tests, but it may be a bottleneck in terms of performance down the road.

My money is on the Ballistix DDR3-1866 kit from Crucial.

 

Pros:
  • Extra performance for a little extra money
  • High quality RAM
  • Great packaging
  • 1.35v Low Voltage modules
  • XMP Profiles

 

Cons:

  • XMP not compatible with many laptops

 

I'd like to thank Crucial for sending out these kits for us to test and compare. If you have any questions, comments or general feedback, please feel free to post it in the forum at the link below.