Crucial PC4000 Ballistix Tracer 2GB - 2GB vs 1GB Gaming

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Product: 2GB Kit (2x 1GB) PC4000 Ballistix Tracer
Provided By: Crucial Technology
Price: $451.99USD Reg. - $406.79 Sale

Introduction:

A few weeks ago, I made a plea to several large memory manufactures regarding a series of 2GB ideas that I'd like to explore and publish.  Crucial was quick to respond and wanted to be a part of this series.  Who am I to say no?  They shipped over a nice matching pair of 1GB PC4000 sticks of Ballistix Tracer for a total of 2GB that we're going to look at briefly, then compare with our previous 1GB kit (2x 512MB) of PC4000 Ballistix memory.  In this article, we're not going to look at the memory extensively but it will be more of a comparison and what you can expect when you change nothing else in your system.

Don't worry, we are going to take a look at this memory and let you know what it can do, but it will be compared to the 1GB kit mentioned previously.  All benchmarks will be ran with the same timings across both kits to level the playing field and show us what that extra 1024MB of RAM is doing for us. . . but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ballistix Tracer - First Look:

Feature Shot
 Feature Shot

Ballistix Tracer
 Ballistix Tracer

Tracer memory has a much nicer look that Crucial's regular Ballistix memory.  They have a nice black aluminum heatspreader on this RAM instead of the yellow gold look on the non-tracer.  Both versions have a black 6-layer PCB and use Micron chips labeled "Ballistix".

Crucial's Ballistix Tracer memory is designed for modders and enthusiasts that want performance and some flash.  This memory has two rows of chasing LED's that increase with speed according to memory load and usage as well as some "Ground Effect" LED's that light up your DIMM slots.  While this may seem like a lame idea, it sure makes the DFI LP series motherboards look pretty.


 "Ground Effect" LEDS

Activity LEDS
 Activity LEDS

Specs & Info:

As previously mentioned, this is PC4000 or DDR500.  It runs at 250MHz effectively 500MHz with default SPD timings of 3-4-4-8 1T at 2.8v.  You will be happy to know that the kit I've got on the bench today can also run PC3200 at 2-2-2-5 1T at 2.6v.  While this is not an overclocking review, we were able to run this memory up to 277MHz at 3-3-3-8 with 2.8v.  This puts our 3000+ at a nice 2.5GHz up from 1.8GHz and greatly improves system performance all around.  Below are the rest of the specs from Crucial:

  • Part Number: BL2KIT12864L503
  • Module Size: 2GB kit (1GBx2)
  • Package: Ballistix Tracer 184-pin DIMM (with LEDs)
  • Feature: DDR PC4000
  • Configuration: 128Meg x 64
  • Error Checking: NON-ECC
  • Speed: DDR500
  • Voltage: 2.8V
  • Memory Timings: 3-4-4-8
  • Specs: DDR PC4000 • 3-4-4-8 • Unbuffered • NON-ECC • DDR500 • 2.8V • 128Meg x 64

Check out the test system and testing information on the next page before we begin the gaming!



    Test Setup:

     

    For the comparitive tests following, we used the memory's default SPD timings of 3-4-4-8 1T at 250MHz by overclocking our 3000+ Venice CPU to 8x250MHz = 2.0GHz.  The HTT multiplier was set to 4.0x to keep the 1GHz HTT link.  When performing 1GB and then 2GB tests, the only thing that was done to the test system was to change memory.  We didn't update drivers, add game patches or tweak the memory.

    To try and showcase the benefits of an extra GB of RAM we are testing two things in this article - Load times and Frame Per Second scores.  Load times are taken by stopwatch and three runs are averaged to ensure accuracy.  Keep in mind that we're also using 2x 120GB Hitachi drives in RAID 0.  Our load times may be faster than those taken from a single drive.  FPS is measured using built-in benchmark programs, timedemos, or a linear run through a minute of a game level using FRAPS.  These numbers will give you an idea of how extra memory affected performane on our system using these games.  Your results will no doubt vary. 

    While we've shown on the previous page that this memory can run much faster than the default values, for comparison purposes we are running at the default PC4000.

    Below is a 6.6MB DivX of this memory in action.  The video is taken when running Everest Home benchmarks.  The fastest action is observed when running the "Write" test, with the next fastest action taking place during the "Read" test.  Finally, the slow cycle is the "Latency" test.  Please note that these modules are not sound activated. . . although a little music can set the mood.

    You can notice the bright spots on the DIMM sockets thanks to the Ground Effect LED's.

    2GB Ballistix Tracer In Action
     2GB Ballistix Tracer In Action

    Before we get into the comparative testing between 1GB and 2GB, here are some shots of the Everest Benchmark to whett your appetite.

    Everest Read
    Everest Read

    Everest Write
    Everest Write

    Everest Latency
     Everest Latency

Finally head on to the testing!


 

Game Tests:

Battlefield 2

Battlefield 2

We'll go through the test games alphabetically and start with Battlefield 2.  This is a PC (Poorly Coded) game that is rumored to love 2GB of memory.  The graphics are decent, but not groundbreaking, and the levels are well written.  You either love it or hate it, but we're not here to discuss the game, we're here to show you the numbers.

I ran a couple of pre-scripted timedemos from Anandtech and Guru3D and used some batch files to run these benchmarks.  Anandtech's timedemo is from a raised perspective and fails to show close detail, and the Guru3D timedemo is of a single player in a map.  I decided to take the time and record my own timedemo which shows a bit more realistic game action.  Here's how it stacks up:

Battlefield 2 Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

As you can see, load times are dramatically reduced in Battlefield 2 with the inclusion of an extra GB of RAM.  Instead of waiting up to 50 seconds for a level to load, times are now reduced to as little as 26 seconds.  Framerates take a nice jump as well.  Anandtech demo showed a 44% improvement and the BCCHW demo showed a nice 33% improvement.  I was quite surprised by these results in Battlefield 2, but don't actually expect this performance curve to hold throughout the other games.


 

 

Call of Duty 2 - Demo

Call of Duty 2 Demo

At the time of writing, Call of Duty 2 is not yet available, but Activision has released a demo that is very popular.  Call of Duty 2 appears to have all the mayhemic elements of the first game and war is everywhere.  This demo showcases the high detail textures and non-stop gunfire, explosions, and madness that is Second World War.  We ran the tests below at exactly the same settings, and just swapped out the 1GB kit for a 2GB kit.

CoD2 Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

The Call of Duty 2 Demo shows some performance improvements in a 2GB configuration when it comes to loading levels, but performance is pretty much flat to .1 FPS lower with 2GB.  This game appears to be CPU and GPU bound as the 6600GT SLI setup couldn't average a full 34FPS at 1024x768 all high detail.  If you plan to be a big CoD2'er, 1GB of RAM will do you nicely.


 

Counter Strike: Source - Stress Test

CS:Source Stress Test

Counter Strike: Source has almost a cult-like following and this article would be remiss if it did not cover at least the CS:Source Stress Test from Valve.  Like all the other benchmarks, this test was loaded and ran a minimum of three times and averaged to ensure accuracy.  Notice the performance numbers below:

CS:Source Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

Performance between 1GB to 2GB is pretty flat in this benchmark.  What I do find noteworthy is that there is a performance difference.  Valve has done a great job coding the Half-Life 2 and other Source projects to run very well on older as well as top-end hardware.  Load times are not affected at all by an extra GB of memory, but in-game FPS do get a minor boost.  We are only talking about 2.5% faster FPS, but it is consistent and measurable.


Day Of Defeat: Source

DoD:Source HDR

Just because we've seen one Source project already doesn't mean we've seen them all.  The Source engine is a very powerful and customizable engine.  There has been lots of hype lately with HDR and the upcoming Lost Coast level.  Fortunately HDR gaming is already available from Valve and it comes in the flavor of Day Of Defeat: Source.  For this benchmark we turned up the detail to maximum and used HDR to the max.  We ran at 1024x768 with no AA or AF and fired up some intense multiplayer DoD_Flash.  Load times were achieved by running a local server on one machine and then connecting to it over the LAN.  FPS were taken when playing the same level on a local (Calgary) server with a total of 12 players.

DoD:Source Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

Day Of Defeat: Source has a lot more textures to load than the simpler CS:Source stress test.  When running 2GB of memory we do see faster load times, and if you want to jump into a level before your friends, you will want to grab that extra GB.  There is a five second difference, and while not groundbreaking - it is noticeable.  As far as FPS goes, it's pretty much a no show.  There is no difference in our benchmark as far as frames per second and having the extra GB of memory.  This game is CPU and GPU limited and performance doesn't seem to hinge on amount of memory.


 

Doom 3

Doom 3

Doom 3 is one of the most system killing games around.  There is a massive amount of textures and polygons as well as some of the niftiest pixel and vertex shaders around.  Overall, certain levels can run like a dog - even on a decent system.  For our Doom 3 benchmarks we run with the detail set at "Ultra" and turn AA and AF off to let the GPU and CPU run as free as they can with the massive textures.  We ran both the stock included "demo1" timedemo as well as the VIA_VGA_D3_Bench timedemo that requires a map from VIA as well.  All of these timedemos were ran several times to ensure accuracy and load times were taken when using the "usecache" parameter.  This caches all of the levels textures to RAM.  Theoretically, more RAM will improve load times so the game doesn't have to load textures to your Hard Drive swap file.

Doom 3 Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

This game turned up several intersting things when it comes to memory amount and gaming.  Load times were slightly improved overall - although very little.  When it comes to raw gaming performance it's a hit and miss thing.  The default "demo1" benchmark actually takes a hit in framerates, but the larger more complex VIA level has almost a 9% performance increase when adding an extra 1024MB of RAM.  My conclusion?  It's inconclusive.  Although you may see a performance hit in some areas of the game, when it comes to large, busy levels extra memory is a good thing.


Dreadnought Demo

Dreadnought Demo

Dreadnought is technology demo from Torc Interactive that relies heavily on AMD 64-bit processors and large amounts of memory to get things done.  This demo can run on 32-bit systems as well, but runs and looks the best when using the "64-bit enhanced mode".  This benchmark was ran using high detail at 1024x768 using the "64-bit enhanced" mode.  Game detail is exceptional, but you will need some serious CPU power to make it really smooth in fast action sequences.

Recommended Specs for 64-bit Enhanced Play:

AMD Athlonâ„¢ 64 FX processor
- Windows 64
- 2 Gigabyte RAM
- Radeon 9800 256MB card or GeForce 6800
- Soundblaster Audigy and Above

If you want the demo yourself, head on over and grab it from Filecloud here.

 

Dreadnought Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

One thing that I noticed immediately when loading up this technology demo is that it loads painfully slow.  Slow barely describes the loading time when it comes running in 64-bit enhanced mode with 1GB of memory.  It took 2:41 to load a level.  Running 2GB of memory greatly decreased the wait, but it still took a full minute and a half to load the level.  There is a lot of uncompressed textures which really slow things down for sure, but we are running a RAID 0 array to eliminate some of this bottleneck.

You'll notice that framerates take a nice little jump when running 2GB as well.  This extra memory helps smooth things up when opening a door in the level.  With 1GB of memory, the game pauses for a second while it loads up more information from the drive.  2GB allows more memory caching which is much faster and makes gameplay more enjoyable.   There is about a 13% performance improvement, but for me the improvement is far beyond that as stuttering and pausing is very irritating.

We've got another page of games to take a look at so carry on!


Far Cry 32-bit & 64-bit

FarCry

FarCry really needs very little introduction.  Back when we were waiting for the stunning visuals of Half-Life 2 and the creapy bumpily beasts of Doom3, Crytek surprised us by coming out of nowhere with FarCry.  The games details and massive amount of polygons when running outside levels just astounded us.  This game set a new standard of how games can and should look.  It did require new hardware to run really well at high detail, but it was worth it for the serious Shooter fan.

For our benchmarks we ran the 1.33 patch when testing the 32-bit version and then for the 64-bit tests we patched to the official 64-bit patch and installed the extra 64-bit content pack.  Both versions exist on the same system without issues and you can choose to either run 32-bit or 64-bit FarCry.  We benchmarked a few of Ubisofts timedemos - Regulator, Volcano and Research.

32-bit FarCry Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

We first tested the 32-bit version to see how things would work as a baseline for 64-bit performance.  There is a slight improvement on level loading times when running an extra GB of memory and a very slight FPS increase as well.  The framerate increase is so small that would likely never notice it in-game, but it is measureable through a benchmark.  Each benchmark was ran a minimum of three times and averaged so that we could reduce the margin of error.  On the Volcano level, the 4+ second faster load time is can actually be noticed and I like faster loads.  Fast loads mean more fragging faster!

Next up we take a look at 64-bit FarCry performance.

64-bit FarCry Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

64-bit performance is basically a reflection of 32-bit performance - only slightly faster.  Overall FPS is faster across the board and even level load times are slightly faster.  I don't understand exactly why levels load faster when running 64-bit FarCry, but all times were taken at least 3 times.  Performance in loading levels and framerates takes a minor step up when running 2GB of memory in FarCry - 32-bit and 64-bit, but this game alone is not worth the money to buy the 2GB kit.


 

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2

Moving on to Half-Life 2 we drop into the freaky Ravenholm.  I know, "We don't go to Ravenholm", but if you want a level that's intense and keeps you on the edge of your chair - this is it.  While it is a little dark, there are a lot of polygons, shaders and enemies to keep your computer toasty.  This game is one of the best coded games I've played as it performs very well on a wide range of systems.  At this point it is my #1 pick for First Person Shooter Single Player Game.  Enough lauding, let's fire up some RAM tests.

Half-Life 2 Performance
(Click for a larger chart)

For this benchmark I fired up the Ravenholm level and took a very linear path through the buildings, and into a large room of head-crab plagued zombies.  I recorded the framerates using FRAPS and averaged several runs of this path.  As I previously mentioned, the run was linear and the FPS never varied more that 2% per run.  The totals were averaged and listed above.

As you can see, this game runs fine with 1GB of memory, but does in fact run slightly better with 2GB.  Load times see a 1.3 second performance improvement and framerate takes a 6% increase.  At over 110FPS you'll never notice the increase but it is there.  Again, HL2 is not a game that will make you rush out and buy more RAM . . . if you already have 1GB.


Crucial's Memory Advisor finds the right memory!

 

Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004 is a fast-paced game that is more taxing on the CPU that today's current GPU's.  It's getting a little dated, but the game itself is still a great game and it plays well across a wide array of systems.  This game actually is playable on Linux out of the box, but our tests take place on a Windows XP Professional x64 system.

The benchmark score listed below is taken from Nicao's UT2KxBench program.  This program runs a couple of flyby's and a couple of botmatches and generates a score based on these numbers.  The version that has been released to the public is UT2K3Bench 2.0, and the version we used is UT2KxBench 2.1.  This version is not available for download at this time.  The scores below are an arbitrary number that show comparative performance between 1GB and 2GB.

UT2K4 Performance
(Click for larger chart)

As you can see above, the levels load very fast regardless of memory size.  However, when running 2GB of memory, it loads faster than when running 1GB of memory by 3 seconds - which equates to 33%.  That's quite a boost.  As far as framerates go, there is an increase, but when running over 150FPS, you don't really notice the extra 10FPS.  The benchmark shows an improvement, but it won't be noticeable especially when running at 1280x1024 or lower.

Finally, head on over and we'll draw some conclusions.


Conclusion:

It wasn't that long ago that people were scoffed for having 512MB of memory in their systems.  Suddenly that figure rose to 1GB, and today we don't think it is unreasonable to have 2GB of memory in a high-end gaming system.  We've seen through the benchmarks on the pages previous that 2GB is not a requirement for most of todays games, but there are definately some games that benefit greatly.  Games like Battlefield 2 and the Dreadnought Technology demo gain massive performance improvement from extra memory, and the games of tomorrow will no doubt benefit as well.

With Microsoft stating that Windows Vista should have 2GB of memory to run efficiently on a 64-bit processor, the days of 2GB in mainstream computers is not that far off.  Hopefully this article showed you what you can expect today in terms of performance gains while gaming, and it indicates what you can expect tomorrow.

If you do go with 2GB of memory, Crucial Ballistix Tracer is a great way to go as this memory performs great at PC3200 with 2-2-2-5 1T timings and it overclocks very well to DDR550 and higher with stock timings of 3-3-3-8 1T.  The days of large modules being sluggish are certainly over, and I'm glad that Crucial is running with the leaders at the front of the pack.

Let's break it down regarding this memory:

Pros:

  • Decent timings at stock DDR500.
  • Runs at PC3200 with tight timings at 2.6v.
  • Nice and flashy LED action.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Higher priced than some of the competition.

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
10/10
Software Pack:
n/a
Stability:
10/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.6

 

It's been a while since I've been this impressed with a product to cross the bench.  This memory can run at tight timings at PC3200 and really fly at PC4400 with 3-3-3-8 timings.  This is an Uber Pic and a recommeded product for sure.

I'd like to thank Crucial for firing this memory our way for the review.  It impressed me a whole bunch.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, please head on over and post them in the forum at the Comments link below.