A-Data vs Crucial: Battle of the PC2-8500

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Product(s): A-Data Extreme Edition DDR2 1066+
                 Crucial Ballistix Tracer PC2-8500
Provided By: A-Data and Crucial
Price: ~$229CDN and $274CDN Respectively

Introduction:

Faster, better and hotter.  These three words describe today's computers and especially computer memory.  Not too long ago, Intel was the only ship sailing the DDR2 ocean, and now AMD has followed suit making DDR memory virtually obsolete.  Although many different speeds are available, today's Core 2 Duo systems love PC2-8500 memory that runs at 1066FSB.  This allows the memory to run at a 1:1 ratio with the CPU and offers the best performance.  AMD does very well with fast memory also, but like tighter timings but can easily handle DDR2-1066.  Today we will be looking at a couple of 2GB kits from A-Data and Crucial and see which one offers the best value and performance.  Both kits can be found online for well under $300CDN, and while the Crucial kit of Ballistix Tracer is more expensive, it also offers some added bling.  Stick around as we'll test out both kits.

A-Data
A-Data Sticks
 Crucial Sticks
Crucial Sticks

 

Specs & Features:

Both kits offer very similar features and run at  near identical specs.  A-Data has a rated voltage of 2.2v - 2.3v, while the Crucial Ballistix Tracer is rated at 2.2v.

A-Data Vitesta Extreme Edition DDR2 1066+ 2GB Kit Specs:

  • Suitable for: Desktop PC
  • 240 Pin Unbuffered-DIMM non-ECC
  • Configuration: 64Mx8
  • Bandwidth: 8.5GB/Sec (PC2 8500)
  • Timings: 5-5-5-15-2T
  • Voltage: 2.2V~2.3V
  • Supports nVIDIA EPP Technology
  • Suggested Platform: Intel 975X、P965(*); AMD AM2 (nForce 590 SLI)
  • Warranty: Lifetime Warranty
  • * For Asus P5B Series mobos, BIOS Settings "Write to Precharge Delay" should be set to 12+.

 


Crucial Ballistix Tracer PC2-8500 2GB Kit Specs:

  • Module Size: 2GB kit (1GBx2)
  • Package: Ballistix Tracer 240-pin DIMM (with LEDs)
  • DDR2 PC2-8500 (1066MHz)
  • Timings: 5-5-5-15
  • UNBUFFERED
  • NON-ECC
  • Voltage: 2.2V


Although the information is lean regarding the Crucial memory, both appear to be very similar.

On the next page we'll take a closer look at the memory kits.


Closer Look - A-Data:

The A-Data PC2-8500 is a pretty kit as far as memory kits go.  Our sample arrived in a RAM tray and came very well wrapped in bubble wrap.  Retail kits will ship much differently.  With the memory arriving as it did, it is hard to tell if the RAM was hand-picked by A-Data for us or if it will reflect the quality of product that consumers can expect over the shelf.  A-Data was contacted regarding this and they said that the memory was some sample memory they have around for testing and it should indeed reflect retail quality.

The 2GB kit of DDR2-1066+ looks very sharp with its green PCB and red aluminum heat spreaders.  A-Data has printed a bunch of information on the heat spreaders so you won't have any trouble remembering what memory you've got in your system.  Although it has the company name, and memory brand, it does fail to mention just what speed at which the modules are rated.  This is due primarily because these same heat spreaders go on many different speeds of memory at A-Data.

 

 A-Data Sticks - Close
A-Data Sticks - Close
 A-Data Sticks - Top & Side
A-Data Sticks - Top & Side

 

The heat spreaders are held on by a couple of small metal clips and some "frag" tape.  Close inspection showed that the tape and heat spreaders were making very good contact along the entire length of the module.  Thankfully, they were fairly easy to remove as well and we managed to find out what BGA chips that A-Data uses on these PC2-8500 modules.

 A-Data - Bare Stick
A-Data - Bare Stick
 A-Data - Micron D9
A-Data - Micron D9

 

Like many other companies that sell fast RAM, A-Data uses Micron D9 chips for their Extreme Edition memory.  I didn't know what to expect from A-Data memory, but Micron D9 chips bring my hopes up a whole bunch!


Closer Look - Crucial:

At the launch of their 10th Anniversay DDR2 modules, Crucial redesigned their heat spreaders and they now look much better than before.  Crucial has dropped the yellow heat spreader in favor of a much more stylish Black heat spreader that covers a black PCD.  The edges of the spreader are machine and this allows the shiny aluminum to show through and really catches your eye.  Across the face of each side of the heat spreader is the "Ballistix Tracer" logo done in yellow and orange which really pops from the background and looks good.

These modules arrived in the classic brown box from Crucial and were placed through their regular ordering system which shows that they are not hand-picked at all.  They are pulled off the shelf just like any other kit available - these sticks should reflect what you will get if you order from Crucial directly or from one of many retail outlets that carry Crucial products.

 Crucial Sticks - Profile
Crucial Sticks - Profile
 Crucial Sticks - Long Shot
Crucial Sticks Long Shot

 

What separates Ballistix Tracer from standard Ballistix memory is the fancy LED lights that are located on the top and bottom of each module.  Here's a clip from Crucial's site about their Tracer memory:

Ballistix Tracer memory is specifically built for performance enthusiasts and case modders who want to push the performance envelope while adding flash appeal to their boxes. The Ballistix line of high-performance memory modules features advanced speed grades, low latencies, and integrated aluminum heat spreaders. Ballistix Tracer memory features a black PCB, black integrated heat spreaders, and one or two rows of eight "chasing" red and green LEDs atop the module, circulating in a random pattern based on memory utilization. A custom-designed circuit relays bus activity to the LEDs, allowing them to accurately reflect usage of each memory module. In addition, eight blue ground effects LEDs emit a constant glow near the pins. 

We have managed to partially pull off a heat spreader to show more details on the Tracer PCB as well as what memory chips Crucial uses on these sticks.  You'd assume they use Micron memory, but you never know. . .

 Crucial Sticks - Top LED
Crucial Sticks - Top LED
 Crucial Sticks - Ballistix chips
Crucial Sticks - Ballistix BGA

 

When I managed to remove the heat spreader from one side of the module, I found that each chip has the word "Ballistix" screen printed over top of the other markings and couldn't read what chips Crucial used.  I tilted, squinted, got a light and even a magnifying glass to see what markings were under the "Ballistix" printing.  After a few minutes of frustration, I was able to identify the Micron logo and "D9" on the bottom row of one memory chip.  They are in fact D9 chips - same as the A-Data memory.

With both products packing Micron D9 chips can we expect identical performance?  On the next page we'll jump into testing and find out.


Test Setup:

We used our Athlon 64 setup because our Core 2 Duo system can't run memory as fast as the Athlon.  The MSI 975X Platinum motherboard has BIOS settings that allow for DDR2-1066 speeds, but when selected, the board will not POST.  This is a know issue with the motherboard and until we get a couple of new motherboards for testing memory we are a little limited.

 


Test Info & Overclocking:

With AMD systems the memory performance is directly related to the speed of the memory controller which is located on the CPU.  When you run DDR2-800 memory at 800MHz with a CPU speed of 2.0GHz (3800+ X2 Stock), you can expect a certain level of memory performance.  "Memory Performance" increases with increases to the CPU so if you run your memory at 800MHz at 3.0GHz (6000+ X2 Stock) you will score much higher on your memory performance benchmarks.  We have tried to eliminate this as much as possible and have tried to use multipliers on our K9N Platinum motherboard that allow us to keep the CPU at relatively the same speed while increasing memory speeds.  This is not always possible so the results are not based entirely on "memory performance", but also on CPU speed as well.

 

One way we can test the memory is to tighten the timings and see how fast it can run at some popular settings.  We used both 3-3-3-9 and 4-4-4-12 settings with a maximum voltage of 2.3v.  We didn't bother testing 5-5-5-15 timings as our motherboard was not capable of pushing the memory any farther than we could reach at 4-4-4-12. 

Max Clocks
Max Clocks

 

We managed to get the A-Data to run stable at 800MHz using 3-3-3-9 timings and a voltage of 2.3 volts.  We had our system clocked in at 10*280=2.8Ghz in this test.  Everything was 100% stable for benchmarking and Memtest.  The Crucial Ballistix Tracer managed to do a little better and reached a top speed of 867MHz DDR at 3-3-3-9 timings.  This was also done at 2.3v but with a CPU speed of 10*270=2.7GHz.

At 4-4-4-12, we squeezed an impressive 1028MHz DDR out of the A-Data modules by running the CPU at 9*285=2.56GHz.  The Crucial kit once again managed a slightly higher clock and topped our board out at 1080MHz DDR with a CPU speed of 10*260=2.6GHz.  Although the CPU speeds and multipliers don't match up, this is the only way we could increase the memory clock and keep our CPU stable.  As I mentioned before, we need a couple of new motherboards to really test out memory to the max.  In the future if we secure a pair of 680i SLI motherboards for our Core 2 setup, we'll revisit the memory performance and see how high we can take the PC2-8500 kits.

 

Performance:

Below are a couple of  graphs showing memory performance at the maximum settings listed above.  Notice that the A-Data kit shows faster DDR2-800 performance because of the CPU:Memory ratio and higher CPU speed.

 SiSoft Performance
SiSoft Performance
 Everest Performance
Everest Performance

 

The charts above really speak for themselves.  Both kits offer very good performance and with the recent drop in memory prices are pretty good value all around.  Both kits can handle tight timings at slower clock speeds and are very well matched to today's processors.  The Crucial kit edges out the kit from A-Data in clock speeds and therefore takes the performance lead in almost all cases as well.  The only exception is the 3-3-3-9 test where the CPU was faster on the A-Data test.

  It's the one!

Conclusion:

Both the kit from A-Data and the kit from Crucial offer excellent performance at a price that is somewhat affordable.  Both kits use Micron D9 chips although it appears that Micron has kept better and faster chips for themselves as their memory clocks higher at tighter timings.  Either way, you are getting Micron quality no matter what name is on the heat spreader.  Both kits are great, but you have to ask yourself this question: "Are LEDs on my memory and a bit better performance worth an extra $50?"  If so, you'll want to head down the Crucial road and pick up some Ballistix Tracer.  If you want to save some money and still get some great performing memory, you may want to consider the A-Data kit.  With a price of $230 or lower, this kit is certainly for the value conscious consumer who still demands great performance.

As far as rating goes, both kits score a top pick and compare side-by-side as you can see below.

Top Pick

BCCHardware.com Rating
 
A-Data PC2-8500
Crucial PC2-8500
Quality:
9/10
10/10
Performance:
9/10
10/10
Software Pack:
n/a
n/a
Stability:
10/10
10/10
Features:
9/10
10/10
Value:
9/10
8/10
Total Score:
9.2
9.6

 

I'd like to thank A-Data and Crucial for sending these kits our way for this review.  A-Data surprised me with a top-quality kit that offers great performance.  No surprise about Crucial - it just plain rocks!

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