Corsair PC3500 XMS Review
Reviewed by: Bosco
Reviewed on: February 8, 2003
: GF City Computers
Price: $180 USD
Anyone who has been even a fringe member or reader of the hardware enthusiast community in the past 2 years has heard the name Corsair. They have a solid reputation for delivering high quality high performance memory modules. Today I'm going to give you a quick look at their PC3500 XMS Platinum CAS2 product, from the perspective of upgrading and what, if any, gains you might see - with particular focus on overclocking results.
I recently purchased 2 - 256MB modules of the memory from a Canadian online retailer, who was unaware that the product was going to be reviewed - my point being that these are not pretested "golden samples", they are retail product the same as you might expect if you placed an order. I will be testing them on 2 motherboards - MSI's K7N2-L, with both a 1700+ TBred A and a 2100+ TBred B, and on an Asus P4PE with a 2.66 MHz chip.
I want to make very clear up front that the numbers you will see are not direct "apples to apples" comparisons - I used BOTH sticks of Corsair in all benchmarks, the comparisons are made against ONE 256MB stick of Kingston Value RAM with Winbond chips. Do take this into consideration when analyzing the scores. If this bothers you then it might not be in your best interests to continue reading.
Glad you're still with me. When, with trembling hands and racing heart, I opened the package, I was immediately impressed by the looks. There are 2 current versions, one with black heatspreaders and one with platinum (silver) heatspreaders. They are rated identically - I had read more than one forum thread in various places that stated the platinum would do higher numbers than the black, but this was late last year and that talk seems to have died away. I got the platinum anyways, a) just in case the talk had some merit and b) to fit the colour theme of an upcoming project. They aren't a shiny or glossy finish, just a very classy and understated ...... platinum. The heatspreaders are held on by a spring steel clip, and seem to be making full contact with the memory modules.
The camera flash exaggerates the holograph
According to Corsair's XMS web page, XMS stands for Extreme Memory Speed. These modules (rev 1.1) are rated at 2-3-3-7-T1 timings @ 434 MHz and a maximum of 2.8 volts. They test each module on an Abit KT-400 chipset board prior to shipping - this doesn't guarantee you'll reach the rated speed on your motherboard but should be a good general indicator. A quote from their website:
Testing parameters for XMS3500 CAS 2:
*NOTE: Taking your vdimm voltage over 2.8 can damage your module and will void its warranty.
They give lifetime warranty on all their products, and have additional support by way of their forums - most posts seem to be answered the same day.
On to the testing and benchmarks. As I stated in the introduction, this review is being approached from the perspective of "what might I gain if I upgrade", rather than being a full traditional review with a bazillion charts and tons of specs and jargon. Basically, what I'm doing is using Si-Soft Sandra 2003 memory benchmark and 3D Mark2001 SE build 330 to give a general sense of where things are at, as the speeds increase. The 2100+ was added into inventory very late in the testing phase and so I don't have numbers with the Kingston RAM for that cpu.
Cooling is all on air - default stock cooler on the P4, and the GlobalWin CAK4-88T on the AMD cpu's. The GlobalWin cooler is turning out to be NOT everything I had hoped it would, but that is a subject we will save for an upcoming review.
Dual Channel with ghetto northbridge setup
I told you this was going to be a quick one, the only benchmarks being used for this review are SiSoftSandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth buffered and 3D Mark 2001SE build 330. Once again, keep in mind that what you are seeing is 256MB of the Kingston vs 512 MB of the Corsair. If anything, I believe this makes it harder on the Corsair, as, in general, a system can run with stability easier on 1 dimm than on 2. I'll go processor by processor so you can see the scaling.
On the Kingston Value RAM, the best overclock I had been able to get out of the 1700+ TBred A was 10.5 X 166 = 1743 MHz, with quite relaxed 2.5-3-3-7 memory timings. The memory voltage options in the MSI K7N2-L's bios DO NOT WORK, this is a known issue, you get 2.6v VDimm no matter what you set it at - at least that is one variable taken out of the testing. Inserting the Corsair sticks in dimms 1 & 3 ultimately yielded a stable 11 X 169 = 1870 MHz, per CPUID. An extra 127 MHz, or 9% over default for the cpu - and with dual channel memory at 2-2-2-5 FAST timings. Bonus. I am certain that with better cpu cooling, higher numbers could be reached. And, nothing but a black screen when trying anything over 10.5 X 166 with the Kingston - well, it would boot into Windows occasionally at 169 fsb but was unstable on the desktop, even at 3-4-4-7 - most likely due to being unable to feed it more voltage. In all cases, memory is run in sync with front side bus on AMD cpus. For some reason, this cpu on this motherboard just hated fsb beyond 166.
The most I've been able to get out of my P4 2.66 and Asus P4PE on stock air cooling has been 155 X 20 = 3100 MHz. This is with DDR 388, 2.9v to the Kingston, and 2.5-3-3-7 timings. As I'm not willing to push the vcore beyond 1.75v without better cooling, I have ended up with the same overclock on the Corsair but with much better DDR413, 2-2-2-5, and only 2.6v to the RAM. I did boot into Windows and benchmarked SiSoft Sandra memory bandwidth at 160 fsb and 427DDR but neither more relaxed timings nor more voltage would make it stable for 3D benchmarks - likely a cpu bottleneck rather than a memory bottleneck, in my estimation. Please note that both 133 X 20 benchmarks are with DDR 355 and Turbo RAM and system timings.
I received a 2100+ TBred B very late in testing. I went straight to the Corsair modules with this one and wow is an appropriate word to use here. I am still testing, but as I write this I am at 182 X 13 = 2369 MHz per CPUID and 100% stable with 2-2-2-5 timings on dual channel and 1.775v (1.82-1.84v actual) to the cpu. 37% overclocked on mediocre air cooling anyone? Memory run in sync @ DDR 364, as no benefit will be found running higher memory clock asynchronously with front side bus.
Awesome. Believe the hype....well, if it's true maybe it's not hype? For sure the above testing has not stressed the very limits of this RAM - in the Intel case, it's cpu limitations. In the AMD case, it's motherboard limitations - or at least that is my belief, based on both personal experience and tons of reading in forums and reviews around the net. The Corsair PC3500 XMS gave me the ability to go well beyond all my previous bests.