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Most of our readers are familiar with performance memory, yet many still don’t understand that the vast majority of it is rated at overclocked settings. Standard DDR3 runs at 1.50V, and components rated at higher voltages are likely to have slower, standard memory under those heat spreaders. When you pay extra for performance RAM, what you’re really paying for is a guarantee that the modules will operate at a speed beyond the ratings of its components.
Performance guarantees are nice, but paying someone else to validate an overclock can put a big dent in the value a mid-priced system represents. After all, most builders don't pay extra for a CPU that has been validated by a third party to run at higher speeds, yet very few overclocking enthusiasts seek better value by risking the chance of a “poor yield” in exchange for a lower price. We willingly take that small risk with processors, so why not apply the same principle to RAM?
Unfortunately, finding the right overclocking RAM isn’t as easy as finding the right processor, simply because there are so many more choices. While many hardcore folks maintain a list of the best memory ICs, manufacturers don’t normally tell you which parts they use (they often change from one week to the next, depending on supply). Further complicating matters is the fact that many manufacturers routinely swap-out components without changing the model number on the package. Thus, the best way to find the best-value overclocking memory is to test everything.
We don’t expect our readers to go out and buy every available low-cost kit, while relying on manufacturers to provide samples could result in specially-prepared or hand-picked parts that inaccurately represent the retail product. But putting the words “budget” and “overclocking” in the same sentence makes it hard to arrange a truly-representative comparison, so we instead logged on to Newegg.com and bought the six module sets that were available for less than $80 as of October 1.
As memory prices continue to trend upward, some of the parts we bought now cost over $80. Yet surprisingly, some have gone down in price. All of these are still inexpensive, so let’s take a closer look at what our limited funds bought.
Ed.: We're giving away nine 4GB DDR3 memory kits to go along with this story; six of which you'll find on the following pages. We've tried to simplify the contest process (we've done a ton of them lately, in case you've missed them) with a Google form, the link to which you'll find right here. For the contest details, check out the last page of Thomas' round-up.