We have done many RAM performance explorations in the past, as the industry has been quick with releasing ridiculously expensive memory products that are capable of running at impressive clock speeds—but without always delivering substantial performance benefits.
Our general opinion of high-end memory is pretty straightforward: premium RAM is highly important if you’re trying to squeeze the last bit of performance out of your system. In such a case you may even require high-end RAM to be able to support hardcore overclocked processor settings. However, the performance benefit delivered just by the main memory is typically small, making premium memory a must-have primarily for the affluent enthusiast market-only.
Our results show that faster memory and quicker timings both introduce performance advantages that are mostly visible in synthetic benchmarks, while the impact on real-life performance usually is small. Games benefit just a little, and you need applications that intensively tax the memory to find serious performance benefits.
While DDR3-1600 operating under tight timings will undoubtedly give you the best performance, and DDR3 below 1066 should not be used for the sake of performance, the best compromise clearly is DDR3-1333 at reasonable timings. In most benchmarks, the difference between 1600 and 1333 speeds is negligible, but 1333 would still give you a larger benefit than the tiny gap between 1333 and 1600. In addition, DDR3-1333 is about to become the performance mainstream level, meaning acceptable prices for low-latency memory kits.
What if… Processor Speed Comes into the Equation?
We couldn’t resist doing one more benchmark run at a slightly overclocked processor clock speed, which serves as a great example in the event that you decide to spend extra money on a faster processor rather than on premium memory. Overclocking the Phenom II X4 955 from 3.2 to 3.4 GHz results in a hypothetical Phenom II X4 965 at 3.4 GHz, which we might see some day. We used the slow DDR3-800 memory setup to show that a processor speed bump can actually do much more than any upgrade in memory speed. Click here for charts with higher clocked processor.