DDR3 desktop memory has been around for nearly two years, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that we finally got to see the first platform specifically designed to take advantage of its increased data rate. With an on-die memory controller that supports triple-channel mode, Core i7 processors have produced the biggest memory bandwidth improvement we’ve seen since RDRAM met Netburst. But once again, a transition that should have been smooth has been met by memory manufacturers who had other ideas.
The current problem is one of voltage. While DDR3 is specified to use 1.50 V, manufacturers found that the memory controllers of Core 2-generation chipsets could easily handle far more. Rather than try to produce the fastest possible memory within a relatively small voltage range, most vendors instead chose to use slower parts with extra voltage tolerance to produce highly-overclocked products for the enthusiast market. When Intel announced shortly before its Core i7 launch that the memory controller should not encounter more than 1.65 V, a quick look at the market revealed that only a single manufacturer was producing DDR3-1600 modules for standard-voltage configurations at that time.
What followed was a mad rush by memory brands to re-label "fast" memory at whatever slower speed was required to get it stable at the new voltage limit. In the process, this "lower-voltage" memory was packed in triple-channel kits to differentiate it from the heavily-overclocked dual-channel kits sold for previous-generation systems. Super-fast DDR3-2000 disappeared for a time, and DDR3-1866 took nearly a month to emerge in 6 GB triple-channel kits, as nearly every existing product was reduced by one or two speed grades to stabilize it under a lower-voltage ceiling.
December finally brought us high-capacity modules at DDR3-1600 and higher speeds in triple-channel kits, and we quickly rounded up as many of those high-end kits as we could for today’s mega-comparison.