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Mainstream-Ready? DDR3-1600 Shootout

Mainstream ready?

How do you define mainstream in an enthusiast market dominated by value-seeking overclockers ? Everyone loves performance. Yet, even in enthusiast circles the average buyer is looking for the best value. A memory budget limit of $200 should be reasonable for a mid-priced performance PC, and kits over $300 should be reserved for big-spenders, but that leaves a huge grey area in the middle.

Vendors and readers alike have been asking for a DDR3-1600 (PC3-12800) shootout ever since our DDR3-1333 Comparison, but we waited for these parts to reach mainstream prices before obliging. By the time 2 GB kits finally reached out price point, the reality of living with Windows Vista and its huge memory demands had finally set in.

That left us in another tight spot. Should we compare the sub-$200 2 GB kits an average enthusiast can afford, or should we instead choose the 4 GB capacity that performance buyers really want ? Capacity was the dominating factor for us.

The average buyer might instead choose a DDR2 configuration, but that would only be a short-term solution. Intel’s new socket is on the way, with mainstream parts following the high-end release by only a few short months. Today’s article comes in anticipation of tomorrow’s needs.

9/26/08—Update : Our tests in this story were conducted on an ASUS X48-based motherboard chosen for its overclocking capabilities in our X48 Motherboard Comparison, Part 2. However, the benchmarks in that piece were run using a pair of 1 GB (single-sided) memory modules, resulting in the observed performance.

We didn’t see the same yields in this comparison of 4 GB kits made up of double-sided modules—clear from our overclocking results across the board. We weren’t the only ones to notice the shortfall, though. We’ve been talking to representatives at Corsair, who say the company’s own 4 GB kit should be able to do more than 1,800 MHz, whereas we clocked them under 1,700.

As it turns out, Corsair’s testing reveals that you may need a northbridge voltage manually set to 1.61 V in order to achieve optimal overclocking of these 4 GB kits with the X48’s memory controller. Given the 1.25 V stock voltage of X48, we wouldn’t recommend running voltages that high for prolonged periods of time. However, it is worth noting that faster frequencies should be possible for many, if not all of these kits.