Premium Prices And Petit Performance Prospects
DDR3 memory was introduced only half a year ago Compare Prices on DDR3 Memory, to replace maxed out DDR2 technology. While the Joint Electronic Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) has specified speeds of DDR3-800 to DDR3-1600, memory vendors have already exceeded the intended top speed by 20% - and this is not the end. While DDR3 at 1066 and 1333 speeds still is many months away from entering the mainstream due to costs still higher than those of DDR2-800, enthusiast vendors are all offering DDR3-1600 parts now, and some have already announced DDR3-2000 products. Having looked at ten DDR3-1333 kits recently, it's time to x-ray the high-end offerings now.
Enthusiast memory has had an amazing career, ever since overclocking became some sort of popular sport. Once AMD and Intel restricted processor multipliers to prevent users from running a processor faster than specified, motherboard manufacturers introduced options to bypass this preset. Increasing the bus speed equals an increase of the other variable necessary to determine the processor clock speed, hence Front Side Bus overclocking effectively bypasses the overclocking block while introducing higher bus bandwidth as a side effect. Furthermore, main memory is accelerated proportionally, depending on its operating speed, which again directly depends on the system bus (or the processor speed, if we're talking about AMD processors). While memory followed the overclocking trend - at first rather slowly - today's offerings are specifically designed to excel in clock speed. They not only allow maximum system overclocking, but also increase memory bandwidth itself, which contributes to overall performance.
Thanks to power-saving mechanisms such as AMD's Cool'n'Quiet technology and Intel's Enhanced Speedstep, all modern processors can be operated not only at their default multiplier, but also at all lower ones; the power saving features require them to reduce the processor speed. This allows increasing the Front Side Bus while reducing the processor multiplier to limit the resulting core clock speed to realistic levels. Hence, it is possible to select a combination of a fast system bus, memory speed and processor core clock speed.
The enthusiast memory market is slowly but surely hitting some limits, as the advantage of super fast memory over ordinary products has been decreasing (see this article from Tom's Hardware in German - no translation available yet). That means that a highly overclocked processor will only show a few percent performance difference whether it runs with basic DDR3-1333 memory or at a much faster DDR3-1800 speed (check benchmark results of this article for details as well). The main reason is the highly efficient cache architecture of today's processors: the better the cache hierarchy, the less important the memory speed.
At the same time, high end memory faces cost issues that all premium products have to deal with: high memory clock speeds can usually only be achieved at a drastically increased operating voltage, and this requires careful product selection of the memory ICs provided by manufacturers Elpida, Hynix, Micron, Qimonda and Samsung. The resulting memory modules can be several times more expensive than mainstream DIMMs. Some memory vendors purchase entire memory wafers to cut, select and package the individual dies themselves. Others purchase the preselected memory or even the full memory modules.