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Six Low-Voltage Dual-Channel 8 GB Memory Kits, Overclocked

Why Bother With Low-Voltage DDR3?

Remember the Nehalem architecture? Intel’s now-historic adoption of a CPU-based DDR3 memory controller was accompanied by a warning that voltages beyond 1.65 V could fry the integrated circuitry over time, effectively killing the CPU. In those days, Intel was manufacturing its processors at 45 nm and tolerating core overclocks using 1.45 V settings. AMD was pushing far higher DDR3 voltage levels at the time, but the entire performance-oriented DRAM industry eventually adopted Intel’s 1.65 V limit.

We've since seen two die shrinks from Intel—the 32 nm Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge at 22 nm—with no official word from the company on what constitutes safe overclocking. Instead of commenting on the parameters you're safest sticking to, its representatives tend to quote motherboard manufacturing guidelines of 1.50 V, plus or minus 50 mV. And we thought those documents were made public expressly to help us perform pin-mods...

If Intel’s reluctance to discuss anything outside of manufacturing parameters doesn’t worry you, perhaps the covert over-voltage applied to enthusiast-class motherboards should. The industry’s dirty little secret in the days of Nehalem was a 5 to 10 mV default boost, needed to make certain poorly-programmed (Ed.: Gold-series) memory modules bootable. That extra voltage was not reported on the hardware monitoring pages of most motherboard BIOSes, and most monitoring apps failed to report it as well. 

Well, if a little is good, a little more is better, right?

While Intel was busy shrinking its feature widths by roughly half, motherboard manufacturers were on a quest for overclocking records. I watched boards reach ever-higher 1.65 V memory overclocks as covert voltage tweaking climbed to 35 mV. Viewing this as a form of cheating in our motherboard comparisons, I broke out the volt meter and began reporting the setting needed to reach 1.65 actual volts in the firmware pages of our motherboard round-ups. And speaking of breaking things, a recent string of bad luck suggests that combining the accepted standard of 1.65 V and transparent over-voltage from certain motherboard vendors might not always be safe. Although that was certainly an unusual chain of events for us, it was enough for us to reconsider Intel’s 1.55 V recommendation. Can any of today’s lower-voltage RAM deliver world-class performance without breaking past that limit?

Rated Specifications
Data RateTimingsVoltageWarranty
Adata XPG DDR3L AXDU1600GC4G9-2GDDR3-1600 (XMP)9-9-9-241.35 VLifetime
Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2K4G3D1608ET3LX0DDR3-1600 (XMP)8-8-8-241.35 VLifetime
Geil Evo Leggera GEL38GB1333C9DCDDR3-1333 (SPD)9-9-9-241.50 VLifetime
G.Skill Sniper SR2 F3-12800CL9D-8GBSR2DDR3-1600 (XMP)9-9-9-241.25 VLifetime
Kingston HyperX KHX1600C9D3LK2/8GXDDR3-1600 (XMP)9-9-9-271.35 VLifetime
Super Talent W160UA4GMLDDR3-1600 (SPD)11-11-11-281.35 VFive Years

We invited every major manufacturer (including a crowd-favorite ODM) to this round-up, and a few (including that ODM) chose not to participate. Of those that chose to be included, one didn’t have anything to offer with a DDR3L rating. Geil responded to our 1.35 V and 1.50 V stated test settings with a hearty "we can do that on standard RAM", and the company is now getting a chance to prove it.

  • excella1221
    Nice article.
    A bit surprised that Corsair Vengeance didn't make an appearance though.

    Been using G.Skill RAMs since I can remember, and they've never failed me!
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    Very interesting read, thanks Tom's! Guess we've been bothering you enough about, erm, "half-height" overclocker's ram enough for you to want to do an article on it. Shame that the mystery modules chose not to participate... perhaps I'll send you my 8 gigs. Want to swap? Ship me some ram to use in the mean-time and I'll ship you my sticks.
    Reply
  • rmpumper
    In other words, RAM speed is irrelevant if you are not using an APU.
    Reply
  • Haserath
    No power consumption numbers? :/
    Reply
  • cobra5000
    Good testing but at the start of the article, much emphasis was placed on the degradation of the cpu due to high memory voltage and then it just turns into a memory speed test. What about the cpu degradation?
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    Good article. Still left wondering why anyone would choose low voltage RAM when costs do not outweigh the benefits.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    It is only worthwhile to pickup low voltage ram if you can obtain it at the same price as 1.5v ram. Then again, the Ballistix is around the same price point as other similar timing ram.
    Reply
  • allan_hm
    Pointless analysis for too little performance AND price difference...
    Would be a bit less irrelevant if more brands were tested.
    To be honest I was more interested on that "dirty little secret" details than the test itself.
    Also, an article named "who is who in the RAM marked" would be awesome, just like that one about Power Supplies...
    Reply
  • Crashman
    excella1221Nice article.A bit surprised that Corsair Vengeance didn't make an appearance though.Been using G.Skill RAMs since I can remember, and they've never failed me!Here's from the article:
    We invited every major manufacturer (including a crowd-favorite ODM) to this round-up, and a few (including that ODM) chose not to participate.
    Corsair said they had some new modules coming out and didn't want to focus on older models.cobra5000Good testing but at the start of the article, much emphasis was placed on the degradation of the cpu due to high memory voltage and then it just turns into a memory speed test. What about the cpu degradation?What about it? It's never been seen at 1.50V.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    allan_hmPointless analysis for too little performance AND price difference...Would be a bit less irrelevant if more brands were tested.To be honest I was more interested on that "dirty little secret" details than the test itself.Also, an article named "who is who in the RAM marked" would be awesome, just like that one about Power Supplies...Article intent was to find modules within Intel's 1.55V limit that pulled top numbers in frequency and/or latency. Some were found, article is a success.
    Reply