Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3 PC3-12800 6GB kit Page: 1
Introduction

Crucial Technology should now be called Lexar Media but people in the PC market still recognise and hold value with the Crucial name. Much the same as those in the know will recognise Micron, the company renown for making extremely good integrated chips on memory products. Micron Europe are the parent company of Lexar who have the fingers in almost every memory component you can think of from Solid State Drives to USB flash drives and of course the product we are reviewing to day, PC memory.

The Ballistix brand name is the pinnacle of Crucial's PC memory product line and has been widely used by PC enthusiasts for years thanks to the magnificent overclocking abilities. As overclockers we tend to push things a little too far but fear not because Crucial offer limited lifetime warranty. Backed up by one of the most famous names in the memory sector, you can be assured that the product you are buying is top of the line.

We were very impressed with the last Crucial kit we reviewed so here's hoping for a repeat performance.

Here's what Crucial had to say about their latest DDR3 Kit:

What is Ballistix Tracer memory? Ballistix Tracer memory is specifically built for performance enthusiasts and case modders who want to push the performance envelope while adding flash appeal to their boxes. The Ballistix line of high-performance memory modules features advanced speed grades, low latencies, and integrated aluminium heat spreaders.

We test each individual component through rigorous procedures using advanced DRAM test equipment, and that's before we even put them on module! From there, each individual module undergoes various electrical and synthetic tests. Finally, 100% of our modules are tested on some of the latest motherboards and chipsets deemed capable of running at the rated specifications.


Specification

The following specification was taken directly from the Crucial website.

• Module Size: 6GB kit (2GBx3)
• Package: Ballistix Tracer 240-pin DIMM (with LEDs)
• Feature
: DDR3 PC3-12800
• Bandwidth: 1600MHz
• Latency: 8-8-8-24
• Voltage
: 1.65v

All fairly standard so far and matches the specification of the majority of PC3-12800 kits out there. Perhaps the only noteworthy aspect of the specification is the inclusion of LED's but more on that later in the review.

Let's see how Crucial have presented their latest Ballistix kit...


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Packaging & Appearance

The packaging of the Crucial Ballastix is the same as Ballistix kits have been packaged in the past. A plain brown cardboard box with an anti tamper sticker sealing the box. While this type of packaging is basic it does afford the modules inside excellent protection.

box open box
 
Opening up the box we find that the modules are neatly stacked side by side in sealed anti-static sleeves. These sleeves are printed with all the information you require to get the memory up and running such as the timings, frequency and voltage. 

inner tri
 
The modules themselves are shielded by some very attractive heatsinks. The green 'holographic' effect given off by the heatsinks is very appealing. These heatsinks/modules are also available in Blue and Red to perfectly match the aesthetics of your PC setup should you be concerned about such matters. Most readers who read this article will find this appealing and it is these readers who Crucial are marketing the products for: Case modders and overclockers, which pretty much sums up the bulk of our readers I believe.

front rear

Being of nominal height, these modules will not interfere with fitting an oversized CPU, certainly no more than any modules without heatsinks would anyway. On the top and bottom of modules there are a number of tiny LED's which are pretty much indistinct when the modules are not powered up.

top side
 
Taking the heatsinks off the modules we get to see the banks of integrated chips which in the Ballistix case are Samsung HCF0, the very same chips used in the 2000MHz Kingston modules we reviewed recently which spells good news. Crucial have not used Micron IC's, which is surprising considering Crucial are a division of Micron. Nevertheless, the Samsung chips are a very good choice and should prove to be excellent overclockers.

iC samsung
 
That about rounds up the packaging and presentation section of the review. Check out the test setup page where I power up the modules which give off a stunning light display...




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Test Setup

For today's testing we will be using the Gigabyte EX-58 UD5, a mid-range Core i7 motherboard from Gigabyte that will allow us to push the memory on test to its absolute limit. Here's a breakdown of the rest of the components:
 
Processor
Intel Core i7 920 'Nehalem' @ 2.66Ghz

Motherboard
Gigabyte EX58-UD5

Memory
Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3 PC3-12800 6GB kit
Mushkin 6GB (3x2GB) XP series DDR3 PC3-12800 1600MHz Kit 7-8-7-20
Patriot 6GB DDR3 PC3-12800 1600MHz Viper Series Low Latency Kit 8-8-8-24
Corsair CL8 1600MHz 8-8-8-24 3x2GB kit

Graphics Card
Nvidia 280GTX

Drivers
GeForce 180.60

PSU
Gigabyte Odin 1200w

Operating System
Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit SP1 + Updates
 
Lights dark
 
Setting the memory up presented no problems at all with our test rig. With just a few BIOS tweaks, we were up and running at the Ballistix stock settings of 8-8-8-24 @ 1600MHz. As you can see above the 'Tracer' effect of the ram is very domineering. The modules have four sets of LED's, two 'dormant' sets at the base of the modules which light up the memory slot. These do not move and simply glow. Then the top of the module has two rows of eight "chasing" green LEDs atop the module, pulsating out from the centre in a random pattern based on memory utilisation. A custom-designed circuit relays bus activity to the LEDs, allowing them to accurately reflect usage of each memory module. Think 70's Sci-Fi control panel and you are almost there. One can only assume that the different coloured heatsinks (Red, Blue and Green) would be matched by the same colour LED's but don't quote me on that. I personally like the effect the tracer LED's give off but then I always was a sucker for gimmicks!
 
For testing the memory we used a number of synthetic benchmarks and games:
 
Synthetic Benchmarks
  • Lavalys Everest 4.10
  • SuperPI mod_1.5
  • Sisoft Sandra 2009
3D Benchmarks
  • 3DMark Vantage
  • Far Cry 2
 
For the run of benchmarks, we will be comparing the 1600MHz 6GB Crucial Ballistix Tracer to the MuskinXP, Patriot Viper and Corsair Dominator kit.
 
 
Overclocking
 
Starting from scratch we disabled on the settings that may affect the overclocked settings such as Intel Speed Step as well as disabling the C-State settings which may also affect some of the results in the benchmark testing phase of the review. Here's how the sticks look at stock speed:
 
cpu stock mem stock

SPD
 
Overclocking the Ballistix was very easy. First off I tried lowering the timings at the stock frequency and found 7-7-7 to be no trouble at all. I then tried CAS 6 latency but found this to be too much until I raised the voltage a little. With that tiny bump in voltage the sticks had no issues running at 6-6-6-20 @ 1600. Next up I attempted to overclock the frequency of the chips going straight for the throat @ 2000MHz. Sadly this ambitious attempt served nothing but to corrupt the Vista install. So one install later and a little more common sense I tried for 1800. They reached that level with no issues so I then raised the bar again to 1900, again, no issues apart from the fact I had to lower the latencies a notch. Next up was 1950 which was a no show, even with the latencies dropped again to CAS 10.

6-6-6- 1900
 
Settling for 1904MHz then with CAS 9 latencies is no poor show for the Ballistix and while it cannot possibly match the stonking 2100MHz the Mushkins managed in our last review, the Ballistix reached latencies the Mushkins could only dream of.

Returning the settings back to their stock values we then ran our suite of memory benchmarks to see how the modules compare. Let's see how I got on...


Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3 PC3-12800 6GB kit Page: 4


SiSoftware Sandra
(the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.

 
 


Everest
 
Focusing mainly on software and hardware information reporting, Everest also comes with a benchmark utility suitable for testing the read, write and latency performance of the memory subsystem. Each of these benchmarks were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average calculated from the remaining 3.
 
 
 

 
 
Super PI
 
SuperPI is the benchmark of choice for many overclockers. It's lightweight to download and can give a quick indication on how good a system is at number crunching. Once again, testing was performed a total of 5 times, with an average being calculated from the middle three results.
 
 
 

 
Results Observations
 
Surprisingly, the Crucial kit seemed to perform slightly worse than the other kits on test in the synthetic memory tests apart from SiSoft Sandra which placed the Crucial kit in top spot in the latency test which was surprising as it was running slightly higher latencies than the Mushkin kit. The Crucial kit did however make up ground in the 3 runs of SuperPI, narrowly losing out to the Mushkin kit but faster than both the Corsair and Patriot kits.

Let's see how we got on with the run of 3D Benchmarks...
 


Crucial Ballistix Tracer DDR3 PC3-12800 6GB kit Page: 5
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 




 
 


Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 

 
Results conclusions

Out scoring both the Patriot and Corsair kits, the Ballstix impressed in the 3D benchmarks. Sadly, the Crucial kit could not match the pace of the Mushkin kit due in part to the fact that the Mushkin kit was running lower latencies.

Let's head over to the conclusion...


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Conclusion

Crucial have once again put in a solid performance being the only kit managing an amazing 6-6-6 latencies. With timings like those, one might think these modules were the spawn of the devil and when my Vista install corrupted I certainly thought so but the angelic overclocking experience put paid to that. Not only can the kit manage much lower latencies than stock but they can also obtain a very respectable overclock in bandwidth.

The packaging of the product is very good with all the key info provided on both the anti-static sleeves and on the modules themselves. The overall packaging is enough to ensure the modules reach you in perfect condition but I would perhaps have liked to have a little more thought to the packages exterior rather than a plain cardboard box. A minor point but a point nonetheless.

The overall performance against the other kits on test today was very good. Coming second to the Mushkin kit was no real hardship considering the Mushkins were running at lower latencies than the Ballistix and despite this the Ballistix still managed to beat the Mushkins on occasion.

The light show the Ballistix put on for the end user is a great little feature and certainly makes the memory kit come alive in that sense but I do worry about one thing, the price. At £250, this kit is over £100 more than some of the other kits on test which may be enough to sway your loyalty to another brand, especially if all you intend to do with the sticks is run them at stock. If however, you intend to overclock the memory (and let's face it, who would buy Ballistix if they didn't?), then this kit is for you. Sure the price is high and if that price was just for the flashing lights then I would give this product a miss. However, the Ballistix Tracer can back up the pretty light show with extreme performance, low latencies and matching colour scheme. In that sense Crucial have achieved exactly what they set out to do. Provide an overclocking set of memory that not only performs well but looks damn good doing it too.

The Good
- Overclocking
- Colour co-ordination
- LED lights

The Mediocre
- Bland packaging

The Poor
- The Price



Thanks to Crucial for providing the Ballistix for todays review. Discuss in our forums.