3GB, 6GB or 12GB Investigated

Conclusion

Conclusion

Anyone who has read my reviews previously will know I'm a sucker for new technology, so when Corsair asked if I'd like to review 3 of their XMS kits I jumped at the chance. While the kits are not at the cutting edge of performance (see the Dominator kit for ultimate performance), they are all designed for i7 to run at the same timings and bandwidth so it was the perfect opportunity to answer a question I had posed myself since the advent of 64bit operating system. Does more ram give an increase in performance?

The short answer is yes. But that's an answer that could be misleading as the performance benefits we have shown are so small, so insignificant that it begs the question: Is it really worth it? Again it's down to circumstance. The benchmarks we ran today were of the game and the game alone. MSN, outlook, utilities and all those other little programs that swallow a chunk of memory were not installed on our test rig. The games used were also timedemos, which while giving the most accurate results for comparison purposes (we wouldn't have it any other way), might not be most exemplorary way to test out a 12GB kit. As stated previously, 12GB just felt more fluid overall and after a weekends worth of gaming with the 12GB kit on my own PC which has multiple  programs running in the background, I can certainly tell the difference. Games and programs opened and closed like the first day of install, something that is a rarity on my own pc due to everything I have running in the background.

I personally find 3GB to be too little. While it coped with all the benchmarks fine and ran Vista without issue, it did seem a little sluggish at times and I certainly noticed a lot more egg-timers (read 'circles') when running the 3GB kit. This was most evident in the run of Photoshop which brought the system to it's knees. On the opposite side of the scale, 12GB was a dream to use. Vista appeared to load quicker, although this was later proven to be a placebo effect after I timed it. Vista was however, much more flexible to use. Think back to when you first do a fresh install of XP and realise how snappy it is compared to your old install. Jumping from 3GB to 12GB gives the same feeling, as Vista simply felt 'snappier' the more memory I used. Switching from one kit to the other just emphasised the fact, opening documents, loading programs, playing media, editing pictures just felt slick and going back to 3GB gave the impression Vista was struggling, although before using both the 6GB and then 12GB I didn't notice how sluggish it really was.

The benchmarks I ran today certainly do not scream 'buy 12GB now' and for the most part I would agree. 12GB is a ridiculous amount of DDR3 to install in an everyday system, it gives no noticeable performance gains for gaming (unless you are a system hog), little performance difference in what I assumed would be it's biggest selling point, video encoding and limited our overclocks by at least 200MHz. Photoshop showed the biggest gains overall but unless you are dealing with some very big images and applying lots of filters then 6GB would cope easily. It also had an effect in general Vista use but not enough to make me rush out and buy upgrade. Perhaps if one were to change their gaming habits and worry less about the number of open applications then the benefits of gaming with 12GB would be much more apparent.

3GB performed surprisingly well. Although we have shown it to come bottom of the pile in the benchmarks we have run, you certainly would not notice it, at least until you started to edit large files in photoshop, or have the luxury of trying out a higher capacity system. Maybe that's a little harsh but after doubling and then tripling the capacity, the 3GB kit just felt inferior.

So the 6GB kit gives the perfect happy medium. The gains 12GB had over the 6GB kit were minimal overall and this time there was minimal difference in Vista's performance as opposed to the 3GB kit. The 6GB kit did not appear to put anywhere near as much stress on the CPU, given that we achieved 200 MHz more. Once the 6GB threshold is exceeded, performance differences seemed to diminish. There were simply not enough differences between the 2 kits to warrant the extra cash injection needed. Sure, a full rack of memory looks the part and certainly grants those extra E-Peen points people yearn for but the sensible money goes on the 6GB kit, at least until Microsoft decide to munch through more of our memory with a new Operating system.

The 3GB, 6GB and 12GB kits I reviewed today are all available from Ebuyer.

A huge thanks goes to Corsair for providing the three XMS kits for todays article. Please discuss in our forums.

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Most Recent Comments

27-03-2009, 18:44:38

w3bbo
With the advent of a triple channel memory controller on Intel's latest CPU, enthusiasts have been forced to ask a new question: Which memory configuration is best?

http://www.overclock3d.net/gfx/artic...191419402s.jpg

Read the full article here.

27-03-2009, 18:54:44

monkey7
Lol at the photos with all the ram. And 200 quid for 12GB, I paid that for 6GB 1333MHz. Prices are really dropping now.

Nice and unique review, really sheds some light on questions which are asked a lot and answered rarely.

28-03-2009, 05:01:48

themcman1
That was a really good review - I really enjoyed reading that.

I want to have enough RAM to take photos like that though.

28-03-2009, 06:52:46

Rastalovich
Outstanding article.

The large leap in the price from 6g to 12g as opposed to the leap from 3g to 6g really pushes the business requirements for the largest kit. The CS4 results show they'll get reward for it professionally in terms of time over work hours. Even tho 6g will do a great job, 12g plus the cost, minus perhaps the vat and time saved would make it viable.

(*cough* most of ours still use 2g in the main, with 4g if they're lucky - don't know of any 8g machines - 775 ofc) If the heads of the departments concerned really had their heads around the figures, they'd be more concerned with maxing the memory of their pcs rather than paying over the odds for a retailed pc with an nvidiafx card that will relatively not help them as much. Go figure.

From what I can see as far as the gamer is concerned, 3g is no issue, particularly for those who fps the majority of the time. I'd perhaps throw in an argument of certain games utilizing more memory over others. 6g for 95 or so in the present climate is surprizingly cheap, meaning I expected it to cost a whole lot more.

I think it will get to a stage where 6g is so cheap that considering u've spent 100s on ur mobo and cpu, a matter of 10s of pounds between 3 and 6 would make it a non-issue and covers more bases.

I'm glad u did an OS reinstall between memory switches, there would have been many complications otherwize.

Great stuff.

28-03-2009, 07:05:52

w3bbo
Cheers for the comments guys.

This was perhaps the biggest, most time consuming article/review I have done thus far. As we have not done a test on this magnetude to date, a lot of experimentation was used to find the optimum testing procedures, image and video sizes etc because, as you say Rast, without a re-install, there were anomolies and strange results that didn't match what I was expecting. Not only that but passing filters over a 4gb image with 3GB of ram ground the system to a halt whereas 12 GB found it a breeze, if somewhat time consuming.

I used each kit for a week's worth of 'everyday' computing. 12GB is definately worth it if you are working with large files and although most of the benchmarks don't significantly back this up, simply opening and closing programs, general vista use etc made the expereince so 'slick'.

28-03-2009, 07:31:56

Rastalovich
If u still have the 12g in-house, it'd be interesting if u could create a ram disk and run a game off it. Dunno how u'd do that with Vista.

28-03-2009, 08:11:32

PeterStoba
One of the most informative articles i've read in a long time, it seems 6GB is what I should choose ;0

28-03-2009, 08:23:27

AntiHeroUK
A very well thought out and in depth review. Looks like the 6GB is the best bet for anyone going down the i7 route and the way prices are currently it would be silly not to.

Keep up the good work w3bbo

28-03-2009, 10:42:14

n0nsense
Although it is nice to see such review, i think you miss some point.

As far as i know, there is very little to no difference between single dual and triple channel mode. So even if you do own i7, you can still live with normal dual channel kits. this will give you some flexibility with amount of memory.

The second point is that as you shown, there are few applications that can utilise (benefit) from large RAM. I can think only about large projects in CAD applications in addition to Photoshop. But if we put benchmarking aside and come to real life world, my guess is that i'm not the only person that does not like to restart computer. Smaller number even take one step further and do not close applications since they probably will want to use them again before restarting the system.

In this scenario you can end with slow and unresponsive system if you don't have enough RAM.

I have only one computer with MS OS and it is Win 7 64 bit with 3 GB of ram.

2x1GB + 2x512MB. It is used as my personal desktop at work. The most Used applications are Browsers and Office suits. If i open 1 tab and one document it is not a problem. But usually after few days after restart i endup with 20+ tabs + 2-4 Text documents , 1-2 presentations and 2-5 spreadsheets. Of course there is antivirus , music player, VMware infrastructure client, Visual Studio, Source and bug control software and others.

Each one can run fine on 2,1 or even 0.5 GB setup. But put them all together and i find myself looking what can be closed in order to make system more responsive. RAM usage is usually above 85%.

Rest of my computers are Linux based and can't be directly compared to MS since memory management is different and OS memory footprint is significantly lower. (less then 100MB with at least 600MB for vista and 7).

So the benefit from large RAM depends on usage pastern.

Another aspect is RAM disk which is very nice, but i cant see how it can be implemented with 10+GB vista and 7 installation. So it's more for NIX users.

To summarise, for most of us it is nice/must to have 4-6 GB for comfortable usage. Those with special needs like CAD or Photoshop processing large files should get as much as possible.

28-03-2009, 13:20:00

w3bbo
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='n0nsense'
Although it is nice to see such review, i think you miss some point.

As far as i know, there is very little to no difference between single dual and triple channel mode.
Sorry m8, no offence but I stopped reading at that point

28-03-2009, 14:14:06

n0nsense
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='w3bbo'
Sorry m8, no offence but I stopped reading at that point
You right ...

You should start here

tomshardware.com/reviews/PARALLEL-PROCESSING,1705-11.html

and then read here

insidehw.com/Reviews/Memory/Intel-Core-i7-Dual-Channel-vs.-Triple-Channel-Memory-Mode.html

and then you should do some homework/testing like i did.

and then you can try to offence

P.S.

sorry for the ugly links, i'm not allowed to to post them yet

28-03-2009, 15:10:41

Sihastru


Quote:
Originally Posted by name='n0nsense'
As far as i know, there is very little to no difference between single dual and triple channel mode.
I must disagree... contrary to (un)popular belief multi channel tech is not another marketing gimmick. Oh, foolish me... putting those 640GB AAKS drives in a RAID0 config... oh, foolish me... buying that 8GB Mushkin kit... I did it for the color of their heat spreaders... you see they were "arctic frostbite"...

Point #1: You can NEVER have TOO MUCH ram! If you don't see it now, you'll see it in about six months.

Point #2: You can NEVER have TOO MANY channels! If you didn't see it by now, you'll never get the chance to. They don't build them like that anymore. (or you could try an Atom and unleash pain upon yourself)

Point #3: Never leave open memory slots on any motherboard you buy. It's not esthetically appealing. If you don't have any more sticks of RAM around, use xeroxed paper clippings.

28-03-2009, 16:27:29

PeterStoba
I don't know why everybody is being sarcastic, I see exactly what he means, I've read those reviews a while back, and it does seem to be true, so no need for the "flaming"

28-03-2009, 17:36:34

n0nsense
thanks dude,

imho it is not sarcasm. it is arrogance.

They live in small wintel (M$+x86) world and know little to nil beyond the PR of these two or three corporations.

My point was to help. If they prefer to stick with stigmas and spend money unnecessary hw, i don't mind as long as it does not come from my taxes.

29-03-2009, 07:18:28

w3bbo
...and my point was I was reviewing the differences between 3, 6 and 12GB. All of which use tri-channel, not single or dual as that was not the aim of the review so you point was moot, hence I finished reading your post there.

I was not questioning single, dual or tri channel. Those who choose to use dual channel kits from previous memory generation could well burn out the MC on the i7 as the DDR3 dual channel kits most often require more than the 1.65v Intel recommends. As a respectable review site we would not recommend doing such things.

30-03-2009, 08:15:08

Rastalovich
As a side point, there are bunches of software out there, from companies that will remain nameless, that fall over if ur system has more memory than the dumbass "programmers" planned for.

Most googleable will be driversets. There are versions of very popular OSes that will fall over also.

U have to do something silly like install it/them with 2g, then put ur memory in afterwards.

30-03-2009, 11:35:20

w3bbo
Like vista 64bit then pre sp1 lol.

30-03-2009, 12:04:45

FarFarAway
The point of the article was a debate for those buying triple RAM kits on i7, nothing to do with dual vs triple channel.

Toms = not a reliable source imo, but that's personal preference.

The review is useful in that it bottoms out whether spending a little more on a 6GB kit is worth it - and even whether you should extend that further to 12gb.

n0nsense - whilst your points may have some validity for yourself, we cannot possibly figure out every usage situation for every reader and as such I believe that taking the approach of an intensive user is the best scenario for a review. Mounting up usage over days of use is all very well, but reviewers only have a certain amount of time with hardware and certainly not enough time to do as you suggest AND complete an actual review with pertinent benchmarks etc before the deadline (which w3bbo always makes, I may add). Refining this review has taken a long time I may add and a lot of hard work.

Great review Rich

30-03-2009, 13:31:03

n0nsense
Kempez - I did't say you should do such things. You can't even if you want to. I suggested to mention such situation to give adequate point of view in which 3 GB is almost not an option.

My guess that you are experienced enough to know such things.

w3bbo - you at least should read whole thing before responding. But i'm not your father to care about your maners. As long as you do the reviews based on facts/numbers, i don't really care about your personal opinion

30-03-2009, 13:37:06

sprento
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='n0nsense'
But i'm not your father to care about your maners.
LOL, taking this a wee bit to personal don't ya think !

30-03-2009, 14:28:38

w3bbo
All of my reviews are based on fact. I do sometimes throw my personal opinion in but only when neccesary. As an example, in the review I clearly recommend 6GB for the average user yet I run 12GB in my system. My personal opinion does not sway my professional one at any time.

I didn't read the whole 'thing' (both your post and the 'article' you posted) because I have no need to. It's old news and adds nothing to the thread/review. For someone buying an i7 setup the question we get asked alot is what kit should they go for, specifically what size. In the review I hope I have answered that question.

I have not once been asked. 'Is triple channel worth it'? Whether it is or it isn't is irrelevent to the article I wrote. x58 motherboards utilise triple channel memory and like it or not, thats what size kits we get sent for review. I don't think the majority of our readers would appreciate me babbling on about what channels are on offer when I have 21GB's worth of ram to review.

30-03-2009, 14:34:51

Rastalovich
I think the channel thing has gone by the wayside. Channel discussions were made way back when dual channel came on the scene and "is it any better than single" was argued.

Single, triple, quad (which we should have imo) is at this point a non-debate, the more u have the better.

I'm pretty darn sure enthusiasts would be aware.

*wonders if w3bbo wants to do all the tests again with 1 and 2 sticks of each* lol

Not even sure dual works on a triple channel mobo.

30-03-2009, 14:57:27

w3bbo
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Rastalovich'

*wonders if w3bbo wants to do all the tests again with 1 and 2 sticks of each* lol
lol...I think not.

30-03-2009, 15:36:34

themcman1
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='w3bbo'
lol...I think not.
I'll do it for you.

No actually, it would drive me insane.

31-03-2009, 05:29:27

Sihastru
I now see that my joke (~sarcasm) wasn't really appreciated. I apologize for posting in in the first place.

But, sarcasm aside, I find it difficult to understand where the misunderstanding about single/dual/triple channel is. The idea is that you need a really powerful CPU to bottleneck single/dual channel bandwidth (from 2GB/s to 8GB/s, although most dual channel systems are at ~6GB/s). Then you need the right applications that will make use of that bandwidth. If the CPU can handle processing 6GB/s of data, then it will take longer to process the same amount of data on a single channel memory subsystem. It's not rocket science. Testing the concept using a poor platform (an not-starved CPU) doesn't invalidate the value of the technology. Testing non-memory intensive applications doesn't take advantage of the technology.

And do you always take information as being true for granted? Maybe they made a small mistake when testing.

NOW, MORE TO THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE.

Just a small thing that's twitching my mind. An application compiled in a 32bit environment will act as a 32bit application even if you give it a 64bit OS and even if you give it 8000+TB or RAM. If the application is 32bit built then the <2GB of addressing space is still it's limit (1.78 something, can't remember, but it's less then 2GB actually). So that application will work on a system with 2-3GB of RAM just as well as on an 24GB system. The difference will be that the 24GB will probably cache more applications and will seem snappier.

In the Visual Studio environment you have a tool (can't remember the name), that you can use to try to "patch" an 32bit executable to take advantage of 64bit. It rarely works, patched executables are very buggy, but not because of the tool, but because of the original application programmers, but it's worth a try.

Almost all games are 32bit. Games will NOT take advantage of 64bit systems and their extra memory. Systems with 3-4GB of memory will run games without any memory limitations.

You can't expect game studios to switch completely to 64bit. In-house software, like level-design is already 64bit. But when most people still are on 32bit, if they switch to 64bit they will loose money. Since 32bit works on 64bit, but not vice-versa it is clear why games don't see any real improvement when running them on a 64bit system with lots of available memory.

Same thing goes for the other types of applications. Some, in the pro and business sector, already made the switch, because there it is expected. But in the mainstream it's not that they don't want, they just can't because of the consumer.

But that will change really fast, really soon. Then your 3GB RAM will drag you down, and you'll remember the crazy guys that told you to buy as much ram as possible. It's not that expensive and it's about very-near future proofing.

31-03-2009, 05:39:35

moogle
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Sihastru'
In the Visual Studio environment you have a tool (can't remember the name), that you can use to try to "patch" an 32bit executable to take advantage of 64bit. It rarely works, patched executables are very buggy, but not because of the tool, but because of the original application programmers, but it's worth a try.
Do you mean patches the program to allow more memory to be allocated? There's an app that patches 32-bit programs so they can allocate more than their 2GB limit. I used one on HCI Memtest and before I could only allocated 1792MB to each app and after it could use 2.5GB. Didn't affect the program stability either

31-03-2009, 10:42:26

Bungral
Plus if you had several 32 bit apps open than utilised 2gb, then as a whole the 64 bit os would use more than just the 32 bit limit.

31-03-2009, 13:26:10

moogle
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Bungral'
Plus if you had several 32 bit apps open than utilised 2gb, then as a whole the 64 bit os would use more than just the 32 bit limit.
Yep thats exactly how I use HCI Memtest to test the memory in Windows

31-03-2009, 17:55:45

Diablo
Great review, nice to see a pretty thorough assesment of it all. I agree with Bungral, I regularly have paintshop pro, firefox, outlook, itunes and a couple of other programs running which are generally 32bit, and never run low on memory because I have 8GB of RAM. Sure I could get away with 4GB, but vista is that much snappier on more ram. Also its nice to see a comment on all sizes of ram (unlike a tom's hardware article from a few months back).

I think the review nicely balances the needs of the heavier user against cost and comes out with 6gb being the sweet spot. I think debating whether we want dual or triple channel is irrelevant because we've got triple and that's not going to change in the short term.

01-04-2009, 14:46:49

Rastalovich
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Sihastru'

You can't expect game studios to switch completely to 64bit.
No, cos they're crap, in the main.

Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Sihastru'

But that will change really fast, really soon.
We've been saying that for years, and I can quite confidently say - no it won't

02-04-2009, 05:07:07

Sihastru
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Rastalovich'
We've been saying that for years, and I can quite confidently say - no it won't
AMD launched AMD64 8 years ago. Back then it was a small company's cry for survival, just a little gimmick to fool us all. Intel came on board later. We are just starting to come on board. The problem is not with them, it is with us. We took this long to see the value in the technology.

These days the voices in my head speak big words like "virtualization" and "cloud computing" and other stuff that I don't know the meaning of yet. The voices are getting louder.

At work I have at least 3 virtual machines online on my workstation, trying to keep temp builds as clean as possible, trying to pre-test the code on different OS's. They eat up RAM like there's no tomorrow.

At home I have just one or two, occasionally. One is some random linux distrib the other is windows 7, just for fun.

We're not all just playing games you know... so crazy little me wants all the RAM crazy little me can afford...

02-04-2009, 06:57:10

Rastalovich
Yep, probably crazy.

28-05-2009, 00:44:10

Diablo13
I would just like to say Than You for a very interesting review w3bbo.

As a fairly average user with ideas that exceed my technical knowledge and certainly my pocket, the review showed me a common sense answer to my requirements.

I am at present running win7 on a Q9550 cpu with 4gb of Crucial ballistics 1066 ram. I have been thinking of upgrading, but replacing board, ram and cpu all at once is a bit expensive for me. However when I do upgrade shortly, I would have seen 12gb kits availlable and would have tried to go with that, to save upgrading again later. Your review has shown me that 6gb of DDR3 would be enough for my requirements to run the system well, without the need for extra expense, especially as a 12gb kit is more than double the price of a 6 gb kit, which I find surprising? I would have expected 12gb to be around the 180 mark to encourage us to splash out a bit more. Anyway basically 6gb is essential, 12gb would be a nice bonus, 3gb forget it, which I believe sums up the conclusions in a nutshell.

Regardless, thanks again for the great review and all the time you put in to do it properly. Very useful for me.

28-05-2009, 15:31:42

w3bbo
Wow, nice to hear feedback like that. Cheers, glad I could help.

DDR3 is dropping dramatically though so 12GB might fit alot of peoples budgets now.

08-06-2009, 12:42:47

diogojrv91
It would be perfect if I-Ram for ddr3 exists...
Reply
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