Since the introduction of Sandy Bridge-E – the first desktop CPU with quad channel memory support, memory makers have been putting together 4-stick memory kits, geared towards these quad channel systems. However, that’s not the only reason to consider them. If you want to put together a 16GB or 32GB system, it is usually cheaper to buy in packs of four instead of pairs of two.
Nonetheless, in the coming weeks we will be looking at quad channel memory kits from everyone, and will be using the X79 platform to allow them to operate at full potential. We’ll be looking at things like hardware compatibility, packaging, performance, and overclocking.
We’ll start with a 16GB kit from Corsair, the Vengeance CMz16GX3M4X1600C9
The Corsair kit comes with an XMP profile which will set the multiplier to 1600 MHz. The official specs use the vague descriptor “with headroom to allow overclocking” which I guess means that they think it will work at higher speeds, but aren’t promising anything. The main timings to 9-9-9-24 at 1.5v, which is pretty standard for a 1600 MHz kit as we saw in our Best Memory for Sandy Bridge review.. It comes with Corsair’s famous lifetime warranty on parts and labour, which means you will never, ever have to worry about going out and buying a new kit should this one fail. In the rest of our Corsair Vengeance quad channel review, we’ll take a closer look at the packaging and installation, and move on to performance and overclocking.
Corsair Vengeance Quad Channel Packaging
Corsair is one of the few memory makers that ship their kits with each module individually packaged:
While this makes for very nice presentation, it isn’t very convenient during installation – you will find yourself fumbling with each package as you install the modules, and are left with a bunch of containers to stuff back into the box. While this doesn’t ‘make or break’ this kit, it’s something to consider (and with RAM, let’s be honest, there usually isn’t much that sets products apart from each other). The best quad channel memory packaging I have seen is Kingston’s method, which is what we will be reviewing next (time to plug our Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and RSS feeds – take your pick for how you’d like to follow us! We have a lot of quad channel memory reviews coming)
Once installed, the kit looks fantastic. With its black-and-grey colour scheme, it will not necessarily perfectly match a lot of boards (unless you’re using one of the awesome looking matte black Gigabyte boards like the Z68XP-UD4), but it won’t stand out like a sore thumb either (like a red kit on a blue motherboard would).
At this point I have to mention the huge heatsinks used by these modules. It is my personal opinion that memory modules running at “Intel Safe” voltages (which is usually below 1.65v) do not need such large heatsinks. And because they offer little besides aesthetics, but can get in the way of large heatsinks, I usually recommend avoiding kits using such tall heatsinks. Even if you were to overclock this kit to 1866 MHz at 1.65v (which we will later in the review), you will never need large heatsinks. And if you are going for record breaking overclocks with super high voltages, chances are you will be cooling the memory modules actively with water cooling or even LN2.
Corsair Vengeance Quad Channel Overclocking
There are a few ways to approach memory overclocking on Intel boards. What I like to do is see how much I can tighten up the timings, because although the difference isn’t huge, you do see an improvement in performance with tighter timings.
Secondly, I like to push the memory multiplier to see how fast the memory will run with loosened timings. This is less important, because for the most part we leave the memory bus running at stock, and overclock the CPU directly with ratio manipulation. Still, sometimes bandwidth is sought after more than latency (and it usually offers better latency scores in benchmarks anyway)
Using the first approach, I was able to take the default settings of 9-9-9-24 @ 1600, and tighten the CAS setting to 8-9-9-24, after increasing the voltage to 1.6v. Increased voltage did not help. This is not a drastic improvement whatsoever, and although Corsair promised headroom, we certainly aren’t seeing it with latency timings.
Clock Speed Overclocking
The next step was to see if we could reach 1866 and beyond with this kit. After upping the voltage to 1.65v, we were able to successfully stress test the modules overnight with a setting of 1866 MHz with 11-11-11-34 timings. Not the tightest timings, but there you go. Anything above 1866 MHz would result in failure. How will this overclock affect performance? Let’s find out :)
Corsair Vengeance Quad Channel Performance
As we saw in our Core i7 3960X review, there were very few cases where quad channel memory actually did anything for real world performance. Although it doubled the bandwidth in synthetic tests compared to prior chipsets, it just didn’t make a huge difference in most real world cases.
To test memory performance, we’ll simply be running some tests using the kit’s XMP profile, and our best clock speed overclock. In this case, the XMP setting is 1600 @ 9-9-9-24, and our best overclock is 1866 MHz @ 11-11-11-34.
We’ll start, of course, with SiSoft Sandra’s bandwidth and latency tests. Although these are entirely synthetic and somewhat superficial, it may be the only chance we get at seeing a difference in performance.
Our overclock resulted in an increase of 5 GB/s in this synthetic test. This is hampered by the need to loosen timings quite a bit.
Even more profoundly affected was the latency test, which resulted in an improvement of just under 1 nanosecond.
Next we’ll look at PCMark 7, which has various built-in tests which use real world applications (all programs found within Windows 7 itself). The “Entertainment” test is very GPU heavy, with a lot of gaming tests. There is some video playback/encoding though, and even some web browsing. The “Creativity” test is mostly image manipulation and video transcoding. The “PCMark” score has a little bit of everything.
Again, PCMark 7 uses real-world applications, and in such a controlled environment, this is about as big a leap in scores we’re going to achieve with overclocking memory on this platform. The most highly affected score was Entertainment, which bodes well for gaming.
This is the first of many quad channel memory kits we will be looking at in the coming weeks, and I have to say that I am not blown away by this kit from Corsair. Although the price is right ($109.99 at Newegg at the time of publication), there are enough nags to make me hesitate to recommend this kit to everyone.
The first issue is the use of tall heatsinks. We already saw in our Noctua NH-D14 review that tall heatsinks such as these WILL get in the way, and you will not be able to use them with that cooler. The case will be the same with any oversized cooler, which a lot of people are considering due to the low amount of noise they make. When you consider that tall heatsinks offer nothing of use on this platform, it really stands out as a negative for me.
Secondly, although there is some headroom when you boost the voltage and loosen timings, there just isn’t much to write home about in terms of performance and overclocking. As you’ll soon see, we will be looking at some kits that come clocked with XMP settings at 1866 MHz to begin with, with the voltage still at 1.5v, with the same timings this kit uses at 1600.
Those will come at a slightly higher cost though, so if you are on a tight budget, and have the room to install these, there is absolutely nothing particularly wrong with them. I am just used to seeing Corsair do a lot better.