Our coverage of quad channel Sandy Bridge memory continues today with our Crucial Ballistix Elite Review. It is a 16 GB kit, and is the first we’ve reviewed so far that is rated at 1866 MHz with low latency timings.
In our two previous quad channel memory reviews – the Corsair Vengeance and Kingston HyperX Genesis – the rated speeds were 1600 MHz (though Corsair promised “with overclocking headroom”). Both reached 1866 MHz with overclocking, but that required loosened timings and increased voltage to 1.65v – as high as you’d want to go with Sandy Bridge.
The Crucial Ballistix Elite we’re reviewing today has the advantage of being rated at 1866 MHz at default voltage and timings – it runs at 9-9-9-27 with a voltage of just 1.5v. We’ll find out later if there is even more headroom on top of that.
It might be a bit misleading to call this a quad channel kit, as we were shipped two packs of 8GB dual channel kits (4GB x 2, labeled BLE2KIT4G3D1869DE1TX0). Of course there is no real difference, but the price may be affected a bit. Currently, there is no specific Ballistix Elite 4GB x 4 kit listed at Crucial with these specs – you can only buy them in 8GB pairs for $80 each, making this a $160 kit when bought direct. Alternatively, you can buy them on Newegg for $85 a pair, or $170 for a quad kit. This is significantly higher than the last two kits we looked at – The Corsair Vengeance 16GB kit was $110 at publication, and the Kingston HyperX Genesis 16GB kit was $100.
Crucial Ballistix Elite Review – Packaging
As mentioned, these are only available in dual channel kits, so what you’ll get is a pair of standard dual channel packages, with 2 DIMMs per pack:
One issue I have with Crucial’s packaging is that they use sealed blister packs, which means not only are the difficult to open (you will have to cut around it with some scissors) they don’t stay closed very well after that. This is very wasteful, and makes for packaging that is not very useful when you have installed your ram.
Update: Crucial have informed us that they have stopped using blister packs in their products, in favor of ‘crush rivet’ packaging – basically, the resealable kind you see on most products like this. We hope to take a closer look in a future memory review!
Crucial Ballistix Elite Review – Installation
As for the looks, they look quite similar to the Corsair Vengeance kit we reviewed a while ago, but with more of a monotone colour, and slightly more understated:
They are almost exactly as tall as the Corsair Vengeance kit, which is not a good thing. As I said in that review:
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 …, 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.
There is just no good reason for memory heatsinks to be this big, even on high clock speed kits.
Crucial Ballistix Elite Review – Overclocking
And now comes the fun part! So far, we have been able to take 1600 MHz kits to 1866 MHz with relative ease (usually a bump in voltage and/or loosened timings are required) so it will be interesting to see if we can take this kit further. There are two ways we overclock ram – tighten the timings, and increase its operating frequency.
The first thing we’ll do is bump up the voltage, which is something the Crucial Ballistix Elite allows us to do. Running at 1.6v, with a frequency of 1866 MHz, I was able to lower CAS latency to 8, for a total setting of 8-8-9-26. This is one step quicker than its default setting of 9-9-9-27.
Next, I loosened the timings to 10-10-10-34 to see if we could hit the next big step in frequency – 2133 MHz. Unfortunately, that setting failed. Increasing the voltage to 1.65v did not help either. Finally, we tried 11-11-11-34 at 1.65v, and it still wouldn’t boot. It looks like this kit is running at full potential at 1866 MHz.
Crucial Ballistix Elite Review – Performance
To take a quick look at performance, we’ll turn to SiSoft Sandra’s memory benchmarks, and use PCMark 7 for our “overall PC use” test. Since PCMark 7 uses actual components of Windows, it can give us a glimpse of how performance memory can affect day to day use in Windows.
Since we have done a couple reviews of some quad channel kits already, we’ll be including their results in this review as well:
If there’s going to be one benchmark that shows off the Ballistix Elite, it’s this one. Since it runs at a default of 1866 MHz, the timings remain tight, and it ekes out an extra 1 GB of bandwidth in this benchmark. Of course in real scenarios this is essentially nothing.
Next we have latency, and since lower is better, you can see the Ballistix Elite pulling ahead here. Again, this is hardly anything, but at least it is measurable.
Finally, we get one look at some ‘real’ performance, and the results are all very close. The Ballistix Elite manages the highest scores here, but only by a little.
The best thing about these kits that are guaranteed to run at tight latencies and low voltage at 1866 MHz, is that you can start with a 1600 MHz setting, and clock up the memory while overclocking without worrying about it. Just leave it at its 1866 settings, and it will run as fast as possible.
However, I just can’t recommend these particular modules. First of all, they are expensive. Almost $70 more than my current favourite DDR3 quad kit, the Kingston HyperX Genesis. Yes, they are faster in benchmarks, but that is a lot to pay for 1 GB of extra bandwidth in a best case scenario.
Secondly, I just can’t get over the huge heatsinks. The thing that bothers me most about huge heatsinks on kits destined for Sandy Bridge installations is that they are essentially useless. Nobody is going to run these over 1.65v, and at that point, they aren’t going to run at temperatures over ambient case. They do nothing but get in the way of actual usefully large heatsinks, such as the Noctua NH-D14 we reviewed recently.
This is a top quality memory product, but the price is not justifiable in my opinion.