Intel Core 2: Is high speed memory worth its price?

Memory by piotke @ 2006-08-01

Does the Intel Core 2 need fast DDR2 memory to perform at its best? In this article we compare different memory speed and timings to provide you with the answer. Read on to find if cheap memory is enough to feed the Conroe.

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Conclusive Thoughts

Conclusive thoughts

Madshrimps (c)

So does Core 2 need high speed memory to shine? The answer is a resounding no! This is different from AMD AM2 where more expensive memory is needed to get the most out of the system.

On Intel Core 2 pure synthetic memory bandwidth benchmarks show a 30+% increase, but this does not translate in a noticeable performance bump in games and applications, where the increase, at best, is ~6% and this going from cheap high latency PC3200 to expensive low latency PC6400, and while these expensive modules do take the performance crown, their lead over the mostly cheaper PC4200 rated sticks is smaller than 3% in real world benchmarks.

So it doesn’t matter much what memory speed/timings you buy, the value line will suit the Intel Core 2 system just fine, but do keep one thing in mind, as in our testing we found performance actually decreases a bit going from PC4200 (533) to PC5300 (667)!

The Core 2 has a front side bus (FSB) speed of 266Mhz x 4 (Quadruple) “1066Mhz”, the ram is running at 266Mhz x2 (Dual Channel) x2 (DDR) = “1066Mhz”, so with PC4200 memory and FSB are running synchronized. When you use PC5300 you are no longer running synchronous with the FSB and a memory divider of x1.25 (5/4) has to be used. The older Athlon XP from AMD also displayed this decrease in performance when running memory asynchronous due to its short pipeline, where memory latency is more important then memory bandwidth. With the Pentium 4 the pipeline was longer and the effect of running asynchronous which increased latency was masked. Core 2 technology marked Intel's return to a shorter pipeline and thus is more similar to the Athlon XP than the Pentium 4.

By running the memory synchronous to the FSB you have the least amount of latency and thus performance is at its best. Why is PC6400, which is also running asynchronous, faster then? Because the memory speed is now that much higher that it compensates for the loss of running asynchronous and overall performance does increase. PC5300 worked great with Pentium 4 but it should be avoided when running Core 2, except when you plan to overclock. PC5300/6400 will give you the extra headroom to increase the FSB while keeping memory synchronous.

We hope this article was useful, if you have any suggestions or comments please don’t hesitate to drop a line in our forums.

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