OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC Review - Reaping Through Competition

Memory by thorgal @ 2007-05-31

When OCZ introduces a new enthusiast series, we like to take it out for a spin. Today we test a brand new PC2-8500 Reaper HPC module and compare its performance to 9 other high end contestants. Can the new sibling from OCZ differentiate itself in the crowded DDR2 market? Let´s find out.

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To review a pair of DDR2 memory sticks gives me a bit of a mixed feeling these days. Most - if not all - of our readers know that DDR3 is upon us , certainly since Intel hard launched its new P35 chipset last week. P35 gives us full support for DDR3 memory, which promises even higher speeds than DDR2. As we speak, the first DDR3 mainboards like the Asus P5K3-deluxe are hitting the streets, and the first "real" DDR3 modules are available at our shops. Furthermore, if you look at many of the competitive websites, one would think that DDR2 is dead already, and DDR3 is the Holy Grail we've all been waiting for. In the next paragraphs I'll be expressing my own point of view on this newly found Holy Grail, but what is sure though is that we've entered what seems to be another transitional period in the memory landscape.

OCZ DDR3 Modules

The big question of course is this: are we talking a real, short term transition to DDR3 here, or are we getting the DDR2 transition story all over again? Let's not forget that, at this moment, AMD’s AM2 and Intel Core 2 are not even one year old, with most people only upgrading from DDR towards DDR2 since June or July 2006. As you might know, Intel has been pushing DDR2 since their transition to the 775 pin socket in June 2004, but with very little success in the first two years (mostly due to AMD having the performance crown, at the time). It is the same Intel that tries to convince us to move towards DDR3 in the near future, so will they succeed in a faster transition this time around?

The first deciding factor in the DDR3 transition will no doubt be performance. When real world tests prove that DDR3 is indeed faster, I guess DDR2 will be short-lived indeed. As with DDR2 however, DDR3 does not seem to offer a big, immediate benefit over DDR2. The problem - as with DDR2 - seems to lie with latencies. Right now, the performance crown depends on application to application, where sometimes DDR3 is able to benefit from its higher speed rating (and higher bandwidth). Other applications that benefit more from latency have a preference for good "old" DDR2. Until the industry is able to make truly lower latency DDR3, performance does not seem to be a persuasive argument.

A second factor in the discussion will no doubt be the position of AMD. Right now, for 2007, AMD does not have plans to introduce DDR3 support in their on-die memory controllers. Support for DDR3 will be there "some time into 2008", together with a brand new socket (AM3) and processor die at 45nm. In other words, if AMD takes back the performance crown later this year - as far as we can expect anyway - all the enthusiasts and early adopters of DDR3 will be out of luck. DDR3 will not drive their brand new Barcelona CPU's to new performance heights...

Furthermore, in favor of DDR2, here's one very persuasive argument for you: price. Right now, DDR3 is as expensive as DDR2 was one year ago. DDR2 prices have plummeted however, and a 2Gb value kit of DDR2 will set you back no more than $100, whereas a truly high performance kit will not retail for much more than $200. This represents a problem for the memory manufacturers : because of overproduction and price erosion the margins on DDR2 memory products have shrunk to far lower levels than before, and it might be in the manufacturers own interest right now to introduce something faster, which they can sell with the right margin.

There is one last thing on the performance point of view though, which could speed up the transition a little: in my opinion, DDR2 development has come to a complete standstill over the last couple of months. Sure, memory manufacturers have come up with lots of new models, but they seem to rely more on form than on function by now. The speed grades of DDR2 have not changed much over the last 9 months, and the kits that were the fastest 9 months ago... still are the fastest today. Micron has played a very big role in the DDR2 story (and we can consider ourselves lucky they did!), but even the best Micron chips on the very best PCB's only have that much performance headroom left. Voltages have been increased far above JEDEC's specifications already, but speeds greater than PC2-10000 (or 625Mhz - 1250Mhz DDR) with an acceptable production yield do not seem feasible. In this respect it IS time for DDR3 to hit the market. But that time is, in my opinion anyway, just not here yet.

In respect to the former little personal view, let's take a look at today's guinea pigs. Our test candidate of the day comes from OCZ's latest memory lineup: the recently introduced "Reaper HPC" Series. The one we're looking at today is the PC2-8500 Reaper HPC kit, rated for a speed of 1066Mhz DDR. As you'll notice right away from the package in the picture below, the design of the memory heat spreaders is something completely new, we'll go into detail on the next page.

A first look

Have a look at the package that came OCZ designed for their new memory lineup:

Madshrimps (c)

As you can see, the modules are quite a bit taller than your average unit, so quite logically OCZ had to develop a new package around the modules. Like the Flex XLC series, the modules are packed in a horizontal position instead of the former vertical packaging, which results in a wider package. In this case I did not have the same problem as with the Flex XLC, where the modules tended to slide out of position in the blister. The Reaper HPC series is firmly packed for a safe transit to your homes.

Instead of the usual folded card with integrated manual at the back of the blister, OCZ has designed a new package card with some PR and a schematic of the heat sink design. No install manual is present this time around, but again, if you like to build your own computer, you'd better know what you're doing. Some more views of the package can be found below.

Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c) Madshrimps (c)


For those that aren't familiar with OCZ's ram, here's a word on the company:

OCZ is one of the premier manufacturers of memory modules, and one of the biggest players on the international market. OCZ technology was founded in 2000 and has established quite a name for producing high end ram products, especially among the enthusiast community. Since early 2004, OCZ also produces high-end power supplies, and at the beginning of 2007, nVidia Graphic Cards were added, starting with their flag ship model, the 8800GTX. In 2007, OCZ will also put a new focus on cooling products, by introducing some water-cooling products and best of all, a new phase change unit. Only last week, OCZ announced that they have acquired PC Power & Cooling, a (very) high end PSU manufacturer. For the time being though, memory remains the most important branch in OCZ's product catalogue, and in that respect it is always nice to be able to test the best of the best. For many products, OCZ has received praise from reviewers around the world, and so far OCZ has managed to fulfill the enthusiast's expectations year after year.

The full name of the kit we're reviewing today is the OCZ PC8500 Reaper HPC, and the memory is as such a part of an entirely new section of OCZ ram, directed at the "enthusiast". OCZ has been bringing out a lot of new memory lineups lately, especially concentrating on innovative cooling solutions (like the Flex XLC series) to be able to keep the hot micron chips as cool as possible.

Let's have a closer look at the modules on the next page ->
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