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Remember when investing in a 2GB DDR1 kit would run a king’s ransom? We do, and it wasn’t all that long ago. Some of you may even still be getting by with an older rig built around the original DDR standard, but more than likely, you’re sporting a system a little more modern. And if you built your machine in recent times, there’s a good chance you hopped onto Intel’s X58 or P55 platforms, both of which take advantage of DDR3 memory.
The first iteration of Core i7 (LGA 1366) introduced us to triple-channel memory (not to be confused with the DDR3 nomenclature, which doesn’t refer to triple-channel), and with it, bigger RAM kits than we’ve ever seen before. Suddenly, 4GB of memory was no longer hardcore, and even 6GB teetered on the ho-hum side of high-end. In the realm of triple-channel memory kits, 12GB has become the new overboard, and 24GB the new ‘Are you out of your ____ing mind?’
Things are little more tempered in dual-channel territory, where 4GB is still respectable, but 8GB separates the power users from everyone else. And with the proliferation of DDR3 in notebooks, an 8GB upgrade isn’t just a statement of your commitment to run with the big dogs, it’s also a costly investment. Outside of bragging rights, is it worth it?
To help us answer that question, we pleaded our case with Crucial and asked them if they’d send out an 8GB DDR3 SO-DIMM kit. Our goal? To find out if it makes sense for an average user to pony up the cash for a monster sized mobile RAM kit, and if not, who would ultimately benefit from a heap of RAM. Crucial obliged by sending out their 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3-1066 notebook kit, so let’s have a look at what effect doubling up our notebook’s memory has on performance.
|Capacity||8GB (4GB x 2)|
|Speed Rating||DDR3-1066 / PC3-8500|
Wondering what a $500 memory kit looks like? Here it is, in mobile form anyway. Unlike the desktop sector, most notebook memory kits don’t come with heatspreaders. Part of the reason is because they take up too much space and could render the SO-DIMMs incompatible with some notebooks. And in most cases, this should be a non-issue, as the majority of notebooks don’t come equipped with overclocking-friendly BIOSes anyway.
On the technical side, our Crucial 8GB kit consists of unbuffered, non-ECC, 512Meg x 64 memory chips on a green printed circuit board (PCB). It comes rated at 1.5V, so it should work in any DDR3-based notebook.
The bigger the kit the looser the latencies, right? Not necessarily. Higher latencies are typically associated with higher frequencies, and since this is a modest DDR3-1066 kit, Crucial managed to keep the timings down to a respectable 7-7-7-20.
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo T9800 2.93GHz|
|Memory||4GB vs 8GB|
|Graphics||Nvidia 9800M GTS|
|Hard Drive||2x500GB Seagate Momentus 7200RPM (RAID 0)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Professional 64bit|
To examine what impact additional RAM has on everyday computing performance, we grabbed our usual notebook testbed, which we’ve upgraded to maximize performance. Our upgrades consisted of swapping out the stock P8400 processor for a much faster T9800, and ripping out the stock 200GB hard drive for a pair of Seagate’s newest Momentus units in a RAID 0 array (see our review here - http://hardwarelogic.com/articles.php?id=5558).
|Memory Latency||104 ns||98 ns|
|Cache / Memory Bandwidth||23.87||23.66|
|Memory Latency||80 ns||80.9 ns|
|x1||4 min 0 sec||3 min 59 sec|
|x2||2 min 7 sec||2 min 6 sec|
|WPrime 32M||28.061 sec||28.205 sec|
|SuperPi 1M||15.647 sec||15.663 sec|
|32M||16 min 33.894 sec||16 min 37.482 sec|
|Photoshop CS4 (DriverHeaven Script)||4 min||4 min 5 sec|
Surprised by the results? Without fail, it was a neck-and-neck race between our 4GB and 8GB kit across the board, whether it was a synthetic benchmark or a real-world test run. The two kits ran so close that we didn’t even bother bolding which one had the higher score in any given category.
Warranty and Support
Our aim here wasn’t really to review this specific memory kit, but we feel it’s worth mentioning Crucial’s warranty and support. Like just about every memory vendor, Crucial offers a lifetime warranty, and when you’re shelling out several hundred dollars for a beefy SO-DIMM kit, you’re going to want that peace of mind. Even better, however, has been our experience with Crucial’s support.
After suffering through Vista’s sluggishness, you may have come to the conclusion that any modern system will always benefit from additional RAM. But that just isn’t the case, at least not on Windows 7. For almost every user, including those who spend a chunk of time editing photos in Photoshop, it doesn’t make sense to trade your 4GB memory kit in for a more expensive 8GB kit that runs several hundred dollars (in this case, $499 before a 30% off promo code, GIZMO).
Our benchmark run revealed no discernable difference whether we were equipped with 4GB or 8GB, so for most users, you’re better off saving your ducats and applying them elsewhere if looking to give your notebook a performance boost.
So who exactly will benefit from 8GB on a mobile setup? We’ve eliminated the mainstream user, and made a strong case against the power user, and that leaves the excess of RAM most suitable for users with specialized needs, such as CAD and other RAM intensive applications. In other words, true professionals need only apply.
Will the same hold true on a Core i7 testbed? We won’t bother speculating, and instead recommend you stay tuned. Should we get the chance, we’ll revisit the 4GB vs 8GB scenario on Intel’s latest silicon at a later date.