Powerful Performance / Rock Bottom Price: Crucial DDR-RAM on the SiS 735 Chipset
By Joel Hruska
Date: October 20th, 2001
The importance of having high-quality RAM cannot be overemphasized. The type and quality of the memory used is perhaps second to only the motherboard itself in ensuring a stable system and a powerful machine.
Although there are several high-end manufacturers of quality RAM, Crucial is a company that has become familiar to both the high-end enthusiast and IT professional alike for both their excellent products and unique business model. Unlike other memory manufacturers who sell their product via a retail or online outlet, Crucial also sells directly from the factory at very competitive prices. This, they claim, allows them to pass their cost savings on to customers. Crucial, a subsidiary of Micron, also manufacturers its DIMMs on a 6-layer PCB process in order to ensure a higher quality product.
Sounds Good…But Do They Deliver?
The proof of a product (and a company), of course, is in whether or not they can fulfill their marketing claims. A quick look at the company’s website proves their pricing is competitive -- currently under $32 for a 256 Meg stick of DDR-RAM which is an excellent price. In addition, the company appears to have an efficient delivery system. Every order we’ve ever placed with them has been delivered on time and filled correctly. A quick glance at www.Resellerratings.com shows Crucial with an excellent rating of 6.7 / 7.0, securing it as one of the highest-rated retailers listed.
Of course offering a competitive price and a superior distribution model is of little use unless the company’s product performs as well. Let’s take a look at Crucial DDR performance.
Athlon XP 1800+
ECS K7S5A Motherboard (SiS 735)
512 Meg Crucial DDR-RAM (PC2400) / 512 Meg Tonicom SDR-RAM (PC133)
3D Prophet 4500 (Kyro II)
Seagate ATA IV 40 gig 7200 RPM HDD
We chose the ECS K7S5A SiS 735 platform for several reasons. First of all, it allows both SDRAM and DDR-RAM to be used on a single board. This allowed us to test memory performance with both types of RAM on the same platform which helps ensure a level comparison. Secondly, the SiS 735 is one of the highest-performing Athlon chipsets currently available today.
SiSoft Sandra ALU Test (EMMX / SSE)
In Sisoftware's Sandra, we see the power of DDR as the SDR solution is only able to achieve 58% the bandwidth of the Crucial DDR-SDRAM in the ALU bandwidth test. The bandwidth delivered by DDR SDRAM is notably higher than what we obtained in our initial Athlon XP review where we tested with the venerable AMD 761 chipset. SiS has designed an impressive core logic solution.
SiSoft Sandra FPU Test
The relative results don’t change much in the Sandra test of FPU bandwidth (apparently there is a flaw in the Sandra algorithm since FPU bandwidth should at least reach what is being delivered to the ALU). The SDRAM turns in high numbers (for SDR) but DDR cruises right past it.
In Cachemem we see DDR-SDRAM with a sustainable write-speed almost 30% faster than the SDRAM system. Higher data throughputs directly transfer into improved performance on applications like Quake III, and encoding/decoding applications.
You might be curious how DDR-SDRAM chipsets have been becoming more powerful throughout 2001. This is accomplished by reducing memory access latencies to lower the amount of wasted time between cache-line bursts. This can be accomplished in many ways such as adding data prefetch engines (especially when combined with local caching), or increasing burst lengths.
Of course, no manufacture is going to recommend running its products out of spec. Crucial does not condone or support overclocking and publicly states that those of you who choose to overclock will void your warranties and risk damaging your product. Nevertheless, there are many hobbyists that WILL overclock, and wish to know how well hardware will perform cranked up a notch or two.
Unfortunately the one downfall of the ECS K7S5A motherboard is that it does not include many overclocking options. There are no FSB options between 138 and 150 MHz in the BIOS I was using, so I was unable to test above 138 MHz. I can confirm that the Crucial DDR-SDRAM in question booted and ran at a CL2. All RAM timings were adjusted to the most aggressive settings and the system ran perfectly with a 138 MHz FSB leading me to believe there was probably at least another 10 Mhz or so of headroom left in the RAM, especially if the settings are loosened somewhat.
As always, you overclock at your own risk, but Crucial does seem to make a product that tolerates being pushed out of its official specification quite easily and without complaint.
It’s a refreshing change to be able to recommend both a high quality product and a high-quality vendor. The Crucial DDR RAM was rock-stable through all the tests we ran -- even when overclocked -- and the RAM scores turned in by the ECS board were quite good and some of the highest we’ve seen from a production motherboard. Considering this motherboard costs only $60 dollars or so, the ECS K7S5A is an outstanding bargain.
With RAM prices as cheap as they are, there’s really no reason to choose a generic RAM and take the risk of lower performance and lower quality. By no means is Crucial the only high-quality RAM manufacturer out there, but they are definitely one of the best. With 256 Meg of DDR-SDRAM going for under $32, it is obviously true that high performance doesn’t mean high price anymore.
If you are considering a new AMD Athlon / Duron system, then there is no persuasive reason to go with SDRAM considering the very small price difference with DDR SDRAM and the motherboards that support DDR. DDR SDRAM also significantly outperforms SDRAM in bandwidth related tasks.
We will follow up this article soon with more testing.
You can purchase Crucial memory directly from the manufacturer through our shopping page.
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