DDR2 is a subject whose time has come, but whose interest is lagging behind. In a few months everyone will be asking what memory they should use with AM2 or Conroe, but for now everyone seems to be like a deer caught in headlights waiting for what will happen. One thing IS certain in today's climate and that is your next memory purchase will be DDR2. Whether AMD or Conroe you should be looking for the fastest and lowest latency DDR2 memory you can find.

The problem, of course, is the lingering perception that DDR2 memory means high latency. That certainly appeared the case when DDR2 was first introduced, but DDR2 development continues. One of the first real DDR2 stars was Micron D fat body chips, which seemed to be used in every early DDR2 memory once memory companies realized how good they were. In a day where DDR2-400 was 1:1, the Micron DDR2 chips could be pushed all the way to DDR2-800 and beyond - and they could reach these speeds at the fastest timings (the lowest latencies) you could find in the market.

A few Intel enthusiasts paid a lot of attention to the Micron fat body D chips, but the rest of the enthusiast world was running in droves to the AMD platform which used older DDR memory instead. As a result Micron fat body D chips were only being talked about by a few die-hard Intel enthusiasts. Then Micron did what they have done many times before with some of their great enthusiast parts. They discontinued fat-body D chips, claiming yields (translate to profits) were not good enough to continue making what were clearly the best DDR2 chips on the market.

Since that time, nothing has really come along that is quite as good as the discontinued Micron fat-body D chips. Progress has been made by several memory manufacturers, and the current darling of DDR2 chips is made by Elpida. 2GB kits (2x1GB DIMMs) based on Elpida chips perform nearly as well as the legendary Micron chips. You can clearly see this typically excellent Elpida DDR2 performance in our recent review, Mushkin XP2 PC2-5300 DDR2 - Xtreme Performance Memory.

The computer enthusiast world is now looking for even more in DDR2 memory. With AM2 expected in June/July, potential buyers are talking about the possible impact of very low DDR2 latencies with the on-chip memory controller that will be featured in the new AM2 processor. With Conroe looking to regain the performance crown, potential buyers are also realizing that without the deep pipes of Intel NetBurst, not only will performance improve, but low DDR2 memory latencies might finally make a performance difference on the Intel platform. The new mantra for DDR2 memory has become low latency, but it is important to understand what that means.

It is too much for this review to look deeply at the DDR2 architecture, but it is important to understand that CAS latency does not work the same way in DDR2 as we have seen in DDR memory. As a result CAS 2 is not even an option in current DDR2 controllers, with CAS 3 a very fast option for DDR2 memory. We have all learned in DDR that the best tRAS performance is NOT normally the fastest tRAS setting, but one that is balanced to the chipset/memory controller architecture. This lesson also carries over to DDR2, with the result that best performance often comes with higher tRAS settings.

All of this leads to the quesion of what are the fastest DDR2 memory timings you can possibly find today in DDR2 memory? The answer is CAS 3, with a current range of CAS 3 to 6, RAS Precharge of 2, with a range from 2 to 6, RAS to CAS Delay of 2 with a range of 2 to 6, and tRAS (RAS Activate to Charge) dependant on chipset/memory controller with a broad range from 4 to 18 in some BIOS. tRAS settings are generally higher in DDR2, with best performance settings commonly in the 9 to 15 range. All of this translates into the lowest latency memory you can conceive today having timings of 3-2-2-9.

With 3-2-2 as the DDR2 Holy Grail, you have a clear idea of the expectations for any new DDR2 memory. There has been huge speculation that Micron's newest memory chips might be this new DDR2 "standard bearer", and it seems it has taken a very long time for Micron to finally deliver these new chips. The first memory we have received with the new Micron DDR2 chips is OCZ EL PC2-8000 XTC.

Rated at DDR2-1000, this OCZ announces right off the bat that it is serious new memory. Past DDR2 has struggled to reach DDR2-1000, so rating this new OCZ at DDR2-1000 is a "look-at-me" announcement. The rated timings of 4-5-4-15 at DDR2-1000 are also exceptionally fast for DDR2 memory at that speed. By the way, for those of you who have trouble translating PC speed ratings to Memory Speeds, all you have to do is divide by 8. Thus PC2-8000 is DDR2-1000 speed, PC-5400 is DDR2-667 (results are approximate), PC2-6400 is DDR2-800, etc.

The OCZ PC2-8000 features the new Micron memory chips, and as you can see from the package it also is a featured member of the Platinum series with the latest "mirrored" XTC perforated heatsinks, and the EL (Enhanced Latency) technology introduced by OCZ. The real question is whether the new Micron chips and the other nice OCZ features translate into groundbreaking DDR2 performance. Is this a memory you would proudly pair with a new AM2 or Conroe processor?

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  • plewis00 - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    If Half-Life 2 was producing anomalous results why didn't you replace it when you suspected a problem with some other game instead. Because haven't you now voided your HL2 benchmarks effectively?
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    The HL2 Lost Coast results were consistnet for this round of tests, but they did not compare well to earlier test results. We have now discovered the benchmarking issue and the HL2 results will be updated as soon as testing is complete.

    Earlier tests were run with HDR (High Dynamic Range) enabled, while current tests were run with HDR disabled. We are now testing with HDR enabled.
  • Avalon - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    You guys need to do something about those memory setting charts. The ones where you display the different timings you could achieve at different FSB settings for a particular memory...mainly, the part where you have "highest performance" I find misleading, because you have increased the CPU speed, so it almost makes it look like the performance results you have next to the settings are getting a huge boost in performance by going from one setting to the next, when it's really the CPU speed causing that.

    Maybe make a note on the chart stating that at highest performance mode, the CPU speed has been increased.

    Other than that, not a bad review. Good memory, it seems.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    The information on which values were overclocked was already in the table, but we revised the chart to try to make the Overclocked values stand out more and to clearly identify the stock performance speeds and values.
  • SnoMunke - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    Interesting article...now about the grammar...

    "OCZ EL PC2-8000 is the best performing DDR2 memory we have ever tested, clearly outperforming any DDR2 that has been tested at AnandTech."
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, April 3, 2006 - link

    An edited sentence and the original sentence got accidentally combined. Thanks for pointing this out. It is now corrected.

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