Value RAM Roundup: Computing On a Budgetby Wesley Fink on April 11, 2005 4:26 PM EST
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If money were no object in buying a new computer system, enthusiasts would almost always choose the fastest memory with the best timings and the largest overclocking potential. The reality for most, however, is that a new system purchase or upgrade is most often a question of where to put your money for the greatest performance return. To make those kinds of decisions on a system purchase, you really need to know the real difference in performance between buying the best and buying something half the price, and possibly putting the money saved elsewhere for a larger performance gain.
These questions of the real impact of memory speed and timings on performance are things that we have talked about in many memory reviews. AnandTech has always been an advocate of real world performance measurements, and we've shunned using just synthetic benchmarks in our testing of every type of component. This is not because synthetic benchmarks are not useful - they are often very revealing of component differences. It is because running just synthetic benchmarks can severely distort the picture of performance with real applications and real games. That is why we always use games and the pure number-crunching Super Pi in our memory tests. It is also the reason why we test using both Buffered (Standard) and Unbuffered synthetic benchmarks. We have found in much of our testing that the less commonly used Unbuffered benchmarks more closely mirror how games really respond to memory differences.
This quest for real performance differences is also the reason why we moved to testing different memory speeds at the same CPU clock speed in our Athlon 64 memory tests. The AMD CPU, with unlocked multipliers, allowed us to finally remove the CPU speed differences from our memory tests so that you could finally see the true impact of memory speed increases and memory timings on performance. As you have seen in past reviews, those performance differences are very real, although they are much smaller than many memory manufacturers might want you to believe. On the other hand, faster memory speeds and faster memory timings do improve performance, no matter what some nay-sayers are determined to prove.
Let's state, right up front, that if you're on a tight budget, memory is often a good place to save a little money by buying less than the best and moving that cash to a better CPU or a better video card. You are likely to get a bigger performance boost with the extra $150 that you save on memory by buying a faster CPU or an upgraded video card. But don't be misled. The upgrade to the next higher CPU would normally increase performance maybe 5 to 10% - about the same as the difference in performance between cheap, slow memory and fast memory with tight timings. Video cards usually yield more than a 10% boost for that same $150.
If you do need to balance and buy less than the best in memory, the need for help is even greater than if you can afford whatever you want. Some Value RAM is pretty basic and slow, and some is just about as good as the best and most expensive that you can buy. For that reason, it was well beyond time for our first Value RAM roundup. There are some disappointments and a few very pleasant surprises. We think that you will be surprised by how much performance there is in some cases, and how little in others, when you're shopping for Value RAM.