About three years ago DDR2 memory first appeared on the desktop PC scene. It would be impossible to say it burst on the scene since it was introduced with the unimpressive Intel NetBurst processors. In that market DDR2 was more like a trickle since it was mainly a curiosity for a processor that was running a distant second place to the leading AMD Athlon chips, which were still powered by DDR memory.

DDR2 finally became the universal standard last May/June when AMD switched to DDR2 on their new AM2 platform and Intel introduced Core 2 Duo, the new CPU performance leader. Core 2 Duo resided on socket 775, which also was fed by DDR2. While it sometimes seems like centuries ago, it is worth remembering that Intel Core 2 Duo regained the CPU performance crown less than a year ago, and the two years prior to that all the fastest systems used AMD Athlon 64/X2/FX processors.

We compared performance of DDR2 on the new platforms in July of last year. AM2 provided better bandwidth with DDR2, but the better AM2 bandwidth did not translate into better performance. Since Core 2 Duo was faster at the same timings, it appeared the Intel Core 2 Duo architecture was not particularly bandwidth hungry and that it made very good use of the DDR2 bandwidth that was available with the chipset memory controller.

Since last May/June DDR2 has finally turned the market, and it has made some remarkable transformations along the way. The early 5-5-5 timings at the official DDR2-800 speed have since been replaced by several high performance memories capable of 3-3-3 timings at DDR2-800. The best memory at DDR2-1066 can now operate at 4-4-3 timings, and the fastest DDR2 is now around DDR2-1266 and still getting faster.

Perhaps even more remarkable, in the last year DDR2 memory prices have dropped to half of what they once were (sometimes more), and today DDR2 is often cheaper than the DDR memory it replaced. Compared to the very expensive prices at launch and into the holiday buying season we see DDR2 is now the memory price standard in the desktop computer market.

Fast forward a year and Intel is now launching their first chipsets to support DDR3 memory. In one of the sloppiest NDA launches in recent memory we already have P35 boards for sale since early May. The official chipset introduction is scheduled for May 21st and boards are "officially" launching into the retail channel on June 4th.

We can tell you that Intel does not really have an NDA, but they have been very aggressive in holding first tier manufacturers to a May 21st performance embargo and retail distribution on June 4th. Despite that, people around the world have been able to buy P35 boards from several retailers. We have retail boards we bought on the open market, which makes the 21st NDA a moot point in our opinion. Still, we value our relationship with both Intel and the major board makers, so this will not be a full P35 launch review. You will see that coming on May 21st.

What this review does address is the performance of the new DDR3 memory that is launched with P35. The new Intel P35 chipset, known as Bearlake during development, supports either DDR2 or DDR3 memory. This presented a perfect opportunity to look at the performance of both DDR3 and DDR2 on the new P35 chipset. We were also able to compare performance to a Gold Editors' Choice Intel P965 motherboard. The results of these comparisons provided interesting results about the capabilities of the new P35 memory controller. It also answered the question of whether you should care about DDR3 in any upcoming system purchase.

What is DDR3?
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  • 13Gigatons - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    Suddenly it doesn't seem like a bad decision on AMD's part to hold off on their move to AM3 and DDR3 until 2008/2009. I really don't get why we need to change the memory technology so fast, with DDR2 finally dropping in price so fast.

    I'd rather have 4GB of DDR2 then 1GB of DDR3.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    Actually, a 2%-5% performance jump is very impressive from anything other than a CPU or GPU. Running a Raptor versus a 7200RPM drive, or a high-end motherboard versus a budget model, or a add-on sound card versus onboard audio all are choices many people make without any huge double digit performance gains in most applications.

    Thats said, the 2%-5% gain isn't from the memory standard (did you even read the article?) but from the new chipset. So these numbers have absolutely no bearing on AMD's choices.
    Reply
  • Googer - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    If you wanted to test bandwidth effects, why use a processor that is not very bandwidth dependant? Instead a bandwidth hungry LGA-775 Prescott should have been one the CPU's used in these DDR3 benchmarks. I'd like to see this article updated with a dual core netburst processor added. Reply
  • TA152H - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    Are Prescotts even relevant anymore though? I mean, how many people are going to be perspecacious enough to buy a P35 based motherboard, and care about memory performance, and then go out and buy something as foul as a Prescott? It might make for an interesting data point, but it's a very little practical value. Reply
  • vailr - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Please include, in your forthcoming P35 board review: enabling SATA AHCI mode. Still remains puzzling, especially when a board uses a non-Raid Intel chipset, such as the ICH8. Gigabyte says on their web site, that on the GAS-965P-DS3, that AHCI should only be enabled when running Vista. Several other questions remain, such as: AHCI seems to work fine under WinXP when using the latest 1.17.17 JMicron drivers (single HD connected to a JMicron SATA port). Connecting the same HD to an Intel port, and AHCI won't work. Intel's offical AHCI drivers only seem to install when a Raid array is present.
    In summary: please include comments on any differences and/or improvements in AHCI support between the 965 v. P35 chipsets.
    Reply
  • Comdrpopnfresh - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    There was an article a few months ago saying that speed increases on ddr2 didn't really matter, the architecture for the memory was old enough that there was a decline in performance advantage as speeds increase. If ddr3 is basically the same as ddr2, wouldn't the same be expected? Does anyone have any idea when the timings will come down? The voltage is nothing to gawk at- it's the reason for the increased speed. On the gate level, the less space between high and low, he faster a gate can transition. I'm most interested to see ddr3 performance and bandwidth numbers w/ amd processors. Reply
  • R3MF - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    i currently have
    an X2 system with PC3200 dual channel
    and a C2D system with PC6400 dual channel

    i definitely see a quad core 3.2GHz chip running PC12800 in my future.

    hooray for technology!
    Reply
  • DeepThought86 - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I wonder how long before Intel gets impatient and starts not-so-gently shoving DDR3 down people's throats long before the price or performance justify it?

    "Oh look, our chipsets for Nehalem don't support DDR2, woops you'll have to dump your DDR2 and get this spiffy new stuff. Look, it went from 2 to 3, it must be better!"
    Reply
  • theprodigalrebel - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    I remember reading an article somewhere where the interviewer asked an AMD person about Intel pushing for DDR3. The guy admitted that DDR3 is the way of the future - though not ready/relevant today - and only a company like Intel can drive that change.

    In his words, AMD's move to DDR2 came at the right time - in terms of price and advances in bandwidth/latency where DDR2 finally defeated the best DDR kits. He admitted that the move wouldn't have been possible unless Intel had moved the market in that direction over the past year or so.

    Intel has driven changes from AGP to PCI-Express, IDE to SATA and DDR to DDR2. It seems forced at first - and it probably is - but you don't HAVE to be an early adopter. You had the 925 chipset introducing DDR2 and 915 boards supporting DDR. That is exactly what is happening here.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    You need for Intel to push stuff down people's throats, or you'd never get these changes. No other company is in a position to, it's like IBM used to be almost 20 years ago.

    The price of the memory will go down as production goes up, which of course is driven by demand, which of course has to be driven by Intel. If not Intel, then who?

    By offering a chipset that offers both, they are slowly starting the transition and the prices should get closer. At some point, supporting DDR2 is just a waste of chipset space and is costing people money that have no intention of ever using it, so you get rid of it. At that point it might cost a little more still, but that's the price you pay for transitioning to a better technology, and making that technology cost effective. I think they're extremely important to the industry for exactly that reason, not a malicious force.
    Reply

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