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 The early 5-5-5 timings at the official DDR2-800 speed have since been replaced by several high performance memories capable of 3-3-3 timings at DDR2-800.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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  • Final Hamlet - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    Oh look! It's Bicycle repair man! Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    I don't really know what to think with ddr3 .. or even ddr2.

    When I jumped from PC 2700 memory (cas 3 i think) up to PC3200 memory cas 2 I noticed a increase in the overall speed of my computer.

    When I jumped to DDR2 PC5300 I noticed no speed increase. When I jumped to PC6400 I noticed no speed increase. When I overclock my memory I notice no...

    You get the picture.

    I have a question. DDR3 with tight timings, Will we accualy notice it over ddr2? Or will it be one of those things where only a benchmark tends to notice anything.
    Reply
  • Starglider - Friday, May 18, 2007 - link

    Depends on what applications you're running. But based on your recent experience, probably not. Reply
  • defter - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    The article says that P965 board was running at 1066MHz FSB and then writer is suprised when P35 + DDR2 running at 1333MHz FSB is slightly faster??? Then in the conclusion it's said that the reason for an increased performance is the chipset instead of a higher FSB???

    If you want to make P965 vs P35+DDR2 comparision, why not use the same FSB.....
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    The P965 was running at 10x266 or 2.66GHz. The P35 boards ran at 8x333 or 2.66GHz. 1333 is not a natural CPU ratio on the P965 so when you choose 1333 there is no way to also choose DDR2-800. At 1333 the closest you can get (at a different strap) is 833. We believe the way we tested was as close to apples to apples as we could design. Remember we are looking at MEMORY PERFOMNACE, and the FSB should not matter as long as memory speed and timings are set the same on all test boards, which we definitley insured.

    Despite that, we know that Sandra XI results can be influenced a small amount by CPU speed and possibly FSB. To make sure our results were still as close to apples to apples as possible we did run 10x266 on all boards and compared results to our test setup. The MEMORY PERFORMANCE results were virtually the same as we have reported.

    We do agree that were we testing CPU performance the differing bus speeds at the same resulatant CPU speed could make some difference.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Despite that, we know that Sandra XI results can be influenced a small amount by CPU speed and possibly FSB. To make sure our results were still as close to apples to apples as possible we did run 10x266 on all boards and compared results to our test setup. The MEMORY PERFORMANCE results were virtually the same as we have reported.


    Defter is right. You guys were just testing performance increase by using a 1333FSB instead of 1066FSB. Memory bandwidth tests like Sandra will show HUGE differences. Remember, the CPU will not benefit from faster memory when FSB isn't faster. It's different from AMD where Hypertransport is only used for northbridge to southbridge communications(which yields into 0% improvement ) for PC.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    P35 is a combination of an increase in bus speed to 1333 and an improved memory controller. We are working on a followup article to appear in a few days that shows the breakdown of the bus speed contribution and the memory controller contribution.

    That does not change the fact that memory bandwidth for P35 is improved 16% to 18% over P965, but we have run additional tests to show the individual impact of the bus speed increase and the memory controller improvements.

    In approaching testing it is not possible to run 1333 FSB on the P965/975x and also run memory speeds like 800 and 1066 as we would like. On P35 if 1066 FSB is selected then 1333 is not available as a memory option. We can, however, run 1066 FSB on P35 to roughly determine Memory Controller contribution compared to P965, and then compare those results to 1333 equivalents (8X333 instead of 10x266) to see the additional impact of the 1333 bus on memory performance. Those results will be reported as soon as testing is complete.
    Reply
  • defter - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    quote:

    1333 is not a natural CPU ratio on the P965 so when you choose 1333 there is no way to also choose DDR2-800


    Why not report results at 1066MHz FSB then?


    quote:

    Remember we are looking at MEMORY PERFOMNACE, and the FSB should not matter as long as memory speed and timings are set the same on all test boards, which we definitley insured.


    Intel's CPUs are FSB limited since memory traffic goes through FSB. For example, 1066MHz FSB can transfer 8.5GB/s while dual channel DDR2-800 can provide 12.8GB/s. Thus, increasing the FSB also affects memory performance.
    Reply
  • vaystrem - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I'm curious:
    A) Why did you chose Farcry?
    B) Why you didn't include more game tests?

    I think it would be particularly interesting to see how a game like Supreme Commander or Company of Heroes performs. In strategy games you have the stress from the graphical component and a heavy AI load which may take better advantage of all that bandwidth than a simple FPS.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    This was a comparison of DDR3 and DDR2, not a launch review for P35. You will see that when the performance embargo lifts on May 21st. Far Cry is part of our standard memory test suite and we are very familiar with how it behaves with variations in memory bandwith and timings. That is why it was chosen.

    You will see test results with many more games when we review the chipset on May 21st and the new P35 motherboards on June 4th.

    Consider this a preview, and all the advance info we could give you at this point. The NDA for DDR3 memory has lifted, but the performance NDA for P35 is in place until the 21st.
    Reply

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