DDR1, DDR2, DDR3: Navigating The RAM Maze

DDR1, DDR2, DDR3: Navigating The RAM Maze

DDR1, DDR2, DDR3: Navigating The RAM Maze

By Hal Licino

Choosing the proper DDR-variant for your PC is critical!

Which DDR Is Which? Here Is A Full Guide To RAM.

Many computer enthusiasts know exactly what they want when they go to configure their new system. They’ve researched and picked out a perfectly matching CPU, motherboard and videocard combination that will meet all their needs. However, when it comes to RAM many users become totally befuddled. They generally know how much RAM they need (1GB is the effective operating minimum these days, 2GB if running Vista or using hungry apps like Photoshop), but they don’t have a clue as to what DDR1, DDR2 or DDR3 means.

It turns out that selecting the proper DDR variant is a very important factor that determines how your overall system will perform, thus every enthusiast/prosumer/gamer should be well-advised to learn the basics.

Double Data Rate DIMM is known as DDR-DIMM, DDR DIMM, or most popularly just plain DDR. Double Data Rate interfaces provide two data transfers per differential clock. The data becomes registered when the CK goes high [the + side], and /CK goes low [the – side]. DDR1 utilizes the JEDEC standard for Double Data Rate [DDR I] SDRAM. Like all DDR RAM it is available as registered or unbuffered. Registered DIMMs are generally known as FB-DIMMs and have their address and control lines buffered in order to reduce signal loading. FB-DIMMs are considerably more expensive than unbuffered DIMMs and are generally reserved for server use. There are very few enthusiast/prosumer/gamers utilizing FB-DIMMs in their rigs. Unbuffered DIMMs don’t feature address lines and control line buffering, so they cost quite a bit less. However, they may be system-loading limited and are thus generally restricted in the number that can be fitted onto one system. You’ll find that most unbuffered DIMMs these days can only be installed on one motherboard to a maximum of 4 x 1GB. Buffered or registered DIMMs don’t have these limitations and server boards can accomodate 8 x 1GB, 16 x 1GB or more. An interesting and largely unknown aspect of unbuffered DDR DIMMs is that they are able to operate one clock cycle faster then FB-DIMMs.

DDR2 memory is the second generation in DDR memory. DDR2 begins with a speed level of 400MHz as the lowest available while the 400MHz speed is actually the highest speed for DDR1. Therefore, DDR2 picks up where DDR1 leaves off. It’s a bit strange but due to different latencies a 400MHz DDR1 will outperform a 400MHz DDR2, but the advantage returns to DDR2 as soon as the speed reaches the next step 532MHz, which DDR1 cannot reach.

It follows that DDR3 is the third generation in DDR memory. DDR3 begins with a speed level of 800Mbps (400MHz) as the lowest available. As of March, 2009 (22 months after the rest of this Hub was written) the highest popularly available DDR3 speed is represented by the PC3-16000 Corsair Dominator GT and OCZ Blade Series lines which run at an absolutely blistering 2 billion data transfers per second!!!

Adding to customer confusion is that RAM is often referred to as a DDR-number or a PC-number. (The Revenge of the Geekizoids continues.) Here is a Chart for the various currently common DDRs as of March 2009:

Current DDR2

* DDR2-400. Memory Clock: 100 MHz. Bus Clock: 200 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 400,000,000. Module Name: PC2-3200.
* DDR2-533. Memory Clock: 133 MHz. Bus Clock: 266 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 533,000,000. Module Name: PC2-4200.
* DDR2-667. Memory Clock: 166 MHz. Bus Clock: 333 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 667,000,000. Module Name: PC2-5300.
* DDR2-800. Memory Clock: 200 MHz. Bus Clock: 400 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 800,000,000. Module Name: PC2-6400.
* DDR2-1066. Memory Clock: 266 MHz. Bus Clock: 533 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,066,000,000. Module Name: PC2-8500.

Current DDR3

* DDR3-800. Memory Clock: 100 MHz. Bus Clock: 400 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 800,000,000. Module Name: PC3-6400.
* DDR3-1066. Memory Clock: 133 MHz. Bus Clock: 533 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,066,000,000. Module Name: PC3-8500.
* DDR3-1333. Memory Clock: 166 MHz. Bus Clock: 667 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,333,000,000. Module Name: PC3-10600.
* DDR3-1600. Memory Clock: 200 MHz. Bus Clock: 800 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,600,000,000. Module Name: PC3-12800.
* DDR3-1800. Memory Clock: 225 MHz. Bus Clock: 900 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,800,000,000. Module Name: PC3-14400.
* DDR3-1866. Memory Clock: 233 MHz. Bus Clock: 933 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 1,866,000,000. Module Name: PC3-14900.
* DDR3-2000. Memory Clock: 250 MHz. Bus Clock: 1000 MHz. Data Transfers/Sec.: 2,000,000,000. Module Name: PC3-16000.

Now which CPU/chipset matches which RAM? It would take an encyclopaedia to list all the CPUs and all the chipsets and their “best-fit” DDRs. Before finalizing your system configuration you should research your CPU manufacturer’s RAM recommendations and fit that exact type of DDR to it. You would be just as foolish in using a PC3-12800 DDR3-1600 with an AMD Sempron 2800+ as you would be to burden down your Intel QX6800 with a PC1600 DDR-200. Every CPU/chipset combo has its proper DDR fit, and you should find out exactly what they are and stick to them. Fitting a slower than recommended DDR to your system will bottleneck critical RAM functions and could slow your otherwise very speedy system to a tortoise crawl.

There are many other factors involved in choosing the right RAM for your rig. Latencies are critical, but the details are too extensive to include here and will form the basis of a future blog. There are also a mind-boggling array of RAM brand names and pricepoints. Generally, you get what you pay for and as long as you are comparing various brands at the same retailer, the price will be a fairly good indicator of quality. Some of the leading manufacturers include:

Centon

Corsair

Crucial

Kingston

OCZ

Patriot

A couple of more points to remember. First, RAM heat spreaders may or may not be worth the extra cost. I can see that they would be useful only in the tiniest minority of high-load, prolonged-heavy-use situations. Don’t ever touch your RAM (or other PC internal components) without being thoroughly grounded with a good static strap. Static can zap your circuitry before you know it.

If you follow these guidelines and thoroughly research the proper DDR for your system, you’ll be rewarded with years of speedy and trouble-free computing. A bit of prior study is a small price to pay!

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