Four is better than two
PC components manufacturers rarely need a pretext to launch new products - you see special-edition models out on a regular basis - but when one does come along, usually coinciding with a major CPU, graphics-card, or game launch, the market is flooded with what the uneducated consumer may believe are all-new products.
One such recent pretext is the launch of Intel's Core-i7 3000-series chips. Informed readers will know the two performance chips, launched early last week, have a quad-channel memory-controller built into the silicon. This means they can concurrently access system memory from four separate DIMMs, leading to gobs of bandwidth that hasn't been hither-to seen on a consumer platform before.
Motherboard makers' supporting X79 chipsets tend to have eight DIMM slots, enabling workstation-level memory to be installed, especially if 4GB modules are used. Now, memory manufacturers have used the Core-i7 3000-series' quad-channel specification to release a dizzying array of four-DIMM kits. How does 64GB grab you?
The vagaries of RAM pricing currently favour the purchaser, as a 16GB (4x4GB) kit can be had for about £70, including VAT. And while four memory sticks are mandatory for optimum performance for Intel's latest chips, there's no reason why large capacities cannot be thrown at an Intel Core-i5/i7 2000-series or AMD FX platforms. The only proviso, we suppose, is that you have a 64-bit install of the operating system: 16GB of RAM is practically worthless on a memory-limiting 32-bit OS.
Taiwanese manufacturer G.Skill currently has a multitude of DDR3 memory packs, ranging from DDR3-1,066 through to DDR3-2,400. All mainstream kits are available in at least 16GB capacities, and hitting a sweetspot between cost and speed is the RipJawsZ F3-12800CL9Q-16GBZL. Catchy name, eh?
This kit, priced at £75, comprises of four 4GB modules that are packaged as a 16GB kit, as shown above. Spitting out the pertinent facts, each module runs at 1.5V and is rated to medium-level 9-9-9-24-2T latencies. The DDR3-1,600 (PC12,800) speed, while relatively slow in G.Skill's catalogue, is the fastest supported by Intel on any platform.
A cursory glance would suggest that these are merely a couple of 8GB (2x4GB) kits packaged together to ride on the X79 bandwagon. That's true for the most part, but each module is equipped with Intel's updated XMP, now revised to v1.3 for the X79 chipset. Technical information is scarce on the latest iteration of the auto-setting support, but, from what we gather, there's better fine-tuning of latencies on boards. Bear in mind that the board needs to support v1.3, too.
Module design has had a slight makeover from the RipJaws we saw in the summer. Now updated to a nomenclature 'Z' and curvier than before, this speed-grade doesn't need fancy-pants cooling. The heatspreader is light but fits together nicely over the PCB. Also, standing at 40mm tall, there's no worry over any restrictions placed by large coolers with overhanging fans.
The focus here is on putting value before sheer speed, which is sensible given that Intel's latest processors, to which this kit is aimed, have enough on-chip cache not to need heaps of system-memory speed.
First-page examination suggests that G.Skill has struck a sensible balance between cost and capacity. Let's now see how the 16GB holds up in our benchmarks.