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LGA 1156 Memory Performance: What Speed DDR3 Should You Buy?

We looked at different memory speeds for the LGA 1156-based Core i7-870 and chose to run DDR3-800, -1066, -1333, and -1600 at fast, as well as relaxed, timings. Although the differences were typically very small, there were a few applications that obviously benefited from faster memory. This wasn’t surprising, as we already did similar comparisons on most of the other popular platforms:

DDR3 Memory Scaling: Intel’s Core 2 Quad Examined

Core i7 Memory Scaling: From DDR3-800 to DDR3-1600

DDR3 Memory Scaling on AMD’s Phenom II X4

In all cases, we’ve seen significant performance differences when looking at the synthetic or low-level benchmarks. Memory bandwidth does increase considerably if you speed up the memory transfer rate, and tightening timings also improves performance by cutting latencies. However, only a marginal fraction of these benefits actually arrive at the application level. Even going for the fastest memory available will give you a performance boost that is probably smaller than the effect a faster processor speed bin would deliver.

Nevertheless, there are some applications that are more sensitive to memory performance differences than others. Some 3D games (Left 4 Dead in our case) show a noticeable performance boost, likely because it isn't being bottlenecked by graphics performance. Memory-intensive applications, such as Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 and WinRAR, ran quicker, as well. However, the majority of our benchmarks saw little to scarce performance improvement when going for faster memory, so we tend to stay with our original recommendation: go with brand-name memory at mainstream speeds, which still are in the DDR3-1333 space.

However, memory prices have dropped quite a bit, making even DDR3-1600 products more attractive and bringing even some DDR3-2000 products within range. We believe that it’s acceptable to spend a little more on faster memory today if you’re about to invest in other valuable components. Here is our recommendation list (in this order):

  • Make sure you have 4GB of RAM. Two 2GB DIMMs are favorable to ensure you can use the tightest timings.
  • Make sure you pick a branded product of at least DDR3-1333 speed and timings of CL8 or faster.
  • Go for a faster product if you find DDR3-1600 memory that provides the same timings as your preferred DDR3-1333 RAM kit at only a little price premium. Don’t do it if you could get a faster processor for less or the same extra money.
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  • 2 Hide
    augustus_77 , 9 December 2009 07:48
    I think the advantage of DDR3-1600 is not in the memory speed, but that the multiplier-locked CPU can be overclocked to a much higher frequency than DDR3-1066 would permit. This will result in the tremendous performance gain of DDR3-1600 over DDR3-1066.
  • -2 Hide
    jamac666 , 9 December 2009 20:43
    I love DDR3! It's such fast ram and mine is only 1333mhz. Well worth the upgrade from ddr2.
  • 0 Hide
    acecooper , 10 December 2009 03:39
    how long are the adobe encoding program settings for? (premiere)
  • 1 Hide
    damian86 , 10 December 2009 06:07
    Thanks a lot guys,that was a usefull guide if you are wondering what memory you will get.Why are you showing all the benchmarks in percentages?
    in the games,mp3 encoding,rar?you could give us a precise result by showing it on fps,minutes and secs,scores, doesn't really help if you say "Percent(more is better)".not offence,just trying to help.
    I took your advise anyway.Thanks
  • 0 Hide
    vernoncougar , 10 December 2009 14:36
    I've got core i7 860 with team xtreem 8GB 1600mhz memory,i am happy with it.
  • 0 Hide
    redkachina , 10 December 2009 15:56
    Great, I'm still torn between lots of DDR3 brands for my next i5 750 / PII 955 builds, clearly that the difference between each RAM speed is not that I'm going for the cheaper ones!
  • 0 Hide
    Black3ird , 5 March 2010 14:45
    Apart from my supplier not haveing a few of the compared items for sale, this was great help in deciding, thanks!