Even before we consider the results of our performance testing, it's interesting to note that Sandy Bridge makes higher-speed memory more and less appealing. On one hand, the unlocked memory multiplier present in K-series CPUs makes setting a higher memory frequency almost as trivial as changing any other BIOS setting. At the same time, the fact that base-clock overclocking is essentially a dead end for Sandy Bridge CPUs means that faster memory isn't required to keep up with higher base clock frequencies. The only reason to buy faster memory for a Sandy Bridge rig is if it's going to improve performance.
So, is it?
That depends. If you're running memory benchmarks all day long, then yes, faster memory will improve bandwidth and access latencies substantially. In fact, Sandy Bridge CPUs extract more performance from the same memory configuration than their Lynnfield- and Clarkdale-based counterparts. However, as we learned when exploring the affect of memory speed on the performance of Intel's first Core i7 processors, finding games and applications that make effective use of the extra memory bandwidth and faster access latencies can be difficult.
Among the tests we ran, only the Euler3d fluid dynamics simulation enjoyed a substantial benefit from faster memory configurations. Video encoding and file compression ran a little bit quicker with higher memory frequencies and tighter timings, but most of our application tests showed little or no improvement in performance. Neither did the games, which only managed to squeeze a few extra FPS out of our fastest memory configuration.
Although there are certainly cases where pairing Sandy Bridge processors with low-latency or high-frequency memory can yield impressive gains, it's hard to find a common desktop application or game whose performance improves enough to justify the additional expense. If you're looking to set benchmarking records or to compensate for personal shortcomings, K-series Sandy Bridge CPUs at least make it easy to run exotic DIMMs at blistering speeds. Everyone else can rest assured that using relatively inexpensive DDR3-1333 memory won't cost them much performance in the real world.
124 comments — Last by DarkUltra at 1:15 PM on 02/20/11
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