Corsair’s XMS Xpert memory modules

Manufacturer Corsair
Model XMS Xpert
Price (street)
Availability Now

I FIRST LEARNED THE power of glowing LEDs on memory modules back when I wrote a couple of smart-ass articles about a really horrid pair of DIMMs that I bought from some shady online vendor a number of years ago. The basic gist of the article was that these were really lousy, cheap, unstable memory modules. I showed folks pictures of a single, green, glowing LED on each DIMM, and joked that they were “suckage detectors.” “When the DIMM sucks, the LED light comes on,” I said. “It’s always on.”

It didn’t matter. I got buried under an avalanche of e-mail from people asking where they could buy the glowy DIMMs. So the things didn’t actually work right—big deal. People like the blinkenlights.

Corsair first capitalized on folks’ affinity for glowy things with its XMS Pro series of memory modules, DIMMS with a strip of multicolored LEDs running up their spines that were triggered by memory activity. The apparent success of the Pro series has prompted Corsair to take the bling-bling, or should I say blink-blink, to the next level with its new XMS Xpert modules. On the inside, these are your everyday, above-average DDR400 memory modules suited for ultra-low-latency 2-2-2 timings and backed by Corsair’s lifetime warranty. On the outside, they are an electronic symphony of light emitting diodes in various configurations, from an adaptation of the Pro’s activity-based EQ pulse to a full-on scrolling alphanumeric marquee.

Some of you will probably be turned off immediately by the combination of these two elements, practical people that you are. I feel your pain. In between the quality RAM and the light show, however, is the Xpert’s ace in the hole: a microcontroller that monitors conditions on the DIMM and reports them back to the user, either via the LED marquee or Corsair’s monitoring software. This additional capability makes the Xpert DIMMs a little something more than just a flashy curiosity, though they are definitely that.

Vegas at night
I’ll dispense with further attempts at describing the Xpert modules and go right to the pictures, so you can know what we’re dealing with here.


The XMS Xpert module at work

That’s the money shot: the Xpert module doing its thing. As you can see, the DIMMs are reporting voltage and temperature in the picture above. By default, they cycle through those displays plus a few more, including a clock speed display and a little bit of self-identification/advertising. I’ve chosen to take a picture of the two modules out of sync so that I can show you both a voltage and temperature display at once. Most of the time, though, a pair of DIMMs running the default display will remain perfectly matched.

Obviously, you’ll need at least a case window, at the very minimum, in order for the Xpert’s Vegas-style entertainment to be visible to awed observers and mesmerized domestic animals.

Look closer, and you’ll see that the XMS Xpert module has a pretty strange shape for a DIMM.


The L-shaped profile allows for a wider display

The display is twice as wide as the module itself, so that those numbers and letters can be properly large and legible. That requirement led Corsair to create a DIMM with an L-shaped profile. The Xpert stands quite a bit taller than other DIMMs, and its display only protrudes out into space well above the DIMM socket. That means the Xpert should be compatible with most lower profile modules out there, even from Corsair’s competitors.


A standard-height DIMM nestles easily under the Xpert’s overhanging display

That’s kind of funky, but what happens when you put a pair of Xpert modules directly next to one another, or when space is otherwise tight? Well, to understand that, you’ve gotta see how the Xpert’s two-piece design works.

 

How the Xpert’s two-piece design works
You see, the display is actually a separate unit, and can be removed.


The Xpert module goes topless!


The back of the display thingamajig

The display unit can connect to the DIMM in one of two positions, changing the direction in which the display protrudes from the top of the module. Given enough room on either side, a pair of Xpert modules can cuddle up to one another like so:


A pair of Xperts back to back

Clever, no? Of course, not all DIMM sockets face the same way, which presents another problem: upside-down text. The Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe mobo that I used for testing the Xpert DIMMs had this problem. Corsair’s solution is to invert the display in software. That works fine save for one thing: the blue glowy Corsair “ship” logo, which is static and can’t be inverted. So all of my pictures of the Xpert in action have upside-down Corsair ships on them. Now you know why. Corsair’s clever design for the Xpert modules solves many problems, but not all of them.

Shoehorning a pair of Xpert DIMMs into a system probably won’t be difficult most of the time, but aspiring modders may sometimes find that their electric blue ships run aground on clearance problems. Not every motherboard has enough room between the DIMMs and other tall things, like heatsinks for the VRMs, north bridge, or CPU. Small form factor boxes promise to be especially tricky, if not impossible, and I worry about the Xpert displays bumping into wind tunnels on BTX systems. Massive coolers like this Zalman beast also threaten to sink a pair of Xperts. This is a product for case modders and PC builders who know their stuff, and clearance issues must be part of that equation. Measure twice, purchase once.

 

Corsair’s Memory Dashboard software
Corsair supplies a Windows program called Memory Dashboard with the Xpert modules. This software is key to the Xpert’s customizability and usefulness. Here’s a look at the main screen.

The utility shows basic clock speed and timing info for each DIMM up top, and in the lower pane, it shows the parametric data coming in from the microcontroller on the Xpert module. The more intriguing stuff is in the options pages for the individual DIMMs.

Here, one can specify the types of messages to be displayed by the Xpert and the duration of the readout. Messages too long to show on the Xpert’s 10-character alphanumeric display will automatically become scrolling messages, and the software allows users to choose the scroll speed for those messages.

Here’s a look at the different message types available. They pretty much encompass the types of data the Xpert modules can report about themselves, but there’s also a custom message type, so mad modders can have their machines say what needs to be said.


Our Xperts relay an important custom message

Custom messages are limited to relatively short strings of text, all uppercase, and they can’t include special characters, or you’ll hear about it:

Memory Dashboard is still at version 1.0, and it shows. The program does pretty much what it should, but it’s not yet what it could become. The interface isn’t bad, but it’s not always silky-smooth intuitive, either. More importantly, Corsair hasn’t yet tapped all of the potential here. Memory Dashboard could relay other system information via the display, such as the CPU type and speed, OS, and temperature readings off of the motherboard, for instance. I’d also like to be able to choose alarm conditions, for when the voltage or temperature of the DIMM goes out of the expected range. It’d be nice to have extended logging and graphing of the data, too, instead of just the simple high, low, and average numbers reported by Memory Dashboard.

 
So what do you make of these things?
Corsair says the microcontroller and display on these DIMMs won’t draw enough power to cause any problems. In my experience, that’s correct. I tested these modules at 2.75V at their stock 2-2-2 timings in a couple of Athlon 64 systems without any trouble. In fact, these DIMMs generally required less voltage to achieve stability than the pair of standard Corsair XMS 3200XL DIMMs that I was playing around with a couple of months ago. The Xperts survived over 40 hours of Memtest86+ torture testing in the warm confines of Damage Labs without throwing a single error.

As for overclocking, well, let me tell you a story about that. I was trying to see what kind of peak clock speeds these things could hit by overclocking them on an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe mobo, and I set the HyperTransport speed in the BIOS to 250MHz. The system booted up and ran just fine, came up into Windows, and seemed happy. I double-checked the actual clock speeds, as usual, with CPU-Z, and it reported a memory clock of 250MHz. The Xpert display, however, told a different story: the RAM was clocked at 237MHz, not 250MHz. Something in the Asus BIOS wasn’t setting the right clock speed ratio, and CPU-Z didn’t know any better. Without the Xpert readout, I never would have known about the problem.

I’ve run into similar problems with misreported voltages on motherboards in the past. Or at least I think I have. If I’d had a pair of Xpert DIMMs, I’d have known more about the exact nature of the problem.

As I was trying to remedy the 237MHz clock speed problem, the A8N-SLI decided to croak on me, so I really don’t know how high these DIMMs will overclock. Your mileage will likely vary from one DIMM to the next, anyhow. I know the modules that I have are quite happy at 237MHz with 2.5-3-3 timings.

By the way, the Asus board’s untimely demise didn’t seem to be connected to the Xpert modules at all. I swapped in all manner of graphics cards, CPUs, DIMMs, and the like in an attempt to revive the board, to no avail. The Xperts, meanwhile, went on to complete their 40-hour marathon in Memtest86+ on another mobo. The Asus board’s death did give the Xperts another chance to show off, though. Whenever I powered on the ailing A8N-SLI board in an attempt to get it to POST, I could tell that nothing much was happening because the Xperts gave me a “0MHz” clock speed reading, indicating they hadn’t been initialized. Even after clearing the CMOS, swapping CPUs, and the like, the Xperts never budged from 0MHz. This board was too dead to start, and the Xperts helped me confirm it.

When I first saw the Xperts doing their thing, I thought they were a kind of funny novelty item, not anything I’d want for myself. My overclocking misadventures taught me otherwise. I think a pair of these puppies will be very useful to have around Damage Labs, and not just to impress visitors. Sometimes, for certain uses by certain types of users, including hardware testers like myself, the parametric data coming out of the Xpert DIMMs can prove invaluable.

As for the blink-blink, well, that is a matter of taste. I’ll let you decide about that. I’m not as susceptible to the appeal of glowy lights as some folks, but I have to admit they’re kind of fun to watch.

Corsair says an Xpert 512MB module will be priced about $60 above one of its Pro XL modules (with only activity lights) and about $75 above a standard XMS DIMM. Right now, a pair of XMS 3200XL 512MB DIMMs is going for around $250, while the Pros are at about $275. Xperts, meanwhile, are selling for nearly $400 or more, depending on the retailer. That $150 premium for a pair of Xperts is by no means cheap, but at least these glowy things are attached to some very decent memory. 

Comments closed
    • rosselt
    • 15 years ago

    and I set the HyperTransport speed in the BIOS to 250MHz. The system booted up and ran just fine, came up into Windows, and seemed happy. I double-checked the actual clock speeds, as usual, with CPU-Z, and it reported a memory clock of 250MHz. The Xpert display, however, told a different story: the RAM was clocked at 237MHz, not 250MHz

    on that i just saw this article at hexus
    §[< http://www.hexus.net/content/reviews/review.php?dXJsX3Jldmlld19JRD0xMDAyJnVybF9wYWdlPTE=< ]§ it talks about 'Fixed dHTT @ 250MHz and possible half multipliers' and the ram speed can be totally out of whack. is thats what's happening? it also links a sudhain article too, i havent read it yet. §[<http://www.sudhian.com/showdocs.cfm?aid=633<]§

    • sigher
    • 15 years ago

    I like leds better than lcd I have to say, but surely it’s too expensive and a little silly maybe to use the top of a dimm for this.
    Maybe some taiwanese company will make dimms with OLED displays soon now, then prices will drop due to competition, personally I think 20 to 25 on top of the regular price is the max you can ask for these toys, and even then you must see them on display in the shop and be in the right mood to be swayed.

    • Hoop
    • 15 years ago

    Memories …of the cash I used to own.. …twinkly colored memories….now i need a loan……………….,could it be I might see ….an imp or two before my friend….. or maybe just to see him bathed in that warm red glow slowly……slowly ……slowly …turn…..ning ……..green.

    • just brew it!
    • 15 years ago

    With the references to “money shot” and “topless”, I was starting to wonder if my browser had been hijacked… 😀

    • Draal
    • 15 years ago

    Oh come on…

    Everyone knows these things will look kickin when viewed through my plexiglass, etched, case window. Right next to the cold cathode lights, spinning LED fans and pink PCB video card…

    • Zenith
    • 15 years ago

    People: If you want a digital readout, buy a serial/USB mini-LCD and mod your case to fit it.

    These DIMMs are just stupid.

    • Rousterfar
    • 15 years ago

    Jesus… people will actually buy these things? Must have money to just toss around.

    • ripfire
    • 15 years ago

    I forgot again which way technology is heading: bigger, fatter, warmer PCs? or smaller, sleek, PCs?

    • Zenith
    • 15 years ago

    indeego <3.

    I am positive about this whole dual core dealie. It’s a step in the right direction…kinda.

    • indeego
    • 15 years ago

    I can see 2005 is going to be the year of innovation. We have a larger shuttle, memory that blinds you, and graphic cards that may or may not ever arrive. Oh, and dual core, reminds me of two loads of crap on a motherboard.

    g{

      • Convert
      • 15 years ago

      We’ve missed you Indeego 😆

      • a_non_moose
      • 15 years ago

      Heh, indeego, you forgot Longhorn, which will stress your video card just loading up to the desktop.

      That said, I was >< this close to buying the regular LED lights, but then I came to my fricking senses and was unwilling to part with the extra $100 at the time. Not to mention it was 3225, not the 2225 which I bought.

      Not to mention the lack of window in my case, and cooling the 8 internal HD as well as possible became a priority. Heh, heat vs blinkenlights…hummm.

    • Zenith
    • 15 years ago

    FireGryphon – Those things you mentioned are faster, this is just a already released set of DIMMs with a useless set of digit displays. You could take that extra money and buy faster RAM.

      • FireGryphon
      • 15 years ago

      The connection I was making was that they are high-end, specialized products for enthusiasts who have a lot of money.

      Most of us are happy with, say, a 3000+ MHz (rated) CPU, VS or XMS memory, NV6600 or R9800, and a competant HSF. There are a select few who must have bells and whistles on everything — the fastest CPU, graphics card… even the fastest RAM, the most colorful case and coolest cooling. LED displays on RAM fit right into that market.

      Granted, it may not be the most cost-effective solution out there, but it lopoks cool and serves a powerful diagnostic purpose.

    • endersdouble
    • 15 years ago

    Random question…do you know that the modules’ display is right? Couldn’t it be that they *are* at 250 MHz, but the Xpert display is messed up?

    • Lord.Blue
    • 15 years ago

    I would like to use these, but I cannot, as they will not fit in my KV8-MAX3, mainly due to the GeForce 6800 OC in the AGP slot…oh well.

    • continuum
    • 15 years ago

    I understand people want flashy lights and stuff.

    But wow.

    Just… damn.

    It’s kinda cool looking, but not $400 cool looking.

    • weaselmeister
    • 15 years ago

    They’re kinda cool, and they do have some practical purpose if your an OC freak or whatever…..but DAAAAAAAAMN $400 for 1 gig?!?!

    • FireGryphon
    • 15 years ago

    I don’t get about what all this fuss is. Like $600 graphics cards, $900 CPU’s and vapo-chilled case cooling, this is a high end product that enthusiasts with a lot of money will buy.

    These RAM displays look really useful, too. We’ve come a long way in the DIY world from beeps, jumpers and dip switches.

    • Freon
    • 15 years ago

    This is a ridiculous product… Honestly, who in their right mind?

    • flip-mode
    • 15 years ago

    I love it. Some dude is going to spend big coin on these. He/she will do some gaming, then sit and stare through the computer case at the pretty dimms. And they will do absolutely nothing productive with their computer. This is the kind of product that makes me want to throw off my enthusiast leanings and just buy a freaking -[

    • FireGryphon
    • 15 years ago

    It looks like the display module can connect to the RAM on either side, as you demonstrated. If you have two DIMM slots close together, can you connect two DIMMs to one display module, and use it for both DIMMs?

    • fyo
    • 15 years ago

    ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS! Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben… Relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.

    • Ruiner
    • 15 years ago

    When there is no news, you make news.

    I’m sure these dumb things will sell like hotcakes….just like ‘Type R’ decals, coffee can tailpipes, and reverse-offset wheels did for cars.

    • liquidsquid
    • 15 years ago

    Ok, I am from the old school where I don’t have a plexi window into my machine, so with that said: This has to be the stupidest thing I have seen in a while, so I am sure it well sell like crazy.

    If you want all of that info, buy a machine with the diagnotics LCD display on the front and save the power.

    • Convert
    • 15 years ago

    I sure would never pay the extra cash for them, or the led ones. Seeing your ocing adventures though you realize these things could have a very important use.

      • wierdo
      • 15 years ago

      my thoughts exactly, but still, personally I’m not willing to pay for it, others might though.

    • Dposcorp
    • 15 years ago

    I was actually wondering about these new dimms.
    Thanks for having the first review on the net that I found.

    • kvndoom
    • 15 years ago

    “NO DASH DAG NABBIT!”

    …priceless.

    • Zenith
    • 15 years ago

    Honestly people: WTF.

    It’s nice to see TR reviewing some spiffy new hardware, but…WTF? I could never imagine myself buying something so frivolous.

      • Thresher
      • 15 years ago

      I agree. The less bling the better as far as I am concerned. Give me performance, that’s all I’m willing to pay for.

    • GokuSS2
    • 15 years ago

    I saw a modder made cable extentions for the displays and put them in the front of the case. For the life of me I can’t find the link.

      • Freon
      • 15 years ago

      A trip to Radioshack and some decent soldering skills should do it. I’m waiting for Corsair to release the remote cable for another $70/pop.

    • random gerbil
    • 15 years ago

    Interesting. Thats all i have to say. Interesting.

    [/PUI]

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This