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Wednesday, 09 February 2011

Exploring the impact of memory speed on Sandy Bridge performance

For a moment, pretend that Intel's 6-series chipset bug doesn't exist. Turn the clocks back a couple of weeks and bask in the afterglow that followed the launch of Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs. This long-anticipated architectural refresh brought improved performance, lower power consumption, and surprisingly competent integrated graphics to a swath of mid-range processors. Indeed, we were so impressed that we handed out Editor's Choice awards for several Sandy Bridge models-something we haven't done for several generations of new CPUs.

Enthusiasts contemplating a Sandy Bridge build are best off with one of Intel's K-series CPUs: either the Core i5-2500K or the Core i7-2600K. The former offers four cores with a 3.3GHz base clock speed and a 3.7GHz Turbo peak, while the latter kicks those clocks up by 100MHz and throws in Hyper-Threading for good measure. By far the most important feature of these K-series models is a set of unlocked multipliers that facilitates easy overclocking.

In addition to allowing core speeds to be tweaked with little effort, the K series' unlocked multipliers also make it easy to take advantage of faster memory. Standard Sandy Bridge processors may default to a 1333MHz memory clock, but select DDR3 modules are capable of running at much higher speeds. In some cases, you won't pay much of a premium. Name-brand DDR3-1600 kits start at around $45 for 4GB, which isn't much more than the cost of equivalent DDR3-1333 sticks. For roughly twice that amount (and very close to what slower DDR3 memory cost only a year ago), you can get your hands on exotic modules rated for operation up to 2133MHz.

Curious to see whether fancy DIMMs are worth the premium, we've taken the time to explore Sandy Bridge performance with a range of different memory configurations. Read on to see how memory clock speeds and latencies impact Intel's latest processor architecture... TheTechReport

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