|Motherboard Advertising and DRAM Compatibility|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by James Reece|
|Friday, 28 September 2012|
Motherboard Advertising and DRAM
I’d like to open by thanking Benchmark Reviews for the opportunity to contribute to their website.
While building a desktop computer can be daunting, it's not really that hard of a process and with a little instruction most anyone can build a system. I have clients in their 80's that now build systems and my sons built their first PCs at ages 7 and 5 respectfully. Benchmark Reviews goes to great lengths to provide information that will help all builders, both first time builders and long time Professionals. There are however, things that can make the decision making process on what to use/buy more difficult. One of the biggest roadblocks (and one of my Pet Peeves) is advertising done by motherboard manufacturers as to DRAM compatibility.
Picking out components for a new system build can be fairly straightforward and simple; many often look first to the CPU, then to motherboard and DRAM as the primary components. There's one component in particular that really bothers me, and not so much the component itself - but the advertising that typically accompanies it, the Motherboard, in particular, the advertising concerning the DRAM. It's that advertising which leads to what I believe, are the most common problems that occur in new builds (and also in upgrades).
I get numerous calls from clients about DRAM/motherboard issues, and while hitting the various hardware and vendor forums I frequent, I see these issues on a daily basis. Another place to see where these problems occurred is in reviews on motherboards at a place like NewEgg or other large re/e-tailer that allows customers to post product reviews....people are always complaining about DRAM not working with their motherboard. And why is this?
Generally the basic advertising, as pertains to their motherboards (mobos) and DRAM compatibility is rather generically provided. A few things to know when you look at a mobo's specs are the frequencies (freqs) that the motherboard can handle or its MEMORY STANDARD and the total DRAM (memory) that the motherboard is capable of handling.
Let's say on motherboard brand ACME XXX, it is advertised as running: 1333, 1600, 1866 (OC), 2133 (OC), and 2400 (OC) frequencies. Take note of the ‘OC' by the higher listed frequencies. This implies that an OverClock (OC) of the system will be required to achieve said freq/speed. This OC may include the CPU itself and/or other things like the FSB, CPU/NB, HT, BCLK, etc depending on the type of mobo. Many people don't know this and just tend to think that ONLY the DRAM itself needs to be OCed.
Another thing they advertise is the Maximum Amount of DRAM the motherboard can handle. These days on newer mobos it generally ranges from 16 GB (2 8GB DIMMs) to 64GB (8 8GB DIMMs) (there are some X79 that state support for 128GB (8-16GB DIMMs) of DRAM.
So, you buy an ACME XXX motherboard and its advertised for up to 32GB of 2133 DRAM. You may simply go by what's advertised or may even go and check the QVL (Qualified Vendors List) for DRAM for your particular motherboard of choice. This is where it can get very interesting, for a number of reasons. A few of them are:
1. They never mention what CPU was used for testing, which normally is the most powerful available for the mobo. So YOU NEED TO DO SOME RESEARCH to ensure your CPU is capable of running the DRAM, particularly with AMD CPUs, many have an extremely hard time running even 2 sticks of 1600, the newer FX CPUs are supposed to be able to run 1866 (they advertise 1 stick per channel) and while the 8150 can run that and possibly even faster, going to 4 sticks can be troublesome. Also not all CPUs are equal, have seen plenty of 8120 that can run 1866, and even more that can't, unless you want to cook things in your case..
2. Many motherboard makers would like you to believe that their QVL (Qualified Vendors List) is Holy Grail of what DRAM to buy to run with your mobo, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are getting better in the advertising and some provide a disclaimer that the QVL is only a sampling of the DRAM that can run on the motherboard as they can't test the entire available DRAM.
3. They also are getting better in that some are starting to advertise (to a degree) how they test the DRAM and this may surprise you - Say you want to build a superfast rig, so you buy the ACME XXX motherboard that runs up to 2400 sticks and can handle 32 GB....and you buy a set that's on their QVL......did you realize it was probably ‘TESTED' at the mobos default boot freq/speed which typically is 1333 or 1600 and not at the set's rated freq/speed, so while Yes, it will run on the motherboard, it might not run at the freq you wanted and paid for. Some are finally putting it on their list that they test using the mobo's default boot speed.
You also might take note that the motherboard manufacturers do what ‘testing' they do, with whatever DRAM is on hand. A number of the QVLs include sets of DRAM that aren't even made anymore and aren't available....but they had them, stuck them in and the system booted under defaults, so they went onto their QVL. You might also see a 4 DIMM list listed but they only tested with 2 of the DIMMS or they might list a 2 DIMM set, yet say that it works with 4 DIMMs which if it is true goes against DRAM manufacturer's recommendations to not mix sets of DRAM even when they are the same model.
So. It's up to you to do a little research, both on the motherboard and CPU to find the capabilities of each before you decide on a set of DRAM and not solely trust reviews at reseller sites. Once you get familiar with DRAM and capabilities of various CPUs and chipsets, you can often get a few laughs from reading these reviews. I'd suggest looking for reviews from actual sites, like Benchmark Reviews that test the items in question or checking with the DRAM manufacturer (who will actually test the DRAM at the specified freq with the mobo) before purchasing.
This article is part of our Opinion & Editorials section at Benchmark Reviews. Your feedback is always welcome!