How we put a whole lot of lovely memory through its paces
Intel has the highest performance processors right now, so it's those very chips that will be most hungry for bandwidth and thus sensitive to memory performance - in theory, at least.
On the dual-channel side we went with the popular Z68 chipset and a Core i7 2600K quad-core processor. For quad-channel, we went with the new X79 platform and a Xeon 2687W eight-core chip. Okay, it's not a conventional desktop CPU. But it does drop straight into any X79 motherboard and if anything's going to saturate that quad-channel memory interface, the octo-core 2687W is it.
And the winners are...
Kingston HyperX 16GB - Best Quad-channel 16GB kit
Corsair Vengeance Low Profile White 8GB - Best Dual-channel 8GB kit
First a confession: our biggest fear coming into this group test was that we'd barely be able to distinguish between the different memory kits and that the whole exercise would descend into an embarrassing farce.
Mercifully, that didn't quite happen, even if a lot of the benchmark results were very close and some, arguably, didn't make much sense. Critically, we discovered there's still such a thing as a dud memory kit.
That dubious honour goes to the Transcend axeRam 2000+ 4GB tx2000kLu-4Gk. Yup, that's the name in full with the ridiculous stock-keeping code tacked on the end, the better to accurately identify and avoid it.
Part of the problem is that the notion of a high performance 4GB kit makes no sense. 8GB kits are cheap enough and virtually guarantee you won't suffer any disk swapping. You can't say that about 4GB. It was also the only kit that failed to clock up above 1,333MHz. Okay, memory clockspeeds don't really matter, but it's advertised as a 2,000MHz kit, so it's a bit rum to find it won't go above 1,333MHz.
Then there are the timings, which are nothing special, and the benchmark results, which are wholly unremarkable. Oh, and the pointless finned heat spreaders. Bottom line: don't touch this kit.
If you think we're getting down on Transcend, nothing could be further from the truth. We came awfully, awfully close to giving top honours in the dual-channel to Transcend's JetRAM 8GB JM1600KLN-8GK. At £35 for an 8GB kit it's dirt cheap, and it performed well beyond expectation, hitting 1,866MHz and matching its more expensive sibling's latencies at 1,333MHz. Okay, it lacks heat spreaders and support for XMP profiles, but such extras are of only marginal benefit.
Fortunately for Corsair, its Vengence Low profile white 8GB CML8GX3M2A1600C9W is only marginally more expensive. Admittedly we're talking a third more expensive in percentage terms. But in practice that's £12 in cash and unlikely to bust anyone's rig building budget.
In return, you get the best gaming performance and lowest operating voltages of all the dual-channel RAM kits, even if the gap to the next best is very, very small. You also get sensible, low-profile cooling styled with stormtrooper chic. If you care about that sort of thing - and you should.
As for the quad-channel kits, top honour goes to Kingston's HyperX 16GB KHX2133C11D3K4/16GX. Again, we liked the low profile cooling along with fast frequencies and the quickest in-game frame rates and lowest latencies on test.
Oonce again, the margins are small and the fact that the HyperX delivers its best at 1,333MHz rather than 2,133MHz only serves to underline how little difference performance memory makes with the latest CPUs and their on-die memory controllers. But every little helps and our winners deliver measurably superior frame rates.
As for the rest, barring the aforementioned Transcend axeRam debacle, there isn't a dud among them. They're all excellent, reliable kits worthy of your consideration. And every single one comes with a lifetime warranty, which is nice.