Practically every month, it seems, at least one massive third-party CPU cooler is launched. That's nice, but the problem with most of these coolers is that their size means the cooling matrix/fan unit extends over at least the first memory DIMM slot.
Now, in performance rigs - you know, where you have massive CPU coolers - that makes it very hard/impossible to fill those DIMM slots with even standard height memory modules, let alone the high performance sticks with whacking great heatsinks spreading out the top. Wouldn't it be great if we could have our massive CPU cooler cake and still eat high performance memory modules too?
Well, Crucial, that master of memory modules, has come up with an answer - low profile, low voltage, high-performance kits. Well done, Crucial.
Its new low-profile DIMMs are part of its Ballistix Tactical range, and are currently only available as DDR3 PC3-12800, 1,600MHz modules. But before you say 1,600MHz isn't exactly high performance these days, these modules have a trick up their sleeve. As we'll see later, they overclock like crazy.
Crucial sent us a 16GB memory kit comprising two 8GB unbuffered NON-ECC modules to review. Yes, 8GB sticks.
Not only are the DIMMS low profile, they are denoted DDR3L, which means they're also low voltage. This kit is running at a stock 1.35V with latency settings of 8-8-8-24 T2. Arguably low latency is preferable these days to high frequencies, but the Tactical LP sticks seem capable of both.
Sitting in the DIMM slot they are only 20mm high. That's around 5mm shorter than a standard Ballistix DIMM, but they still look tiny. The shortened heatsinks are very efficient because they didn't get that hot, even when the modules were being pushed during overclocking.
If you think 20mm is still too high, then Crucial has the Sport VLP (Very Low Profile) range, which are even shorter.
Memory bandwidth performance
Sisoft Sandra GB/S: Bigger is better
TACTICAL LP @ 1,600MHZ: 21
TACTICAL LP @ 2,133MHZ: 28
AMD ENTERTAINMENT @ 1,600MHZ: 21
Video rendering performance
x264 HD FPS: Higher is better
TACTICAL LP @ 1,600MHZ: 40.34
TACTICAL LP @ 2,133MHZ: 40.21
AMD ENTERTAINMENT @ 1,600MHZ: 40.52
Batman: AC MAX FPS: Higher is better
TACTICAL LP @ 1,600MHZ: 123
TACTICAL LP @ 2,133MHZ: 124
AMD ENTERTAINMENT @ 1,600MHZ: 126
At stock settings, this performs as well as you'd expect from a low-latency 1,600MHz kit, but it was the overclocking prowess that really impressed us. We had to loosen up the latency a little to hit higher frequencies, but managed 1,866MHz keeping to the 1.35V settings. Our Patriot/AMD comparison kit needed higher latency settings and a 1.65V setting to even boot at that speed. The other sticks couldn't keep up with the Crucial kit though, as we quickly hit 2,133MHz.
Adjusting the voltage up to 1.5V (this isn't pushing the memory's power envelope, as all DDR3 RAM should be able to run without problems at 1.5V), again the system booted and remained completely stable during the benchmark tests. No matter what we tried, the AMD memory wouldn't play at 2,133MHz.
Crucial's low profile Ballistix Tactical memory is the perfect answer to the conundrum of how to use all the memory slots in a motherboard with a particularly large third party CPU cooler. And the fact that it easily overclocks way past its standard settings, and remains perfectly stable, is icing on the cake. Lovely high performance icing at that.