High-end DDR is a growing market, and it's becoming quite popular for formerly-staid memory manufacturers (like Buffalo and Crucial) to jump into the fray with new, enthusiast-level products. Enthusiast DDR commonly has two distinct features: the ability to run at higher-than 400 MHz speeds and to maintain low memory timings when doing so. Other high-end DDR features can include higher density modules, dual-channel certification, high voltage tolerances, and extended warranties, just to name a few.
This is still a niche market, but it definitely seems to be growing and becoming a very important and lucrative part of the computer market. Cost in one factor keeping the buyers in check, and these enthusiast-level DDR modules usually sell for significantly more than generic DDR. Higher performance, enhanced overclocking, and greater stability are the payoffs, but it would be interesting to find enthusiast-level DDR at a more mainstream price. If this combination of high performance and low price is of interest, then Ultra's PC4000 Dual Channel 1-GB kit may shoot right to the top of your shopping list.
Ultra is a relatively new player in the high-end memory market, but the company has definitely made up ground by offering an extremely wide range of products. The Ultra line ranges from PC2700 to PC4000 and includes basic single module offerings, higher-end overclocking memory, and serious enthusiast, dual-channel DDR kits. The Ultra PC4000 Dual Channel 1-GB kit we'll be reviewing is from the last category, and features two 512-MB sticks of Ultra PC4000. This kit offers up to 500 MHz DDR specifications, matched pair operation, and guaranteed compatibility with Intel and AMD platforms.
Ultra is trying to up the classiness of their enthusiast-level products, starting off with an Ultra-branded, mahogany case that opens up to reveal the two 512-MB sticks of Ultra PC4000. The Ultra PC4000 DDR also sports very pleasing gold-colored heatsinks, giving these a real high-end look and feel. Although performance, compatibility and overclocking are still the key elements, presentation does count, and Ultra has really taken this to the next level. Seeing this package at a retail environment would certainly be impressive, and give off nothing by high-end vibes.
While the presentation is top notch, Ultra could do a bit more in terms of providing recommended memory timings and voltages to the end user. Other than the brand name and rated speed, there is no real information on the modules, and even the Ultra website offers little in the way of help. This isn't so much a problem in real-life use, as you can simply test the modules, but it would help interested buyers know exactly what the memory is capable of.
In the case of the reviewed Ultra PC4000 Dual Channel 1-GB kit, standard timings at 400 MHz were (2.5-3-3-7), which required no increase to DDR voltage. We tested at higher DDR voltages, but we could not achieve CL2 at 400 MHz under any circumstance. When overclocked above 400 MHz, we increased the core voltage to 2.7V just to be sure, and didn't have to change the base timings through the initial overclocking. At 450 MHz and higher, the memory timings were raised to (3-4-4-8), while maintaining the DDR voltage at 2.7V.
The main criteria of higher-than PC3200 memory is that it lives up to its DDR rating and performs well when overclocked. In terms of the Ultra PC4000 Dual Channel 1-GB kit overclocking, we tested using two different scenarios. The first was to isolate the Ultra PC4000 DDR memory and push it to the upper limits and see exactly how high it would go. In this case, using both i865PE and i875P boards to ensure a full test, we attained 480-486 MHz DDR clock speeds, depending on the platform and CPU used.
Anything higher didn't have the full stability we need, but the Ultra PC4000 Dual Channel 1-GB kit certainly impressed in terms of clock speed. The platform is an important factor in any overclocking test, and many times these ultra-high DDR and front-side bus speeds also take their toll on other components like the motherboard and processor.
Our second set of tests revolved around our benchmark requirements, and really needed a consistent platform and standard peripheral configuration. To ensure a directly-comparable set of performance benchmarks, we used an unlocked Pentium 4-3.4E GHz Prescott CPU, and then for the overclock testing, maintained a close-to 3.4 GHz clock speed at different FSB speeds. This resulted in the following overclocked speeds: 15x227 (3405 MHz - 454 MHz DDR) and 16x213 (3408 MHz - 426 MHz DDR), along with standard 17x400 MHz testing. The 14x243 (486 MHz DDR) was available for testing, but due to the lower motherboard performance settings inherent at that speed, it was not conducive to our benchmark testing.
This scenario allows us to evaluate the performance effects of higher FSB/DDR speeds, while maintaining the base processor core speed. Higher bus speeds may also enact a penalty to memory timings, and for reference, here are the different memory brands and their benchmarked bus speeds and timings.