Corsair Dominator PC3-12800 8GB Review

Author: Pier-Luc Gendreau
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/corsair_dominator_ddr3_1600_8gb/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

With Intel's P55, AMD's AM3 platform, and more recently, H55 platforms gaining more grip as time passes, DDR3 is also slowly but surely making its way down into the mainstream. Now that 4GB of memory has pretty much become the norm in newly built computers, some of us want to stay ahead of the curve and get even more, faster memory. When you think about high-performance computer memory, a few names usually first come to mind, and Corsair is definitely one of those select few companies.

Their high-end Dominator series is what we're looking at today: more precisely, a 8GB kit consisting of four modules running at 1600 MHz, 8-8-8-24 timings at Intel's maximum recommended 1.65V. The kit ships with a XMP profile, but the appealing aspect from the Dominator lineup really comes from their overclocking potential.

Will these modules, specifically engineered for the Intel P55 platform, perform up to our expectations? That's exactly what we're set to find out in the next few pages!

While most memory kits ship in a simple plastic blister pack, Corsair's Dominator series comes into a large, inelegant, yet effective cardboard containing two more small boxes in which the modules and the fan are. To keep them from moving around too much, Corsair even stuck in a few small inflated bags. Perhaps a tad overboard, but everything is definitely kept safe in this solid packaging and with the hardware stuffed in there, I'm certainly not going to complain. Best of all? It's all recyclable!

It doesn't stop there, each memory modules is individually packed into its own plastic blister pack. The Dominator's sport Corsair DHX, Dual-path Heat eXchange, heatsink design and the fins on top are held by three Allen head screws, making it possible to remove them in case you run into clearance issues. This 8GB kit has a built-in XMP profile to run the memory at 1600 MHz with 8-8-8-24 timings using Intel's maximum recommended 1.65V.

What sets this kit apart from the competition is the Dominator AirFlow fan, although Corsair isn't the only company supplying such a fan. It comes in pieces, without instructions, but fortunately it's pretty easy to put together. With two 60mm mounted on top, it should keep fresh air flowing onto the modules, but smaller fans need to spin faster in order to push the same amount of air as a larger fan, which ultimately comes at the cost of noise.

With the modules installed, the fan's brackets grab onto the motherboard's memory latches and the fans themselves are powered through a standard 3-pin fan connector. For those with a large processor heatsink, it's possible to slide the fan assembly toward the exterior by loosening the thumbscrews.

Test Setup

To test Corsair's DDR3 memory kit, I will be using ASUS' Maximus III Formula paired with Intel's Core i7 870. The same platform will be used for upcoming products as well. Turbo Boost will be disabled during testing in order to ensure consistent benchmark results and provide reliable and consistent comparisons between the memory kits.

Intel Core i7 "Lynnfield" (Socket LGA1156)

Benchmarks used

Stock settings

Since the kit has a built-in XMP profile, I will be using it as the stock settings throughout this review. The profile automatically adjust the memory frequency, timings and voltages for you.

The profile was entirely stable and a notable detail is that Corsair sets the integrated memory controller at a very reasonable voltage, only 1.15V.

Overclocking

Right from the start, I had great expectations from this Dominator memory kit and I was not letdown. I started by loosening up the timings to 9-9-9-24 and dropping the processor's multiplier to make sure I was only overclocking one thing at a time. Then, I increased memory voltage up to 1.695V, bumped the Core i7-870's integrated memory controller up to 1.25V and started ramping up the base clock.

With OCCT (Linpack) running in the background, using a tad above 7GB of memory, I was able to increase the base clock up to 159 MHz. This means the Dominator kit was running at 1908 MHz. Pretty impressive if you ask me!

Also note that I kept the processor running at near stock frequency so any improvements in benchmarks will come from the quicker memory.

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. The memory bandwidth benchmark will be ran as well as the memory latency test.

PCMark is a benchmarking suite from FutureMark, who also make the widely used 3DMark. It includes many tests to calculate overall system performance like hard drive speed, memory and processor power. It is a fairly good indicative of general real-world performance.

In Sandra, the Corsair's 8GB of memory performed right on par with the others sets running at the same 1600 MHz speed. The kit is very slightly slower in Vantage, but nothing to worry about. While the Dominator's are average at stock speeds, overclocking quickly makes up for it and moves them up to the second place in all three benchmarks.

HandBrake is an open-source application used to transcode media files to other formats. It is multi-threaded so it exploits the power of modern quad-cores really well.

Using WinRAR, I will compress our custom 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB files using the best compression setting in the ZIP format and time how long it takes to do so.

Corsair's memory kit fared very well in HandBrake, where it managed to finish the job just as fast as the OCZ memory running 200 MHz faster, albeit with looser timings. Increasing the kit's speed up to 1908 MHz shaves off another 6 seconds off the total time, taking it down to just 151 seconds.

Far Cry 2 is yet another first person shooter, but this one has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to get rid of an arms dealer.

Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter developed by Valve. It uses the Source Engine. Four survivors must fight against infected people in order to reach a safe area.

As usual, gaming performance is depends heavily on the video card and giving Far Cry 2 or Left 4 Dead more, faster memory didn't lead to any significant improvements.

This 8GB Corsair Dominator kit is specifically designed for Intel's P55 platform and it did work flawlessly throughout our testing. The built-in XMP profile gets you up to speed in no time, while setting up very reasonable voltages -- 1.65V on the sticks and 1.15V on the memory controller.

The best part about this memory is their overclocking headroom. Bumping the memory voltage to 1.7V, the sticks clocked a tad past 1900 MHz while remaining totally stable. For those with more nerves, increasing voltage by another 50mV, up to 1.75V, allowed the Dominator's to break 2000 MHz with the same 9-9-9-24 timings. The memory also behaved very well and did not need any sort of special tweaking to sub-timings or obscure voltages in order to reach these speeds.

Without proper cooling, either active or passive, memory tends to get hot under load and this kit is no exception. Especially when all four slots filled, the sticks in the middle have basically no room to breathe and stay cool. Even though Corsair's passive heatspreaders do a good job, the bulk of the cooling improvement comes from the bundled Airflow fan. At full speed, the pair of 60mm fans provide plenty of air flow, but also a lot more noise than I'd like. They were clearly noticeable above the other fans in my system so I ended up using a 3-pin fan adapter from Noctua to slow them down.

The kit performed right on par with our other sets running at the same frequency and that's expected since more memory doesn't make you go faster, but instead allows you to do a lot more without slowing down. Beside the OCCT Linpack stability testing, making use of 8GB of memory is a feat by itself.

In fact, to get the most out of this much memory, you have to either be a heavy multitasker or use very demanding software such as high-definition video editing, virtualization and so on -- all at the same time! The advantage of having more memory available is that you don't have to worry about closing programs after you're done, you can leave them running until you need them at a later time and the system will still feel snappy.

Finally, this 8GB Corsair Dominator 1600 MHz memory, part number CMD8GX3M4A1600C8, delivers good performance at stock speeds and even better once overclocking kicks in. Speaking of which, the Airflow fan is great for those overclocking sessions where noise is the last of your worries, but under normal usage the fans are flat out loud. Either PWM control or a knob to adjust fan speed would be greatly appreciated. Other than that, this is a very solid kit, paired with Corsair's lifetime warranty and solid support. It all comes with a fairly hefty bill, but if you need, or simply want, a lot of fast memory, you really should keep this one in mind.

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