Corsair XMS vs. Value Select Memory


Memory is one of the most critical system components in any computer. The particular type of memory that I am referring to is also known as RAM (Random Access Memory). It is RAM that has allowed computers in the past and present to operate at such snappy speeds. You can picture RAM as one big buffer used to store any data temporarily for ultra fast access from the CPU (Central Processing Unit) or other components, allowing such component to go about its business with minimal delay.

Given that virtually everything on a computer travels through RAM at some point in time, it is a heavily used component. For example, the Internet browser you are using to read this very article is using some of the system memory. In fact, Internet browsers tend to use a large amount of system memory, particularly if multiple pages are open at the same time. So if your computer was to have cheap generic or faulty memory, the Internet browser may occasionally “crash” forcing it to shut down.

When building a new computer users may skimp on the all important memory component. Rather than buy a trusted brand name they may go with the cheaper unknown. Usually this cheap generic memory is not guaranteed to operate at specific timings and compatibility is also quite poor. These cheap memory modules are more often than not designed for single channel use, and will create problems when used in dual-channel environments. Therefore my advice to anyone building a new computer is to make sure the memory purchased is of a well known and respected brand name.

Luckily nowadays there are plenty of trustworthy manufacturers to choose from; not only that but you will find a wide range of products targeted at gamers and overclockers, value-minded consumers, as well as for those building a server, where stability is even more important than speed.

For the purposes of our article we picked modules from Corsair Memory, one of the most reputable brands in the business. Like many other manufacturers such as Crucial, Kingston, and Mushkin, to name a few, Corsair offers what they call “Value Select” memory along with other more expensive modules.

You will see regularly in our forums readers asking questions such as “Which Corsair memory should I buy XMS or Value Select?” Like most questions of this nature there is no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that will apply to everyone. First things first, users need to know why Corsair offers the more expensive XMS memory and what it does.

XMS vs. Value Select

The Corsair XMS series is designed to be the ultimate performance solution. This means XMS memory is going to cost more than the regular Value Select memory, considerably more. While a pair of 512MB sticks of Corsair Value Select memory sells for roughly $85, XMS versions can go from $120 to up to $200 depending on its latency. It should be made clear however that ‘Value Select’ memory is nothing like generic memory, it is indeed much better in terms of quality and compatibility. In comparison, a pair of 512MB sticks of generic memory will set you at $70, nevertheless the $15 saving is not worth the risk.

Back to the Value Select, you should note there can be some variation in the timings, those with model names that end with a C3 are designed to operate at CAS3. Anything not labeled should work without a problem at CAS2.5 and I have found this to be the case with several modules. Corsair does not specify the exact memory timings in these modules but the memory is configured by the BySPD setting. The Value Select memory is also capable of operating in dual-channel configurations without requiring more voltage.

When it comes to overclocking and improved timings the Value Select memory does come with a lot of uncertainties. More often that not I would imagine this memory is unable to operate much higher than its designed frequency. This is of course where the more powerful XMS memory comes into play. Corsair guarantees the timings of their XMS memory along with their overclocking frequency. For example XMS memory specified to operate at DDR500 with CAS2.5-4-4-8-T1 timings will do just that. Even DDR400 XMS memory with CAS2-2-2-5-T1 timings is guaranteed to do so in single channel and dual channel environments.

Bottom-line is XMS memory modules will operate at their advertised specifications as long as the computer they are being used in can support them. For example DDR550 memory can only operate at 550MHz if the processor can achieve a 275MHz FSB. Clearly overclocking is a huge driving force behind the XMS series. However, it’s not the only reason for this memory type to exist. Gamers are a very demanding bunch and only the very best performance will do. So those seeking the ultimate in memory technology will be seeking this kind of memory.

However, while XMS memory is aimed at computer enthusiasts, it is not necessarily going to give games a huge performance advantage over those using the cheaper Value Select memory. In fact, as long as the memory bandwidth results are around 6GB/s an AMD Athlon 64 processor operating on the standard 200MHz FSB will have more than enough bandwidth. Memory bandwidth has a greater effect on extremely CPU intensive programs such as DVD encoding. Here a 7% increase in bandwidth will account for quite a lot, where as games will only see a 1-2 fps increase. Anyway, let’s move to the benchmarks to see the actual results.

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