Years ago, when the first primitive heat spreaders started gracing memory modules, the response from enthusiasts about the scene was varied – some felt that they helped to uniquely identify sticks and dissipate heat, while others felt that the utilization of thermal tape was providing more of an insulator than a medium to transfer the heat. To this degree, some users slipped the spreaders off, while others added them on – often with little difference. As time rolled on, heat spreaders become commonplace, with manufacturers adding their own flair to sticks with unique spreaders around. While some manufacturers took to adding other bits onto their sticks – like the Pro and Xpert lines from Corsair, many of us still felt these additions to be frivolous. In that spirit, we look at Corsair’s Dominator line today. With a promise of better overclocking through greater heat dissipation, it’ll be up to us to determine if the DHX technology contained within can become overclocking fact, or passed off as simple frivolous fiction. Let’s get started
Packed in a custom formed PVC package, these thin modules stand out for their bold ridged looks, which clearly draw inspiration from their past two lines listed off in the introduction. Looking at them from the front, you’ll either see the dominator logo, or an extended ratings sticker gracing the front – depending which way your vendor’s packed them into the sleeve before shipping them down your way. Extending from those spreaders are myriad thin black columns, each helping to carry away the heat generated by the faces of each module, and looking to the sides of the forward spreader, a small hint of gold plating adorns the customized black PCB, printed and developed specifically by Corsair to carry heat away from the modules via the ground plane.
Its through this custom PC and design to dump heat into the ground plane that the DHX technology is derived. Termed as DHX – an acronym for Dual path Heat eXchange, this technology is intended to help alleviate the stresses generated on the modules. By pushing a portion of each stick’s heat into the ground plane, and the rest into the anodized silver fins between the black fins attached to the faces of the module, these sticks are capable of handling much higher voltages with lower temperatures – to a degree that I was able to operate them at their rated voltage (2.4V), frequency (1,142MHz), and latencies (5-5-5-15) passively, with only mild heat generated by the modules in a case with moderate airflow. This will definitely come in handy when users are pushing the sticks further and further on 680i motherboards, especially with the high voltages certain motherboards (see DFI) will soon be able to provide. Granted, these custom heat spreaders and PCBs do come with a price premium, but considering the entry level modules aren’t all too much more than standard sticks, I’d wager the efforts are worth it.
On a side note, these sticks have been built and bred for NVIDIA’s brand new 680i platform, utilizing EPP to help the new users come to the high clocks required by the sticks – some time s without even boosting the FSB with the ability to un-link the memory and front side bus frequencies. Moving back to the packaging, the inset pamphlet does a rather good job of explaining what’s been outlined above, advertising these modules as perfect for “A system built to exceed standard expectations” – in short, boasting their high frequencies as being the perfect companion for casual overclockers. Rather then spend time splattering the packaging in awards from all across the web and print worlds, Corsair’s made a bit of an effort for the casual user – by flipping the pamphlet open, you can see a simple, 3 step process to installing each module – something that every enthusiast is usually able to do without seeing the target area. Then again, considering its pitch toward the common user, it’s nice to see the simple effort made to allow them to get the job done out of the gate, rather than asking friends for help on it. With this brief tour of the packaging done, it’s good and time to do an evaluation of the overclocking potential, and giving them a performance test.
Overclocking / Performance
The Test Bed
E6400, @ 3200MHz (8*400), 1.55V
Asus P5B-Deluxe, Stock. FSB Wall at 450MHz
2x 1024 Corsair PC2-9136 “Dominator” Modules
ATI X1600Pro 512 Advantage, Stock @ 635/355.5
Corsair HX620 Modular PSU, Stock.
For the time being, testing is being done on 3 fronts – theoretical (SiSoft Sandra), practical (Super-Pi), and theoretical gaming (3DMark 2001). Over time, other tests will be added (Doom 3, F.E.A.R, G.R.A.W and other time demos) in order to represent practical gaming. Along with that, Everest will also eventually be added to the loop to measure memory latencies.
Alright, you guys know the drill on how it’s done – since testing is being done with the P965 based ASUS P5B-Deluxe, all clocks will be locked to the FSB in one way or another, and while I would definitely love to be hitting 1,142MHz at 1:1, this board has a habit of hard limiting before 500MHz, which is somewhat disappointing; then again, it may be a processor wall. To the point, though. Before scaling the clocks up sky high, it’s usually nice to crank down the latencies, and see what sort of timings the sticks can hold at common speeds. For me, the prime of those speeds would be 800MHz – which is a nice 1:1 step with the FSB my E6400 oh-so-adores. As to the scores, just crack the screenshots open.
It’s actually rather unfortunate that modules rated for CAS5 at 1142 are unable (on this motherboard, at least) to boot and stay stable at CAS 3. I found that the lowest stable latencies I could muster at 800MHz (whether dropping the ratio at 266 FSB, or setting it to 1:1 at 400) would be 4-4-4-4 @ 2.4v. Boosting the voltage here didn’t help much, possibly due to the known weakness of the P5B on v-dimm. Based on the results of others with these very sticks, I’m fairly sure that booting CAS3 on the 680i would be possible, though asking for CAS2 would be a definite stretch.
Still, booting with the 4 pack of 4 latencies wasn’t all too bad, and they managed to carry their numbers to 1,000MHz, a figure which many out there would be rather enjoying at either 400MHz FSB (my 4:5 divider is wonky, so no dice there for you), or 500MHz. The modules were able to carry these figures up to 1,066 MHz (2:1 at 266), though not with much more stability than suicide runs. Raising the latencies to CAS5 helped here.
In order to reach the rated frequency, I unfortunately had to loosen timings out to what’s been listed on the box – the aforementioned 5-5-5-15. Beyond this point of 1,142MHz, there was actually NO headroom to be found on this motherboard, a limit not imposed by the FSB, which sat at 286Mhz (2:1 ratio). It’s disappointing that there was no headroom beyond this point, granted users picking up the sticks now won’t have any worry about holding onto them until a future upgrade. The article – will – be updated in future when a 680i board is in the house, but for the time being, just pop on over to the performance section of this article to see how these sticks dart about the benchmarks at the collection of frequencies listed above.
Though expensive, these sticks do give you a nice amount of headroom – especially if you can nail high FSBs on your P965 board. Along with that, they stay nice and cool, and considering the reports of some sets passing 1,300MHz around the web, I’d wager they have some promise for users who want to hold onto them. Along with that, the bold stylings and good builds of these modules ensure that they’ll look good in systems for a time to come now – along with having a nice, high resale value if you want to upgrade at the next speed hop along the way. For taking the first step toward this innovation, and offering a nice, fast path to your system future, these sticks are well worth the bronze award