Demanding users usually choose to spend a little more when buying memory modules, purchasing models with lower latencies (also referred to as memory timings) that, at least in theory, offer a higher performance. Nevertheless, can those memories bring real-world advantage? We ran some tests with programs and games using two different memory timings to answer this question. Check it out!
If you are not familiar with the meaning of RAM timings, it is important to read our “Understanding RAM Timings” tutorial, which explains the subject in detail.
In short, memory latencies or timings represent the number of clock cycles that memory waits to deliver some data. The different values (CL, tRCD, tRP, tRAS, and CR) represent the waiting times in specific situations, like row and column changes (since data is organized in memory as a matrix) or between different commands.
We decided to use DDR3 memories running at 1,600 MHz, because it is one of the most common configurations nowadays. In order to make the comparison, we first configured the memory on the motherboard setup with timings 9-9-9-24-1T, which is a typical value found on high-end DDR3-1600 memories (there are special models with even lower latencies, however) and then with 11-11-11-30-2T timings, which are values usually found on low-cost DDR3-1600 memory modules.
For each configuration, we ran some benchmark software (PCMark, 3DMark, and Cinebench R15), converted one video (using Media Espresso), and ran three recent games that, by what we saw on recent tests, demand great overall machine performance, not only relying on the VGA performance (Dirt Rally, Dying Light, and GTA V).
Figures 1 and 2 show the memory configuration on both tests, checked using CPU-Z.
Figure 1: using typical timings of a high-end memory
Figure 2: using typical timings of a value memory
We will list the configuration we used on our tests on the next page.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions, the only differences were the memory timings.
- CPU: Core i7-5775C
- Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme4
- CPU Cooler: Intel
- Memory: 16 GiB DDR3-2133, four G.Skill Ripjaws F3-17000CL9Q-16GBZH 4 GiB memory modules configured at 1,600 MHz
- Boot drive: Kingston HyperX Savage 480 GB
- Video Card: GeForce GTX 980 Ti
- Video Monitor: Philips 236VL
- Power Supply: Corsair CX750
Operating System Configuration
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Video resolution: 1920 x 1080 60 Hz
- NVIDIA driver version: 361.43
- Intel Inf chipset driver version: 10.0
We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”PCMark 8″]
PCMark 8 is a benchmarking software that uses real-world applications to measure the computer performance. We ran three tests: Home, which includes web browsing, writing, light gaming, photo editing, and video chat tests; Creative, including web surfing, video editing, group video chat, video conversion, and gaming; and Work, which runs tasks such as writing documents, web browsing, spreadsheets, editing, and video chatting. Let’s see the results.
On the Home benchmark, the performance was the same on both configurations.
On the Creative benchmark, we also had the same performance.
Again, on the Work benchmark, the performance was not affected by the memory timings.
3DMark is a program with a set of several 3D benchmarks. Fire Strike benchmark measures DirectX 11 performance and is targeted to high-end gaming computers. Sky Diver also measures DirectX 11 performance, and is aimed on average computers. The Cloud Gate benchmark measures DirectX 10 performance. The Ice Storm measures DirectX 9 performance and is targeted to entry-level computers, so we did not include it on our comparison.
Keep in mind that we used a GeForce GTX 980 Ti video card on all tests.
On the Fire Strike benchmark, the performance was the same on both configurations.
On the Sky Diver benchmark, we also had similar performances.
On the Cloud Gate benchmark, it was not different; the performance with both configurations was the same.
[nextpage title=”Photoshop CC and Cinebench R15″]
Media Espresso is a video conversion program that uses the graphics processing unit of the video engine to speed up the conversion process. We converted a 1 GiB, 1920x1080i, 23,738 kbps, .mov video file to a smaller 320×200, H.264, .MP4 file for viewing on a smartphone. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the better.
Cinebench R15 is based on the Cinema 4D software. It is very useful to measure the performance gain obtained by the presence of several processing cores while rendering heavy 3D images. Rendering is an area where a bigger number of cores helps a lot, because usually this kind of software recognize several processors (Cinebench R15, for example, can use up to 256 processing cores).
We ran the CPU benchmark, which renders a complex image using all the processing cores (real and virtual) to speed up the process. The result is given as a score.
On the Cinebench R15 CPU benchmark, we also had identical results.
[nextpage title=”Gaming Performance”]
Dirt Rally is an off-road racing game released in April 2015, using Ego engine. To measure performance using this game, we ran the performance test included in the game, in 1280 x 720 resolution, image quality configured as “low” and MSAA off.
The results below are expressed in frames per second (fps).
In this game, the results were similar on both tests.
Dying Light is an open-world horror game launched in January 2015, using the Chrome Engine 6. We tested the performance at this game with quality options at the minimum and 1280 x 720 resolution, measuring three times the frame rate using FRAPS.
The results below are expressed in fps and they are the mean between the three collected results.
In this game, the performance also did not change with different timings.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) is an open-world action game released for PCs in April of 2015, using the RAGE engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we ran the performance test of the game (the part the camera follows the plane), measuring the frame rate with FRAPS. We ran GTA V at 1280 x 720, with image quality set to the minimum.
The results below are expressed in frames per second.
On GTA V, we also had the same performance on both tests.
Any good text about computer hardware will tell you that, the smaller the RAM timings, the best, since, in theory, the memory access will be faster.
However, as we already proved in our “Does dual-channel memory make difference in gaming performance?” article, increasing the maximal theoretical speed of the memory not always reflects as a practical performance speed. This happens because the effective performance of a computer on a certain program depends on several factors, like the CPU architecture and clock, video card architecture and clock, speed of the buses, among other factors.
The results obtained in our tests were clear: on the programs we tested, using lower RAM timings did not affect the performance.
Thus, our conclusion is that, for most users, there is no advantage to buying more expensive memory modules just because they have lower timings.
The only case that may prove worth buying memory modules with superior specifications is when you are into overclocking; in this case, higher priced memories will probably handle better with higher clock rates.