Best DDR3 RAM: 10 memory kits reviewed and rated

21st Jun 2012 | 13:15

Best DDR3 RAM: 10 memory kits reviewed and rated

The best DDR3 memory kits revealed

Best RAM 2012

Twenty quid. That's all you need to bag a couple of memory sticks packing 4GB of RAM from one of the big brands like Crucial.

Not enough for serious multi-tasking, you say? 8GB can be had for under £40.

With decent CPUs costing north of £100, graphics cards likewise, and SSDs denting wallets across the land, thank goodness memory is cheap.

You could argue that's just as well. After all, memory has become gradually less critical to system performance in recent years, and the difference between kits has become a game of margins.

So, is it now a simple case of slapping in 8GB of any old RAM and not giving it another thought? Up to a point, yes.

Most PCs, most of the time, will do just fine with 8GB of poverty spec memory. That's enough for all but the most demanding multi-tasking scenarios.

It's sufficient to have a whole hill of browser windows open, plus a holiday's worth of high res images on the go in Photoshop, and still be able to Alt+Tab in and out of your favourite 3D frag-fest without any laggy disk swapping.

What's more, modern PC platforms are a lot less flaky when it comes to compatibility and stability. We muck about with an awful lot of kit here, and it's become rare to find memory shonky enough that it stops a rig booting.

In the basic operational sense, stuff tends to just work.

memory1

For reasons we'll come to momentarily then, modern CPUs are less dependent on memory specs and performance to deliver the goods. If that sounds like an argument for spending as little as possible, here's the counter case.

Memory still impacts system performance. Not dramatically, but if the price is only a couple of quid, it's actually one of the most cost effective ways to improve performance.

In other words, you'd be bonkers not to buy the right bits of memory. Here's how to win the game of margins.

We've established that the days when fancy memory could put a rocket up your PC's performance are long gone, but that doesn't mean memory no longer matters.

There's still plenty of opportunity to get it wrong.

What's more, with memory prices almost comically low, there's really no reason to mess things up by cutting corners. So, why isn't memory as critical as it used to be, and what do you still need to worry about?

When it comes to PC platforms, the most significant new technological trend in recent years has been the consolidation of more and more features into the CPU die. Intel, and particularly AMD are now bunging everything into CPUs.

The end game is the so-called SoC, or system on a chip, where pretty much everything of any significance is packed into a single die.

memory2

Historically, SoCs have been the weapon of choice for anything that needs to be either very cheap or very small. Think set-top boxes and mobile phones.

We're still a few years off achieving SoCs in PCs, but today's mainstream Intel CPUs, for example, pack everything from a memory controller to a PCI Express bus, and even slightly shonky graphics cores too.

The most relevant item, of course, is that memory controller. Situated on the CPU, it allows for much more memory bandwidth.

Even at entry-level memory frequencies, which means 1,333MHz right now, there's more than enough bandwidth to feed the latest multi-core processors. That applies to both AMD and Intel chips with dual-channel memory controllers. They deliver roughly 20GB/s of raw bandwidth.

As for Intel's new X79 high end platform and its quad-channel architecture, it's complete overkill.

The upshot is that you can ramp up the memory frequencies and see little or no change in overall system performance. When you already have all the bandwidth your CPU can eat, heaping on a load more doesn't make any difference.

Easy overclocking

The other change that's taken the pressure off memory involves overclocking.

In the good old days most, if not all, overclocking was achieved courtesy of cranking up bus speeds. When you do that, it has a knock on effect on all sorts of other components, including memory.

Now, it is of course true that many motherboards offered memory dividers that allowed you to scale back on memory speeds when overclocking, but really big overclocks still required fast memory, and even modest upclocks resulted in memory running at some funky non-standard speeds. But no longer.

Nearly all AMD CPUs of any interest are now unlocked. That means you have full access to the CPU multiplier and thus the ability to set core clocks without impacting other areas of the chip.

We only wish we could say the same of Intel. It still keeps most of its processors at least partially locked. Only K Series and Extreme models are unlocked.

As for the rest, from the introduction of the Sandy Bridge family of CPUs, Intel has hardlocked everything to the baseclock, so things like the PCI Express bus scale up when you tweak the baseclock.

And that has pretty much killed overclocking for locked Intel processors. They won't clock up by more than a few percentage points via the baseclock.

All of which means you don't really need fast or fancy memory for basic, default-frequency performance or as an enabler for achieving nippy overclocks.

So, does it make any difference at all, and if so, is it merely a matter of operating frequencies?

The range of performance in our World in Conflict minimum frame rate benchmark (it's minimum rather than average frame rates that really matter) was 42 frames per second at the low end right up to 50 frames per second.

Close up

Memory latency

This is where things get a little complicated.

There's more to memory than raw frequency. Memory latency – also known as memory timing – matters, too.

Typically, you'll see a set of four latency specifications quoted for any given memory kit, something along the lines of 9, 9, 9, 24.

In simple terms, the latencies represent the time in operating cycles it takes the memory to execute a certain task. It might be the number of cycles needed to send a command to the memory and receive a reply, or how many cycles you must then wait to access the memory again. Frankly, the details don't matter much.

"Like clockspeeds, memory latencies can be tuned"

All you really need to know is that the lower the numbers, the better it is for performance. Indeed, really poor latency can be more of a drag on performance than mediocre operating frequencies.

And here's the kicker: when you increase memory clockspeeds, the latencies go up. It can be a bit of a zero sum game with today's bandwidth-saturated CPUs.

Of course, just like clockspeeds, latencies can be tuned. The problem is, with at least four settings on offer, this can be fiendishly complicated. There is, however, a solution.

XMP (or Extreme Memory Profiles) is a standard cooked up by Intel to simplify memory overclocking. Essentially, it enables guaranteed memory overclocking with set latencies.

With XMP enabled, you can be confident you're getting the best, or at least very close the best, out of your memory subsystem.

There's not too much else to worry about. We're not convinced that cooling is a major issue for today's low-voltage memory, for instance.

We're happy to see some cooling fins if they don't push the price up too much, and aren't so big they compete with the CPU cooler for space inside your PC.

RAM on test

Corsair Vengence 16GB

Model number: CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R
Price: £105
Configuration: Quad-channel 16GB kit

Corsair Vengeance 16GB

Life as a memory vendor is a pointedly precarious existence. Take Corsair: its Low Profile Vengence kit takes top honours in the dual-channel category while this quad-channel effort is relegated to also-ran status. If we're honest, there's not all that much between them. They are both good kits.

So what keeps the Vengence 16GB from top spot? It's certainly not bandwidth. With a claimed and tested 1,866MHz on offer, there's plenty of that. It cranks out some solid numbers in most of our benchmarks, too.

What it isn't is terribly consistent. At the default 1,333MHz setting, you get an impressive average of 114 frames per second in World in Conflict, for instance. that's the highest figure achieved by any kit, but the problem is the minimum frame rate was 50, which is middle of the pack. Arguably, it's minimums and not averages that count.

Making matters marginally worse, the average frame rate dropped when we upped the ante to 1,866MHz while the minimum didn't budge.

To be fair, this isn't the only kit that served up some slower numbers when running faster. At least in part, the results may reflect normal testing fluctuations, but the inconsistent performance certainly doesn't help the Vengence's cause.

Too inconsistent

Nor do latencies that are a little off the pace of the best. There's nothing wrong with 9, 8, 7, 20. It's very good - it's just that a few of the quad-channel kits do better, and the Patriot Xtreme is cheaper.

Similarly, we're not impressed by the fancy heat spreaders with tall fins, as they only get in the way of your CPU cooler.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Crucial Ballistix 16GB

Model number: BLE2CP8G3D1869DE1TX0CEU
Price: £165
Configuration: Dual-channel 16GB kit

Crucial Ballistix 16GB

Less than £40 will see you loaded up with 8GB of perfectly tolerable DDR3 memory for your dual-channel rig. How, then, to justify this painfully pricey 16GB kit from memory specialists Crucial?

For a very small minority of high-performance PC users, the extra 8GB can make all the difference. Let's say you routinely have scores of ultra-high resolution images open in an editing package. At some point, you're going to run up against the limitations of 8GB. That's when the operating system will begin to transfer application data to disk or drive, and that's when system performance can get a bit smelly.

How much!?

But let's be clear, with 8GB that's hardly ever going to happen. The benefit of stepping up to 16GB is nothing like as significant as the leap from 4GB to 8GB. It's very much a case of receiving diminishing returns.

That's a real problem for this Crucial Ballistix kit, because the density required to achieve 16GB in just two memory DIMMs pushes the price well beyond double an equivalent 8GB kit. In that context, the main advantage of this 16GB two-stick solution over, say, a couple of 8GB kits or a quad-channel kit for £50 to £60 less, is restricted to stability and compatibility. When it comes to things like overclocking, two sticks tend to work better than one.

Capacities aside then, what's the actual performance like? Most impressive are the 9, 9, 9, 27 latencies when running at 1,866MHz. Overall performance in our suite of benchmarks is pretty solid too, but that £165 price tag still weighs too heavy.

Verdict: 3/5

G.Skill RipjawsZ 16GB

Model number: F3-12800CL9Q-16GBXL
Price: £85
Configuration: Quad-channel 16GB kit

G-Skill RipjawsZ 16GB

Unlike the dual-channel category where we'd frankly run a mile from Transcend's aXeRam 2000+ kit, there are no stinkers in the quad-channel category. You'd do just fine with any of the kits tested this month. That includes the G.skill RipjawsZ.

This kit would pass the Pepsi challenge with flying colours. If we lined up two otherwise identical PCs, one with the RipjawsZ and one with our test-topping kingston Hyperx kit, it would take some kind of modern-age hardware guru to feel the difference. Frankly, we'd suspect foul play if anyone could.

But there are still reasons to differentiate, both notional and tangible. The RipjawsZ is a little off the pace wherever you look. Its 9, 8, 8, 20 latencies at 1,333MHz are good, but not spectacular. Its 1,600MHz top speed is similarly useful, but hardly world-beating when you realise the Hyperx hits 2,133MHz. The benchmark numbers it cranks out are entirely acceptable, but bettered elsewhere.

Lose the fins

On a more tangible note, these are nicely engineered DIMMs with great looking, albeit tall finned, heat spreaders. If RAM cooling was a major issue that might be an interesting trade off in terms of cooling and system configuration, but it isn't, so there's little to be gained fouling the CPU socket and preventing certain makes and models of CPU coolers from being used.

Lower profile heat spreaders make more sense in today's systems where overclocking is done by dividers. But like we said, this kit is no dud. It's great value at £85. It just loses out in a game of very tight margins.

Verdict: 4/5

G.Skill Ares 8GB

Model number: GS-F3-2133C9D-8GAB
Price: £70
Configuration: Dual-channel 8GB kit

G-Skill Ares 8GB

When you compare CPUs or graphics cards, the results usually make sense. Some cards and chips are clearly faster than others, and the reasons are fundamentally fathomable. Would that it were so with system memory.

Instead, all sorts of strange things happen, especially when you start mucking about with frequencies and timings. The G.Skill Ares 8GB kit is a classic example.

Oddball benches

It posts some inexplicably low numbers in our World in Conflict benchmark when running at 1,333MHz. we gave it a couple of extra runs to get its act together. The 6.77pts produced in Cinebench 11.5 is bottom-rung material, too.

Part of the explanation might be the timings: 8, 10, 9, 26 at 1,333MHz is a bit odd. Things do pick up a bit when you start cranking up the clocks, though. G.Skill claims 2,133MHz is on offer and we achieved just that, and also matched the quoted 9, 11, 10, 28 latencies at that much higher frequency. Those are decent numbers for such a high clockspeed. Only the dual-channel Kingston HyperX 8GB kit can match that frequency while achieving better timings.

At 2,133MHz, the average and minimum frame rates scale up from 97 and 42 to 103 and 49. That's better, but it's still not as many frames as Corsair's Vengence Low profile kit cranks out at 1,333MHz. Like we said, memory can be a bit odd.

Still, at least we're fans of G.Skill's low-profile heat spreaders. Fancy fins are all very well, but when they clutter up the CPU socket you'll quickly remember they're mostly for show.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Kingston HyperX 8GB

Model number: KHX1866C9D3T1K2/8GX
Price: £55
Configuration: Dual-channel 8GB kit

Kingston HyperX 8GB

Transcend will do you a decent 8GB kit that gets the job done just fine for £35. Why push another £20 Kingston's way?

For starters, Kingston would no doubt argue, you're getting much better build quality. Where the Transcend effort cuts a pointedly threadbare dash, Kingston has suited and booted this HyperX kit in the latest anodised alloy accoutrements. By that we mean hefty heat spreads.

Tthe problem is, we're not convinced they're really necessary. Moreover, the only thing we're sure about is that the tall cooling fins can get in the way of some CPU coolers on most motherboards. We're not against heat spreaders per se, but we definitely prefer the low profile variety with today's low-voltage memory.

On the upside, this Kingston kit comfortably out stripped its quoted top frequency, delivering 2,133MHz with the same 9, 11, 9, 27 latencies claimed for 1,866MHz. Unfortunately, raw bandwidth aside, going beyond 2GHz doesn't translate into significantly better performance in several of our benchmarks.

The Cinebench score, for instance, edges up from 6.88pts to just 6.89pts, which is distinctly unexciting.

Hyper-Ex

Okay, the average frame rate in World in Conflict stepped up from 98 frames per second to 106, but the minimum rate increased by a solitary frame. Similarly, at the default 1,333MHz frequency, latencies of 9, 9, 9, 24 are nothing special, and neither were the performance results.

It's not easy being a premium memory kit, we're happy to admit. Like so many others, this one is good but not quite great.

Verdict: 3.5/5

Five more RAM kits tested

Patriot Viper Xtreme Div 4 Series

Model number: PXQ316G1600LLQK
Price: £85
Configuration: Quad-channel 16GB kit

Patriot Viper 16GB

Plumping for Intel's premium LGA 2011 platform and X79 chipset means it doesn't make sense to skimp on relatively minor expenses like system memory. That's why all our quad-channel kits are 16GB. An extra £40 or so is a small price to pay for an additional 8GB, in the context of the hundreds you'll be spending on a motherboard, CPU and the rest.

That's true even if 16GB only rarely delivers more real-world performance than 8GB. The question, then, is whether you stick with a moderately priced and clocked kit like the Patriot Viper Xtreme Division 4 Series 16GB, or aim for something a bit fancier.

Out of the box, it certainly doesn't look like Patriot has been cutting any corners. You get the full heat-spreader treatment with medium height fins that strike a tolerable balance between cooling efficacy and practicality. We certainly wouldn't want anything taller.

Tthen again, the quoted frequencies and timings aren't exactly exotic. A speed of 1,600MHz with 8, 9, 8, 24 latencies isn't busting any records, though at least support for XMP means you'll achieve that without any hand tuning.

We were also pleased to see timings of 7, 8, 7, 20 pop up when running at 1,333MHz. In fact, it's a toss up whether to run this kit at higher frequencies or lower latencies.

Low league

Our tests suggest that for games, this kit is a bit quicker running at 1,333MHz. Overall, the Viper Xtreme Division 4 has plenty going for it, but it loses out to a Kingston kit that delivers the best gaming performance and the highest frequencies - albeit at a price.

Verdict: 4/5

Transcend aXeRam 2000+4GB

Model number: TX2000KLU-4GK
Price: £48
Configuration: Dual-channel 4GB kit

Transcend Axeram

Every litter has a runt - an illegitimate backstairs sprog that nobody wants. Unfortunately for Transcend, it has the competition squarely beaten when it comes to being a bit ginger.

Tthe bad news for the axeRam 2000+ starts with its £48 price tag. Not a dramatic amount of money, you say? Indeed it isn't, but this RAM kit packs a mere 4GB in two sticks of 2GB dual-channel format. That's more than twice the price of a basic 4GB kit, which means it's going to have to do something very special.

And so it does, but we're talking 'special' as in 'especially bad'.

Hertz me so

This isn't the only kit we've tested that has failed to achieve its advertised clockspeed (in this case 2,000MHz), but it's the only one not to drag its sorry behind above the default 1,333MHz setting. In truth, that probably wouldn't be a huge problem if it delivered, let's say, some really nice latencies at 1,333MHz. Instead, it serves up ye olde 9, 9, 9, 24 numbers, which at best put the bog into standard.

Admittedly, this memory kit does manage some tolerable performance results. Actually, it knocks out the fastest frame rate of the dual-channel kits in our x264 video encoding benchmark. But then we're talking about a fraction of a single frame per second.

Where it really matters - in a game - it was well off the pace. With all of that in mind, it's hard to give too much credit for what appears to be excellent build quality by transcend. In fact, if anything, the cooling fins are only likely to get in the way. Overheating is hardly going to be an issue at 1,333MHz, is it?

Verdict: 4/5

Transcend JetRAM 8GB

Model number: JM1600KLN-8GK
Price: £70
Configuration: Dual-channel 8GB kit

Transcend Jetram

Transcend's 4GB 2,000MHz kit suffered a horrible shoeing, but we're pleased to report that this budget-orientated 8GB effort is a much tougher customer. In fact, it beats just about every other dual-channel kit here apart from Corsair's shiny white Vengence kit, and even then the fight went the distance and ended in a points decision.

So, how does the JetRAM 8GB conspire to punch above its weight? As the only kit here without any kind of heat spreaders, it certainly looks like a nine-stone weakling. But here's the thing: it's one of the few RAM kits on test that managed to outrun its officially quoted frequency.

Transcend promises to deliver 1,600MHz, but you actually get 1,866MHz instead. Admittedly, you're looking at some pretty shonky 11, 11, 11, 28 latencies to run at that speed, and there's no XMP support, so if any improvement is possible, you'll be hand tuning these puppies.

But then cranking up the frequencies doesn't make a great of difference at the best of times. And the 9, 9, 9, 24 latencies at 1,333MHz are perfectly tolerable given the piffling £35 price tag.

DIMM-Tastic

Include the fact that these bare DIMMs will take up less space in your system than anything with heat spreaders, and you might be wondering why the JetRAM kit doesn't take top honours.

The main issue, however, is gaming performance. It's not terrible, but it's behind the results of the Corsair's Venegence kit. We think that's worth an extra £12. And anyway, we're suckers for anything with a dash of stormtrooper white.

Verdict: 4/5

Corsair Vengence Low Profile White 8GB

Model number: CML8GX3M2A1600C9W
Price: £47
Configuration: Dual-channel 8GB kit

Corsair Vengeance Low-profile

You can't beat a bit of stormtrooper white and, let's be honest, separating the good RAM from the bad is a chore. Appreciating the Corsair Venegence Low Profile's spurious Star Wars-esque aesthetic is as good a reason as any to give it top billing among the dual-channel brigade, right?

Actually, there is some method to our madness. It was an awfully close run thing between the Vengence and Transcend's virtually threadbare JetRAM 8GB kit. After all, the transcend kit is £12 cheaper, offers the same capacity, the same latencies running at the default 1,333MHz frequency and hits a higher peak frequency.

If you examine most of the performance results there's either nothing in it or the transcend kit actually has the edge. At 1,333MHz, it's infinitesimally but verifiably quicker in our x264 HD video encoding test - 31.67fps plays 31.65fps. Yeah, we know, it's dramatic stuff.

Squeaks a win

Up the ante with increased clocks and the gap grows to fully 0.4 frames per second. Yes, really. That's what the Transcend's 1,866MHz buys you compared with the Corsair's 1,600MHz.

Of course, 1,866MHz is all very well, but when it comes with terribly tardy 11, 11, 11, 28 timings, well, you might expect something to give. That's where things start looking up for the Corsair Venegence.

At 1,600MHz, it delivers the same 9, 9, 9, 24 latencies as it does at 1,333MHz. At least in part, that explains why it delivers the best minimum frame rates of all the dual-channel kits in the most important test, the World in Conflict benchmark.

The margins are small, we'll happily admit. We're talking one or two frames per second at most. But it's true both at the default 1,333MHz frequency and the top speeds achieved by any of the kits. We care more about gaming than anything else, so these results matter.

Iit also doesn't hurt that the Vengence Low profile white 8GB kit achieves all this courtesy of the lowest voltages of any of the kits we tested. Okay, 1.35V memory versus 1.5V or 1.65V memory isn't going to save the planet - or your bank balance - but all others things being equal, lower voltage is better than higher voltage.

When it comes to cooling Corsair gets it right, too. Exactly how much difference cooling technology makes to modern RAM is debatable. The bare transcend JetRAM kit, for instance, didn't get hot to the touch even running at 1,866MHz. But it's just possible long-term stability and reliability might be betting with some kind of heatsink.

However, given the marginal benefits, we're no longer keen on seeing large cooling fins growing from the top of the DIMM. We very much doubt they have any impact on performance or reliability. But they definitely get in the way of CPU coolers.

If you're going to have cooling, we want it just like this. Low profile heat spreaders, and they're white. You gotta dig anything that looks like a stormtrooper, right?

Verdict: 4/5

Kingston HyperX 16GB

Model number: KHX2133C11D3K4/16GX
Price: £115
Configuration: Quad-channel 16GB kit

Kingston HyperX 16gb

That you can get bags of RAM for very little of your hard-earned money goes a long way towards off-setting the fact that there's not much to get excited about these days. If £40 will buy you a decent dual-channel kit. Why pay more?

If, however, you're running intel's new LGA 2011 platform and the x79 and Sandy Bridge E processors that go with it, one good reason to spend more is to populate all four memory channels.

As it happens, we've tested the x79 platform in dual and triple-channel mode and, if we're honest, spotting any performance drop off is tricky.

Fly my beauty

But hey, you never know, and it just feels wrong running a super-CPU costing over £500 with half its legs chopped off. The same thing applies to choosing 16GB over 8GB. Rarely, if ever, will you run up against the limitations of 8GB of RAM in a desktop PC. But again, you never know, and it seems churlish to unload all that cash on an x79 system and take the risk, however small, of spoiling it by not having enough memory.

Sso that's 16GB over four channels justified, but what about this RAM kit's £115 price tag? That's more than any of the other quad-channel kits on test.

In mitigation, this is the only four-way kit that's rated at 2,133MHz, and it's the only one that achieved that speed in testing. It also put out some very, very nice latencies when running at the default 1,333MHz frequency. 7, 8, 7, 19 makes it the lowest latency kit of the lot, including the dual-channel efforts.

That no doubt contributes to it being the quickest in the Cinebench 11.5 professional graphics rendering test - only by a fraction of a point, but a win's a win.

Much more significant, by our reckoning, is gaming. That's where this kit really delivers, beating all comers by two frames per second in World in Conflict with a minimum frame rate of 52. The only snag is that it does its best gaming work running at 1,333MHz, not 2,133MHz.

If that seems like an odd result, the latencies fall off pretty horribly to 11, 12, 11, 30, which goes a long way to explaining why this Kingston HyperX kit is actually slower across the board in all our application benchmarks, when running at 2,133MHz than 1,333MHz.

Of course, it does deliver a spectacular 44GB/s of bandwidth, but on the desktop that just doesn't matter. There aren't any applications that can particularly make the most of that kind of monster throughput.

No gimmicks

Finally, kudos to kingston for not giving in to gimmicks and bolting on some silly, oversized heat spreaders. Like our dual-channel winner, the HyperX 8GB has opted for low profile heat spreaders that won't bork your CPU socket.

Hang on, did we just say Kingston had resisted gimmicks? That's possibly a little premature when you peruse the specification list and discover gold-plated contact fingers. Ah, well, it's too late to rearrange the scores now. Victory is for Kingston, gold medallion accessories and all.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Technical analysis

How we put a whole lot of lovely memory through its paces

Intel has the highest performance processors right now, so it's those very chips that will be most hungry for bandwidth and thus sensitive to memory performance - in theory, at least.

On the dual-channel side we went with the popular Z68 chipset and a Core i7 2600K quad-core processor. For quad-channel, we went with the new X79 platform and a Xeon 2687W eight-core chip. Okay, it's not a conventional desktop CPU. But it does drop straight into any X79 motherboard and if anything's going to saturate that quad-channel memory interface, the octo-core 2687W is it.

Benchmarks

bench1

bench2

bench3

And the winners are...

Kingston best quad channel kit

Kingston HyperX 16GB - Best Quad-channel 16GB kit

Corsair Vengeance best 8gb kit

Corsair Vengeance Low Profile White 8GB - Best Dual-channel 8GB kit

First a confession: our biggest fear coming into this group test was that we'd barely be able to distinguish between the different memory kits and that the whole exercise would descend into an embarrassing farce.

Mercifully, that didn't quite happen, even if a lot of the benchmark results were very close and some, arguably, didn't make much sense. Critically, we discovered there's still such a thing as a dud memory kit.

That dubious honour goes to the Transcend axeRam 2000+ 4GB tx2000kLu-4Gk. Yup, that's the name in full with the ridiculous stock-keeping code tacked on the end, the better to accurately identify and avoid it.

Part of the problem is that the notion of a high performance 4GB kit makes no sense. 8GB kits are cheap enough and virtually guarantee you won't suffer any disk swapping. You can't say that about 4GB. It was also the only kit that failed to clock up above 1,333MHz. Okay, memory clockspeeds don't really matter, but it's advertised as a 2,000MHz kit, so it's a bit rum to find it won't go above 1,333MHz.

Then there are the timings, which are nothing special, and the benchmark results, which are wholly unremarkable. Oh, and the pointless finned heat spreaders. Bottom line: don't touch this kit.

Close race

If you think we're getting down on Transcend, nothing could be further from the truth. We came awfully, awfully close to giving top honours in the dual-channel to Transcend's JetRAM 8GB JM1600KLN-8GK. At £35 for an 8GB kit it's dirt cheap, and it performed well beyond expectation, hitting 1,866MHz and matching its more expensive sibling's latencies at 1,333MHz. Okay, it lacks heat spreaders and support for XMP profiles, but such extras are of only marginal benefit.

Fortunately for Corsair, its Vengence Low profile white 8GB CML8GX3M2A1600C9W is only marginally more expensive. Admittedly we're talking a third more expensive in percentage terms. But in practice that's £12 in cash and unlikely to bust anyone's rig building budget.

In return, you get the best gaming performance and lowest operating voltages of all the dual-channel RAM kits, even if the gap to the next best is very, very small. You also get sensible, low-profile cooling styled with stormtrooper chic. If you care about that sort of thing - and you should.

As for the quad-channel kits, top honour goes to Kingston's HyperX 16GB KHX2133C11D3K4/16GX. Again, we liked the low profile cooling along with fast frequencies and the quickest in-game frame rates and lowest latencies on test.

Oonce again, the margins are small and the fact that the HyperX delivers its best at 1,333MHz rather than 2,133MHz only serves to underline how little difference performance memory makes with the latest CPUs and their on-die memory controllers. But every little helps and our winners deliver measurably superior frame rates.

As for the rest, barring the aforementioned Transcend axeRam debacle, there isn't a dud among them. They're all excellent, reliable kits worthy of your consideration. And every single one comes with a lifetime warranty, which is nice.

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