Crucial was created by Micron in 1996 as a response to consumers wanting memory upgrades to get the best possible performance from their systems. Currently, they offer over 217,000 upgrades for more than 27,000 desktops, notebooks, servers, printers, routers, and other electronic devices on their website.
Crucial's Website & Tools
Crucial has one of the most useful manufacturer websites we've ever come across. As soon as the page has loaded, you're greeted with two options to find the best possible memory upgrades for your system: Selection by Motherboard, or a System Scanner.
I figured the System scanner would be the best way to go. I was feeling a little lazy and didn't feel like looking up my motherboard's model. I use Firefox as my primary browser and it ended up that the scanner only supported Internet Explorer, as it depends on some whacky ActiveX stuff. Luckily, they offer a downloadable version of the scanner that just pops up a new window of Firefox with the results. I chose to take the Internet Explorer path just to watch the nifty web dialog.
As I already have 2GB of RAM on this motherboard, the website reported that there were no compatbile upgrades for my system. I found that a little odd, as the RAM I have installed is value-level RAM that isn't even matched for Dual-Channel. I bet if there was only one stick of RAM in then it would give me a few upgrade options.
I went back to the homepage to select upgrades by motherboard. I was impressed for many manufacturers and devices they had in their database. You're not limited to motherboards, but entire systems, printers, everything. I don't think I've ever come across a more complete list. I selected my manufacturer as ECS, then selected motherboard, and found the GeForce6100SM-M. It returned all the memory they had that was compatible with my motherboard. The screenshots below show me looking for RAM for the new motherboard coming soon, the Asus M2N4-SLI.
I'm very much a computer enthusiast, and if I'm ordering new RAM, I want the good stuff. Crucial's enthusiast RAM happens to be the Ballistix branding. This RAM comes with black heatspreaders, and you have the option of ordering it with LEDs that signal current activity. After selecting my motherboard, I looked for a 2GB kit of RAM and narrowed it down to RAM with LEDs. RAM with LEDs would look wicked sick in my case window.
I wanted some space for overclocking to get that extra performance if I ever needed it, so it looks like the 2GB DDR2-800 will be on our bench today.
Overall, Crucial makes it extremely easy to find the proper upgrades for your specific motherboard. They have two tools available for you. I'm suggesting you use the manual look-up process, rather than their system scanner. If you have all your RAM slots filled, I'm not sure if it will list any upgrades. Even with my 2GB installed, it didn't suggest any 4GB upgrades, which Crucial does offer.
The Ballistix Tracer memory is being advertised specifically for enthusiasts and case modders. Not only does the RAM feature lower latency, but it's got LEDs built into it as well! More on the LEDs later, though. This RAM is meant to please everyone!
Product Number: BL2KIT12864AL804Timings: 4-4-4-12
Extra Features: SLI-Ready
My 2GB of Ballistix came in Crucial's standard packagine: a small box inside a bigger box for protection. Slice the seal on the smaller box and you're in for a treat when you spot your new RAM.
Aside from the two sticks of RAM, there's also a little set of instructions complete with pictures for desktop or laptop RAM installation. I've been installing RAM for years, so I discarded the instructions before I installed the RAM. The RAM itself looks mighty impressive. I like the black heatspreader over the silver and gold colors from companies such as OCZ and Corsair. The logo on the Ballistix is also much more colorful (and easier to read!).
Installation was simple, as is any RAM installation. I opened up the clips and removed the old ram, and then replaced it with the two sticks of Ballistix Tracer. Make sure you've got an anti-static wristband on so you're grounded, and that the powersupply is off. It's always to good idea to take both of these precautions when installing anything in your PC to avoid breaking or damaging components before you're able to use them. Make sure they're firmly in place, then boot your PC back up! It's interesting to watch the RAM while your PC boots, as you can see when the RAM actually comes online via the LEDs on top.
Watch the lights!
The fun part of the RAM is watching the LEDs! There are 2 rows of 8 LEDs on the top of the RAM. These LEDs circulate in random patterns based on RAM usage. The colors vary from green to red depending on usage. Additionally, there are there are 8 more blue LEDs at the base of the RAM that are constantly lit, giving off a nice illuminating effect against your motherboard.
Before we moveo on to benchmarks, here's a video I made showing the RAM activity while starting UT2004.
The system we're using to test the RAM in started with only 1GB of Super Talent CL5 DDR2-800 RAM. While using Linux or any version of Windows that isn't Vista, 1GB is more than enough RAM for every day activities. I'm able to play World of Warcraft, run Firefox, and listen to iTunes without using the entire gigabyte of RAM that the system had. The Ballistix Tracer has a few advantages over the CL5 in that it provides lower latency and has matched dual-channel support.
Let's look at our two system configurations.
The only bottleneck I can see in this configuration is the Radeon X600. It's unfortunately an SE edition of the graphics card, and only provides us with an PCI-Express x8 link, using on half the bandwidth the x16 port it's plugged in to. Hopefully the RAM is able to give us noticable performance boosts to forgive the video card's shortcomings.
We've chosen not to attempt overclocking the Crucial Ballistix. While we are an enthusiast website, we're looking to see the stock value of the hardware (that, and our motherboard isn't the most overclockable motherboard). First, we'll be looking at Sandra's memory bechmarks. You can find out more about Sandra here. Note that these are theoretical benchmarks and don't say as much for real-word performance. That's what gaming is for.
System 2 (Ballistix)
RAM Bandwith Integer Performance (higher is better)
RAM Bandwidth Float Performance (higher is better)
Random Memory Access (lower is better)
Memory Access Speed Factor (lower is better)
Cache and Memory Speed Factor (lower is better)
Cache and Memory Combined Index (higher is better)
I found it odd that the CL5 outperformed the Ballistix in a few areas. I have a feeling something may be hampering the RAM's performance, and most likely it is the motherboard. The Random Memory Access should probably be much lower than it is. This is most definitely caused by the motherboard. Again, these are only theoretical benchmarks and you can't base real word performance from them.
For a more real-world look at how the RAM is going to perform, we've selected a few choice games. Using the same systems as above, let's see if the RAM improves gameplay for our favorite games, as well as 3dMark05. For Counter-Strike: Source, we used the Video Stree test from the main menu. For UT2004, we chose to use the default settings and created a benchmarked-mode botmatch with the following command-line options: dm-rankin?spectatoronly=1?numbots=12?quickstart=1?attractcam=1 -benchmark -seconds=77 -ini=default.ini
System 2 (Ballistix)
Counter-Strike Average FPS (higher is better)
32.04 Avg FPS
38.05 Avg FPS
UT2004 Botmatch Lowest FPS(Default Settings, higher is better)
UT2004 Botmatch Average FPS(Default Settings, higher is better)
UT2004 Botmatch Highest FPS(Default Settings, higher is better)
I was much more delighted to see the gaming scores over Sandra's. The Crucial Ballistix Tracer improved performance across the board, although not by much. We gained a few frames per second in both UT2004 and CS:S, and only a meager 36 points in 3dMark05. As we guessed earlier, the graphics card seems to be a major bottleneck in our system. With a better card, we imagine we'd see drastic improvements and bigger differences between the two brands of RAM.
Regardless of the videocard, the RAM performed very well in the benchmarks we've selected. More than that, the colorful LEDs keep us distracted while we let the benchmarks run. Let's move along and look at the big picture of the RAM with our conclusion.Regardless of the videocard, the RAM performed very well in the benchmarks we've selected. More than that, the colorful LEDs keep us distracted while we let the benchmarks run. Let's move along and look at the big picture of the RAM with our conclusion.
Crucial's got a great product with it's Ballistix Tracer line of RAM. Not only does it perform incredibly well, but it's got LEDs than change with RAM activity. Regardless of whether your an enthusiast, case modder, or general PC user, you're going to be happy with this RAM!
Not only have we seen a great product from Crucial, but we've also explored the tools they offer to help consumers find the right RAM upgrades for their machines. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to find an upgrade with their website. Between their system scanner and manual selection, Crucial offers a service well above any other memory manufacturer out there!
From the light-up, activity-monitoring LEDs, blue LEDs along the bottom, and great speed, we loved everything about this RAM. Plan to see it in future reviews.
- LEDs that monitor activity
- LEDs that are constantly lit and illuminate the motherboard