The best mem­ory for Skylake-X


We’re now see­ing big im­prove­ments to AMD’s pre­vi­ously poor mem­ory com­pat­i­bil­ity with its Ryzen CPUs. Most X399 moth­er­boards now sup­port a mix of kits with fre­quen­cies of 3000MHz and higher. How­ever, In­tel has nailed mem­ory sup­port with the X299 launch straight­away. The XMP pro­file worked on ev­ery board we used this month, with all of them head­ing straight into Win­dows at 3200MHz with four DIMMs in quad-chan­nel mode.

But what speed of mem­ory should you choose for your X299 sys­tem? Un­like X99, the X299 chipset sup­ports up to 2666MHz DDR4 mem­ory as stan­dard, although there may still be a few cheap 2133MHz kits ly­ing around that could save you some cash.

If you shop around, though, you’ll find that 3000MHz and even 3200MHz kits are of­ten not that much more ex­pen­sive. We spot­ted 16GB quad-chan­nel Cor­sair Vengeance LPX kits that showed less than a £30 dif­fer­ence be­tween 2133MHz and 3200MHz kits, and the dif­fer­ence wasn’t much greater with 32GB kits ei­ther. An­other is­sue is that many of the lat­est kits, such as Cor­sair’s Vengeance RGB mod­els, are only avail­able in 3000MHz or higher con­fig­u­ra­tions.

So does a higher mem­ory fre­quency al­ways sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove per­for­mance on the X299 plat­form, or is there a sweet spot where you get the ideal bang for your buck? Will spend­ing more money net you more frame rates, or shorter ren­der­ing times? To find out, we pitched four 32GB sets of quad­chan­nel mem­ory against one an­other in some of our bench­marks to see which fre­quency pro­vided the best per­for­mance and value.

In our im­age edit­ing test, the re­sults were very sim­i­lar, with very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween 2133MHz and 3200MHz mem­ory. The big­gest jump was be­tween 2133MHz and 2666MHz, with re­sults above this clock speed be­ing within the vari­a­tion you would ex­pect in this test.

Our heav­ily multi-threaded Hand­brake video en­cod­ing test, though, saw a no­tice­able im­prove­ment all the way up the scale, al­beit with di­min­ish­ing re­turns as you ap­proach 3200MHz. The multi-tasking test saw a very sim­i­lar set of re­sults.

The big­gest leap by far was be­tween 2133MHz and 2666MHz, but above this fre­quency, you don’t gain any­where near as much in each jump in fre­quency. Even so, 3200MHz RAM does still give you a no­tice­ably higher score than 3000MHz mem­ory.

Over­all, the fastest re­sult is –not sur­pris­ingly – with 3200MHz mem­ory, but by a com­par­a­tively small amount com­pared to 2666MHz, with scores of 259,075 com­pared to 256,791. There was an ap­pre­cia­ble dif­fer­ence, though, be­tween the 250,605 score of the slow­est RAM.

The sweet spot in terms of our bench­marks is 2666MHz, although at cur­rent prices, you might as well get the bet­ter per­for­mance on of­fer from a 3200MHz kit any­way.

Else­where, the re­sults were even more var­ied. In Cinebench, there was next to no ben­e­fit of hav­ing RAM faster than 2666MHz, but in Ashes of the Sin­gu­lar­ity: Es­ca­la­tion’s CPU-fo­cused bench­mark, the game scaled all the way as the mem­ory fre­quency in­creased. There were signs of di­min­ish­ing re­turns in the av­er­age frame rate, but the re­sults were still higher.

Clearly, if you’re spend­ing hun­dreds of pounds on a CPU and po­ten­tially thou­sands of pounds on an X299 sys­tem as a whole, while 2666MHz is the sweet spot in some tests, there are tan­gi­ble im­prove­ments by go­ing for 3200MHz RAM. With some quad-chan­nel kits cost­ing barely £20 more for 3200MHz com­pared with 2666MHz mem­ory, this small pre­mium is def­i­nitely worth pay­ing.

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