Today we have the opportunity to test something a little different in the modern DDR4 memory market. For high-end computer builders and enthusiasts, Samsung B-Die has remained the undisputed champion in recent years. Although other options have always been available, when it comes to overclocking and performance, there is simply no competition. Today, we are testing the Crucial Ballistix Elite, which is running a new breed of Micron memory IC’s. With very high XMP ratings and moderately tight timings, it promises to be a contender in this space. Please read along to find out more.
Specifications and Features
While Crucial may not be one of the biggest names in DDR4 today, they are no less influential or important. Crucial Technology is a brand name that was created under the Micron Technology umbrella back in 1996. Their mission is a concept that we take for granted today, but it was a revolutionary idea for the time period.
Crucial was founded on the belief that everyday consumers can, and should, have the ability to improve their computers through do-it-yourself memory upgrades. Greeted enthusiastically, Crucial provided the first-ever opportunity for end users to buy memory direct from a major manufacturer –Crucial
Fast forward more than twenty years, and we find ourselves in a world where computer upgrades are commonplace and so easy that practically anyone can do them. Crucial’s new Ballistix Elite DDR4 is geared as a high-performance memory product, which would be a nice upgrade for any PC. Crucial offers the Ballistix Elite at two different speeds, with a total of 6 different module configurations. Looking at the 16GB (8 GBx2) packages, we find 3600 CL16-18-18 at the bottom of the lineup, and 4000 C18-19-19 at the top end. Compared to other companies, such as G.Skill, the lineup could be considered lacking in options. However, from our perspective, this lineup of memory is intended for high-end computers where extreme performance is needed. If it’s RGB or lower end modules you are after, Crucial offers a plethora of options to choose from on that front as well.
Crucial created the Ballistix Elite to work flawlessly with both AMD Ryzen 3000 series and Intel Platforms, The memory uses XMP 2.0 profiles for easy setup and configuration. For those curious power users out there, Crucial created their “M.O.D. Utility”, which is software for real-time temperature monitoring.
Today, we will be evaluating the 3600 MHz CL16-18-18 memory kit. In the table below, we examine the particular details of our test memory.
|Crucial Ballistix Elite DDR4 3600|
|Capacity||16 GB (8 GB x 2)|
|Speed Spec||PC4 28800|
|Rated Frequency||3600 MHz|
When purchasing DDR4 memory, the main factors to consider, other than memory size or physical features, are the operating frequency and timings. The XMP is a memory profile stored inside the actual memory, which allows the user to easily apply the rated frequency and timings.
Through Thaiphoon Burner, we are able to see the details of this kit of memory in the image below including the SPD details. The SPD information is critical in determining how the stick will perform and how the computer will recognize it at default settings.
As the Thaiphoon Burner screenshot shows, this specific kit of memory is composed of Micron E-Die ICs.
This is where things get interesting. As we stated in the introduction, we are used to seeing Samsung B-Die ICs on enthusiast-level PC memory. Here is an opportunity for us to evaluate something a little different. The burning questions are: How does it compare in performance to Samsung B-Die? And, what is the overclocking headroom?
It’s not easy to spot, but a sharp eye will see that this memory utilizes the modern A2 style PCB layout. This refers to the orientation of the 8 ICs on the actual memory PCB itself. While it may seem like a useless tidbit of information, this is relevant because it can play a very substantial role in the relative overclocking ability on some motherboards.
Crucial ships the Ballistix Elite in a well-rounded package for the price point. It’s a trifold design and thick cardboard hinged construction creates the feeling of opening a present. To add to the cool-factor, the first flap has a magnetic close device. The magnetic flap locking system creates a satisfying ‘click’ that serves as a nice reminder that you purchased a high-end product. While it might not be the most elaborate packaging we have seen, it does strike a nice balance between form and function.
Both the front and the back are printed with high-resolution graphics. We get a clear image that Crucial is marketing this memory to gamers. Gamers make up the largest share of computer enthusiasts, so this is a logical step. With the price point and promise of performance, and high-quality packaging, this memory certainly fits nicely into the enthusiast category.
Once out of the package we are immediately surprised by the weight in hand. While it might not be the heaviest DDR4 module we have encountered, it still feels very substantial. If weight is an indicator of quality, then the Crucial Ballistix Elite would be of the highest quality.
The overall look of the memory is simplistic, but with a few added elements to make it stand out. The profile is low enough that it should clear most aftermarket air coolers, yet it gives the memory a unique look and also provides extra cooling capacity. The overall color is black with a matte finish. The maximum dimensions, in millimeters, is 133 x 40 x 8.
We sometimes see fake screws implemented for design purposes, but the Crucial Ballistix Elite uses actual screws to mount the top bar. The top bar has a rectangular fin design and is held to the heat spreaders with two screws on each side. The side heat spreaders are composed of two pieces for each side.
Compared to its competitors, Crucial has gone with a very minimalist approach to actual cooling. To dissipate heat, there is a thin strip of metal touching the ICs and held in place with thermally conductive tape. The thin strip also makes contact with the rest of the heat spreader. For heat dissipation purposes, this approach appears to be sub-par. In fact, roughly half of each IC is not even covered by the flimsy strip of metal.
The somewhat superficial cooling leads us to an early conclusion that the ICs themselves don’t produce enough heat to warrant actual cooling. The design is simple yet very attractive. For a closer look, check out the slideshow below.
In terms of style only, we feel that it’s a slam dunk with the ASRock X570 Taichi. The color and tone of the Ballistix Elite are a near-perfect match. The lack of RGB LEDs comes down to personal choice, but we think it’s a simple but attractive look on this motherboard.
Testing and Overclocking
AMD introduced serious changes to the memory capabilities and overclocking of the new X570 series chipset. As we talked about earlier, many of the existing XMP profiles on the market today are simply not compatible with Ryzen 3000 series and will not even boot when applied. It’s because of this that our first goal is to check and see if this memory even works with the XMP profile out of the box.
If and when the XMP profile has been established to be stable, then we evaluate the memory from an overclocking perspective. Therefore, we will stick to what could be classified as 24/7 stable daily memory voltages. According to the XMP 2.0 certifications, the absolute maximum allowable voltage is 1.50 V VDDR. Thus, all overclocking endeavors will be conducted with no more than 1.50 V.
Below is the test system and resulting memory speeds that will be used to evaluate the memory and run the benchmarks.
|CPU||AMD RYZEN 7 3700X @ 4.3 GHz|
|Cooler||NZXT Kraken X62 280mm – All-In-One Cooler|
|Motherboard||ASRock X570 TAICHI AM4|
|Graphics Card||PowerColor RED DEVIL Radeon RX 580|
|Solid State Drive||Team Group L5 LITE 3D SSD|
|Power Supply||Enermax RevoBron 700W 80+ Bronze|
|Operating System||Windows 10 x64|
|Memory Speeds Compared|
|XMP ~ 3600 MHz CL16-18-18 + XMP Sub Timings @ 1.35 V|
|Test Case 1 ~ 4133 MHz CL16-18-18 + XMP Sub Timings @ 1.35 V|
|Test Case 2 ~ 3600 MHz CL14-16-16 + Tight Timings @ 1.45 V|
|Test Case 3 ~ 4800 MHz CL18-24-18 + Loose Sub Timings @ 1.50 V|
As is the case with all overclocking adventures, your results may vary, so proceed only if you assume all risk. To view and examine all of the various memory profiles, we use two primary tools which include AIDA64 and AMD Ryzen Master utility. AIDA64 is a powerful system diagnostic and benchmarking tool that can be purchased for a reasonable price.
The modern DDR4 market offers a vast range of XMP memory. Shopping on Newegg we find everything from DDR4 2400 MHz, all the way up to DDR4 4866 MHz. The improvements in XMP profile speeds is greatly attributed to modern manufacturing processes and memory PCB layouts; however, it might not be attainable on all motherboards. The profile is intended to be a one-click overclock, but it likely only applies to enthusiast-grade motherboards.m
Crucial designed the Ballistix Elite to work no matter which platform you are running. Whether it’s the new AMD Ryzen 3000 series or Intel’s current Z390, you can buy with confidence, because this memory has been extensively tested with all platforms. That being said, some budget motherboards aren’t designed for high-frequency DDR4. It’s always a good idea to look at the QVL and check with your motherboard manufacturer to make sure 3600 MHz DDR4 is supported.
As you can see below, we had no problem running our memory using the one-click XMP memory profile. In this case, the FCLK = 1800 MHz and UCLK = 1800 MHz.
We cannot examine the overclocking potential without at least briefly covering the new AMD memory structure. Within the new architecture, AMD decoupled the infinity data fabric clock (FCLK) and the unified memory controller clock (UCLK). In the previous generation, the clocks were inherently linked with memory frequency and dividers. The process of decoupling meant that AMD could push the frequency to substantially higher limits, from about 4000 MHz to over 5000 MHz.
When we go to test the memory and overclocking capabilities we need to take into consideration two new variables, FCLK and UCLK. Even though these variables are somewhat out of our control, they play a huge role in the overall performance and benchmark scoring. That being said, it’s not always fair to compare one frequency against another, because the FCLK and UCLK might be running at different speeds and will, thus, skew the test results. While it’s not within the scope of this memory review to dive deeper into the Ryzen 3 memory structure, just keep in mind that those variables are there.
For the first test case only, the operating frequency was increased with no other settings adjusted. With no voltage increase, the frequency was able to be increased by an astonishing 533 MHz. Overclocking mileage and headroom will vary depending on your motherboard, but effectively we achieved 533 MHz free of charge. Below is the resulting first overclock test case with FCLK = 1800 MHz and UCLK = 1033 MHz.
For the second overclock test case, we used a voltage increase of 1.35 V to 1.45 V. Contrary to the first test case, this time only the memory timings were decreased in order to provide an alternative example of what types of overclocks are possible. The operating frequency was held at the XMP 3600 MHz, but the primary timings were decreased as far as possible while still maintaining relative stability.
It’s worth noting that Micron seemed to have difficulties running low primary and secondary timings. This is one area in which Samsung has a clear advantage because B-Die memory modules are able to run at substantially lower timings all around. Below is the resulting second overclock test case with FCLK = 1800 MHz and UCLK = 1800 MHz.
For the third and final overclocking test case, the goal was to achieve the highest frequency overclock possible while still staying within the maximum allowable voltage of 1.50 V, according to XMP 2.0 specifications. Finding the optimal overclock for a given criterion, such as voltage, is not an exact science and requires a large degree of patience, and the right combination of equipment.
One of the traits that Micron has gained is a reputation for high frequency overclocking potential. In order to increase the frequency, we needed to also increase loosen up the timings. The resulting overclock was a mind-bending 1.2 GHz increase in frequency beyond XMP. The primary timings were increased from 16-18-18 to 18-24-18. Furthermore, most of the sub-timings needed to be set substantially higher than XMP.
Dramatically increasing the timings would, in theory, also decrease the overall performance. Is the trade off of frequency for timings worth it? Continue reading on to the results section to find out. Below is the resulting first overclock test case with FCLK = 1800 MHz and UCLK = 1200 MHz.
First up, we used AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark. In the graph below, it is clearly visible that each of the four different memory speeds compared had a noticeable change in the benchmark result, with the exception of memory write performance. Looking at the read performance, we found it interesting that overclocking the frequency resulted in a lower score than stock XMP. This can be attributed to the substantially lower UCLK frequency in that case.
How did our memory overclocking impact the overall performance? The results are not as linear as we had hoped for. It comes down to how we interpret the results and what tests we choose to look at. For the read performance, tighter timings with 3600 MHz frequency was the clear winner. Conversely, in the copy performance, high frequency was the clear winner. Overall, we feel the XMP profile is the best option.
Next up is Geekbench 3, and it has proven itself to be an excellent tool for determining the real-world performance of the system being tested. This type of benchmark is a purely 2D calculation based, and there is no graphical processing element, so it’s a great analytical tool to evaluate memory performance.
Here is where things get interesting. Focusing on the overall score, we see that this ‘real world’ test benchmark favors a frequency of 3600 MHz with tight primary and sub timings. We believe this proved to be the best overall performance because the UCLK and FLCK frequency are both using the 1:1 ratio and maxed out at 1800 MHz. As we might have expected, our all-out frequency profile proved to be the worst in terms of overall performance.
Cinebench R15 scores don’t typically increase much with memory overclocking, but we included it because it’s quite possibly the most popular benchmark for computers today.
WinRAR is an old benchmark, but still quite useful in modern computing. It evaluates performance by simulating file management tasks such as compression and extraction. Here we see a noticeable trend of 3600 MHz, with tight timings being the overall winner.
Next, we will examine the performance using a few of the memory benchmark tests offered within the SiSoftware Sandra suite of benchmarks. The flagship product, known as Sandra, is a powerful suite of many different benchmarks to evaluate computer performance of all major components, including the processor, graphics, memory, and disk.
As with the AIDA64 memory test results, interpreting the SISandra memory results are favoring different profiles depending on the test. The high-frequency profiles are clearly better for the Cache & latency test, while tighter timings are showed better scaling in the transactional throughput test.
In this next section, we will examine the XMP profile performance of recently reviewed memory. All of the memory compared here has been tested on the same exact X570 test bench and with the same exact operating system. Due to this fact, we are able to make some direct performance comparisons of recently reviewed memory. For the purposes of continuity, we will examine only the XMP profile and exclude any overclocked comparisons.
Last month we reviewed G.Skill’s Trident Z Neo memory. Using the data generated in that review, we are able to compare it with the Crucial Ballistix Elite. All of the comparisons below were done with the XMP profile and disregard any overclocking potential.
As we might expect, the Ballistix Elite faired fractionally worse than the Trident Z Neo. While they were remarkably close in performance, due to the fact that both are running 3600 MHz, G.SKill is running tighter primary timings which give them the edge here.
The Geekbench 4 results show a slight deviation from the expected result. Again, the relative performance differs by a fraction of a percent, but for half of the tests, Crucial Ballistix Elite wins. This could be attributed to the slightly different timing profile. However, when it’s this close, run-to-run variance and experimental error become real factors for consideration.
The Crucial Ballistix Elite offers rugged matte black styling, highly-competitive XMP 2.0 profiles, and astounding overclocking headroom. The one-click overclocking XMP profile worked flawlessly on our AMD X570 series platform. Crucial launched the Ballistix Elite with a very attractive matte black heat sink design and no LED lighting of any kind. We applaud them for offering a high-tier product that doesn’t fall into the RGB memory trap.
When it came down to overclocking, the Ballistix Elite exceeded our expectations. Without increasing the voltage, we were able to overclock the memory an additional 533 MHz beyond the XMP frequency of 3600. With a voltage increase from 1.35 V to 1.50 V, we were able to overclock the frequency by a staggering 1.2 GHz. The heat sink design turned out to be somewhat superficial, but as our results clearly showed, overclocking was not hindered by the cooling method.
Micron proved to be a contender in the performance memory market with excellent overclocking headroom and extremely competitive out-of-box performance. To summarize our findings, Samsung-based modules are able to run tighter timings than Micron, but the Micron-based models are able to run higher frequencies.
Crucial offers the Ballistix Elite with two different XMP ratings spread across a total of 6 different module packaging configurations. Coming in at $148.99, our test kit of Ballistix Elite was within 1% of the performance of G.Skill’s Trident Z Neo. While the Neo showed relatively the same performance, it does offer RGB lighting and is priced comparably at $159.99. After spending some time and getting to know this memory, we feel confident in suggesting the Crucial Ballistix Elite for your next performance-oriented Intel or AMD computer build.