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Sheer XTC
Finding something fresh, new and exciting to do with your memory modules is a real headache for manufacturers. Let's face it, after they made the transition from totally naked to being shrouded in aluminium or copper heat spreaders there wasn't a lot more could be done, short of slapping a group of LED's along the top side.

Speed is always important for good memory and so is price, but as both of these factors hit a bit of a plateau it was down to the happening companies to find a new approach to stir up sales and generate interest, and they don't come much more happening than the guys and gals at OCZ. After a year of innovation and strong products, decided to turn a creative eye to their memory line-up. The result... the XTC heat spreader.

Heat spreaders have a simple task in life, to remove heat from the individual memory chips thus stopping any hot spots from forming, and then to radiate it into the surrounding air. In reality we've carried out several tests which suggest that their effectiveness is pretty minimal, though from a handling and protection point of view give me heat-spreader equipped memory modules every time.

Click to enlarge

Available in 512Mb and 1Gb modules
433MHz DDR - CL 2-2-2-5 (CAS-TRCD-TRP-TRAS)
Unbuffered
Gold Layered XTC Heatspreader
Lifetime Warranty
2.8 Volts
184 Pin DIMM
EVP® ULN

One of the main arguments against the use of heat spreaders was that any benefits they gained from distributing heat evenly throughout their entire surface were lost by trapping hot air beneath their surface. When you take into account the need for some kind of thermal interface between the memory chips and the heat spreaders, often nothing more than a semi-efficient thermal tape, it was reasonably argued that having the chips open to direct cooling from the air circulating in your case is likely to do more good than cloaking them in a metal shroud, however efficient it might be at conducting heat.

Click to enlarge OCZ's XTC heat spreaders are different though, in a simple but quite brilliant way; they're full of holes. Now this may seem to actually decrease surface area and thus reduce cooling efficiency and in a static airflow this may well prove to be true, but I'm prepared to wager that minimal airflow will provide better cooling even with the decrease in surface area.

Okay, so I've sold you the principle, now let's blow it apart. You see, rather than opting for retaining clips to hold the heat spreaders in place, OCZ have used thermal tape and lots of it. Thermal tape that starts at one end of the spreaders and finishes at the other end blocking every single hole as it goes. Come on OCZ! Get with the plot. I don't care how thermally efficient the tape is what's the point pressing all those lovely vent holes then blocking them off again? Ditch the tape and get some clips back on there if you need to. They can sit over a chip so they don't block any airflow.

Of course cooling efficiency is not entirely what these new heat spreaders are all about, they're also about looking good, and boy do they! With more and more cases coming with windowed side panels it's becoming important that hardware looks as good as it performs and OCZ have been quick to capitalise on this. These high-gloss fingerprint farms will glimmer like bullion from just about any case that lets you see them.

The Testing:

Using our trusty infrared thermometer I found the modules with the XTC spreaders to actually run cooler than the solid spreaders under full load, albeit by about 0.8 C which I honestly doubt would help improve your overclocking success. That's surface temperature of the heat spreader though; it's possible that the actual PCB was cooler even though the chips were still heating the spreader to the same degree. In reality I think a strong airflow would bring proportionately greater benefits with this type of heat spreader, certainly if the vent holes were open. I should also point out that OCZ have slapped a specification sticker on one side which blocks a third of the holes on that side. There's nothing on that sticker that couldn't go on a long sticker that runs along the top or bottom border of the spreader, apart from the OCZ logo that is.

I believe these modules are based on new revisions of Winbond BH-5 chips so I was surprised when they topped out at around 230MHz. BH-5s are notoriously voltage-hungry but for the purposes of this article I didn't want to head above the 3.0V mark.

Far more important for the regular user is that this memory can make it to its rated speed of 433MHz at 2-2-2-5, something I can happily confirm.

As AMD don't currently support an FSB, sorry, a base clock frequency of above 200MHz that's what we tested at. We compared the results against OCZ's own PC3200 EL at 2-2-2-5 using EVEREST.

READ
WRITE
OCZ PC3200 Platinum Revision 2 @ 2-2-2-5
5180
1630
OCZ EL PC3500 Gold GX XTC
5182
1648

Purely out of curiosity I next installed both modules making for 2Gigabytes of system memory, and using exactly the same settings I ran EVEREST again.

READ
WRITE
OCZ EL PC3500 Gold GX XTC
5182
1648
2GB Mixed Modules
5266
1797

It's a small but worthwhile increase which, coupled with the small increases we see in a few select games from using 2GB rather than 1GB of system memory may be starting to make the upgrade one to consider for the hardened gamer. I ran a few tests to see if dual-core CPUs can take greater advantage of 2GB of memory and, perhaps not surprisingly, the results were fairly unspectacular, showing no real advantage.

Conclusion

Selling at around £147 this memory costs perhaps a touch more than similarly specified dual-channel memory, but not by a great deal. Its low latencies make for superb performance while its new heat spreaders make it, in my opinion at least, one of the most attractive looking memory modules around.

It doesn't run notably cooler, nor does it overclock any higher and I'm slightly worried by how soft the glue holding the spreaders together becomes as they heat up, but provided they don't actually fall off and short out your entire system, and I've no reason to believe they will, these are genuinely impressive all-rounders. They will add to both the looks and the speed of just about any stock or moderately overclocked system. I'd still prefer a clip on there, perhaps a single, centrally placed one or perhaps with a "Z" on each side of it.


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