Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 (2x8GB) Review: Crucial Competitive

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Two crucial ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 8GB sticks slotted together into the obligator memory review cross

Crucial have sent over a 16GB dual channel kit of their Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 for review (part number BL2K8G36C16U4BL). Strong 16-18-18 primary timings at DDR4-3600 make this kit especially interesting, as does the tight vertical integration – Crucial are the in-house memory brand for chipmaker Micron. This organisation has yielded a succession of memory frequency world records – currently DDR4-6666 – and a retail kit with an astonishing DDR4-5100 rated frequency. However, when it comes to performance, most enthusiasts would rate competitor Samsung and their “b-die” chips as king.

In this review we’ll be comparing Crucial’s kit to a field including two of its peers. Firstly, a TEAMGROUP 8Pack RIPPED EDITION DDR4-3600 14-15-15 kit from Overclockers UK, which uses Samsung b-die. Secondly, an offering from SK Hynix’s in-house brand – a KLEVV CRAS X DDR4-3600 RGB kit. The KLEVV kit costs £85.99 on Amazon UK, just about the same as the £83.99 Crucial list the Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 2x8GB kit for on their store. Meanwhile, Team’s “RIPPED EDITION” kit is a top-end enthusiast kit that uses high voltage to achieve extra-tight timings and currently commands £158.99 at Overclockers UK.

Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 (2x8GB) Specifications & Features

Model Crucial Ballistix RGB BL2K8G36C16U4BL
Kit Configuration 2x8GB
SPD Speed DDR4-2666
SPD Timings 19-19-19-43
XMP Speed DDR4-3600
XMP Timings 16-18-18-38
XMP Voltage 1.35V
XMP #2 Speed n/a
XMP #2 Timings n/a
XMP #2 Voltage n/a
Cooling Aluminium Heatspreader
Special Features Addressable RGB
Memory IC 8Gbit Micron E-die
IC Guaranteed? Not Necessarily
Ranks Single Rank
PCB Layout A2
Warranty Lifetime

Crucial don’t guarantee the ICs used, but as a division of Micron they normally use Micron’s offerings. This isn’t a hard and fast rule – there was a time when Ballistix Elite 4GB DDR4-3000 and 8GB DDR4-3466 sticks were available with Samsung chips. However, since Micron now make high performance ICs, Crucial seem to be sticking with the parent company.

In practice we’re not aware of this model using anything other than Micron’s 8Gbit revision E (“E-die”). This could easily change though – the buzz is that newer Micron chips like revision J are capable of hitting the requisite speeds.

Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 (2x8GB) Closer Look

Packaging and Visual Inspection

The Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 2x8GB kit comes in a simple cardboard box with a window through to the modules. The box is no bigger than it needs to be, and contains a plastic protective clamshell within which are the sticks themselves. There’s no manual, with Crucial favouring online information. Overall the packaging is minimal, and the motherboard manual should cover installation instructions.

If we had to find something to complain about it would be that Crucial’s otherwise extensive online support materials lack any clear reminder to enable XMP for full performance on Ballistix kits. The closest thing is an FAQ article that you’d only find by already knowing you were looking for XMP. The article “Why Is My Memory Slower than Expected?” fails to mention XMP.

The modules themselves are matte black with white text, providing a neutral look – red and white colours are also available. Some texturing of the heatspreader adds surface area, and the height isn’t far above that of a standard DIMM.

Peeking under the heatspreader, we can see the memory chips arranged in two tight clusters of four chips each. This is consistent with the JEDEC-standardised “A2” PCB layout typical of modern 8GB sticks.

Looking at the PCB more carefully, it’s clear that Crucial have made some significant tweaks. Whereas an SK Hynix OEM stick uses combined passive components, Crucial use discretes for their DDR4-3600 sticks. It’s not standard and it can’t be cheaper, so there must be a good reason. I’d bet this tweaking is the fruit of Crucial and Micron’s vertical integration, and helps get the best out of the Micron ICs.

RGB and Aesthetics

The modules don’t look out of place in our test build, but to me they don’t jump out either. The RGB LEDs are bright with good colours, although faint bright spots are visible.

One test we do for RGB memory is to look for flicker, using a very fast shutter speed. For our COLORFUL CVN Guardian review, we saw solid black lines from rolling shutter intersecting with PWM flicker at 1/3000th of a second shutter speed. This was 3x better than a mouse from a big name in the RGB industry. This Crucial Ballistix RGB kit, however, shows no lines whatsoever at any shutter speed our camera is capable of – even 1/6000th of a second. Normally you’d have dimmer, blurrier lines at some lower shutter speeds, but not so here. That means the RGB on Crucial’s sticks is completely flicker free. Presumably Crucial are using resistive dimming to achieve their RGB effects.

The Ballistix MOD software allows LEDs to be individually addressed, and has a few built-in patterns. However, these modules don’t work as well as we’d like with the software for our motherboard. Other modules we’ve tried support a full range of effects, but any setting in ASRock Polychrome that would require addressing an individual LED on these modules simply doesn’t apply. Furthermore, the built-in effects available from MOD are more limited.

You can still set up some neat RGB patterns, and MOD can coexist with Polychrome. Ultimately though, the software support could definitely be better.

SPD and XMP Profiles

The Serial Presence Detect, or SPD, is a small chip on a memory module that reports the stock settings to the motherboard. This lets the motherboard know how to run the memory at stock, and also provides XMP profiles for a one-click overclock. Here, we’re looking at how the SPD is programmed.

The “JEDEC” rows are true stock speeds, named for the organisation that defines memory specifications. When the motherboard is left to set up memory on its own, it will go for the best JEDEC speed that is supported by the CPU and any other memory in the system. In this instance, that’s DDR4-2666 at 19-19-19 timings. The XMP #1 row defines settings that are technically an overclock, but which the stick is tested for. To run at XMP settings, you need to go into the bios and enable XMP.

It looks like Crucial are using chips that are rated for only DDR4-2666 and uprating those. As such, the true stock speed is only DDR4-2666 rather than one of the higher standardised speeds of 2933 or 3200. This is standard practice among enthusiast memory manufacturers. However, while it’s not unusual, we would rather see higher JEDEC speeds. Not all users will know to enable XMP, and others may not be comfortable with it. Higher JEDEC speeds mean everyone can get good performance.

Some sticks may also include a second XMP profile. This would be nice to have here as some older systems may find DDR4-3600 a little aggressive, though the latest platforms should all be totally fine. Overall, the SPD is standard – our grumbles apply to just about every manufacturer.

Performance – Test Setup

Since our first DDR4 review, we’ve tweaked the test setup a little. Firstly, it’s in a case now. This helps us evaluate the aesthetics in a more typical setup, as well as frankly saving some space compared to the open test bench. We’ve also updated the BIOS on our X570 Taichi to version 3.80. We have a new PSU, to free up our EVGA G3. Finally, the untimely passing of our RTX 3070 means we’re now on an RX 6800. Because of the changes, all our benchmarks have been rerun. We’ve also dropped CS:GO, which isn’t really memory sensitive on Zen 3, in favour of F1 2019 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

CPU Ryzen 9 5950X @ 4GHz 1.1V
Motherboard ASRock X570 Taichi (BIOS 3.80)
Cooler Arctic Liquid Freezer II 280
Power Supply Seasonic Core Gold GC-650 650W
GPU AMD RX 6800
Storage Adata XPG SX8200 Pro 256GB
Case Fractal Design Meshify C TG
Performance – Overclocking

We’ve updated our overclocking methodology to be a bit more in-depth, with the aim of being consistent for reviews going forwards. All the overclocked results you’ll see follow this new methodology.

First, we lock in the tRC specified in the XMP profile, which is usually tighter than what our X570 Taichi sets on its own. Second, we set tRRD_S 4, tRRD_L 6 and tFAW 20 – if needed we could loosen these, but it hasn’t been needed yet. Third, we push to DDR4-3733 with a synced (1866MHz) FCLK and UCLK – loosening any timings that need loosening to get there. We also try to run 1T with geardown mode off if we can without extra tweaking. Finally, we tighten up the main primary timings – tCL, tRCDRD, tRCDWR and tRP. This isn’t a comprehensive overclock, but comprehensive overclocks take a lot longer.

We know the Micron E-die ICs used here come in kits rated for 1.5V, so we’re comfortable pushing memory voltage to that level to get a better overclock.

This is the first kit we’ve tested that can run 1T with geardown mode off at DDR4-3733 without extra tweaking. Three of our four primary timings could also tighten up despite the small speed bump. Only tRCDRD – conventionally a weak spot for Micron DDR4 – couldn’t take further tightening. This bodes very well for the benchmark results.

Performance – AIDA64

Produced by FinalWire Ltd, AIDA64 is a system information and diagnostic suite with an extremely wide range of features. Memory enthusiasts are particularly drawn to the synthetic cache and memory benchmark. AIDA64 latency is a common point of comparison for those looking to get the absolute most out of their systems.

At XMP, Crucial pick up a close second to our TEAMGROUP b-die kit. Overclocked, the Ballistix actually beats the overclocked b-die in write and copy tests, staying second in read and latency. This review is shaping up to be a close fight – something that’s extremely impressive when you remember how much cheaper the Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 kit is.

AIDA64 scores wouldn’t be complete without the screenshots people love to use to compare results – here are all three, for JEDEC, XMP and our manual overclock.

Performance – Geekbench3

Geekbench3 is a cross-platform synthetic benchmark, made by Primate Labs. Like AIDA64, this is a synthetic task. Geekbench3 is heavily weighted towards the artificial memory bandwidth test.

Much like AIDA64, Geekbench3 shows a close second at XMP with Crucial trading blows with our b-die kit with both overclocked. Remember, that’s £83.99 vs £158.99. The KLEVV kit costs about the same, also has RGB, and is consistently behind.

Performance – y-cruncher

A “high school project that went too far”, y-cruncher is a highly optimised constant calculator. Written by Alexander J. Yee, the program can compute pi and other mathematical constants to trillions of decimal places. Because the Ryzen 9 5950X is so strong, y-cruncher is extraordinarily memory sensitive on our test system. We’re benchmarking the time to calculate 1 billion digits of pi.

Another close second at XMP, another close win when overclocked. The high-performance Micron ICs on this kit can churn through data with the best of them.

Performance – OpenShot

OpenShot is a free, open-source video editor ideal for content creators on a budget. We’re taking a 1080p 50fps source, and exporting a short video with basic transitions at 720p 30fps. The rendering speed, in frames per second, is a way to measure real-world performance in a demanding application.

OpenShot is a little more variable than our other benchmarks. Functionally the Crucial Ballistix, KLEVV CRAS X and TEAMGROUP RIPPED DDR4-3600 kits are all close enough at XMP to be just about equivalent. We do see a consistent lead when overclocked on the part of the Ballistix – being able to disable geardown mode is clearly doing a lot for performance.

Performance – F1 2019

F1 2019 is a well optimised DirectX 12 game that runs well even on an Athlon 3000G, and has a built-in benchmark. Since the GPU side is so well optimised, our high-end setup is memory sensitive even at 1080p Ultra High settings.

It seems like F1 2019 might bump into a bottleneck elsewhere around 280 FPS in our setup, with the 1080p Ultra High settings we’re using. This adds a dash of realism to the review and shows that the Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 kit is plenty fast enough here at XMP, never mind with a manual overclock.

Performance – Shadow of the Tomb Raider

More than just a showcase for Nvidia RTX, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has become popular among memory enthusiasts since it shows off the benefits of overclocked RAM. We ran the built-in benchmark at both 800×600 Lowest, which is entirely CPU/memory bound, and 1080p Medium for a more realistic test.

The more realistic 1080p settings show another outright draw, as long as you remember to enable XMP. 600p Lowest is more sensitive and favours the more expensive 3600c14 kit at XMP, but overclocking hands Crucial another win.

The Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 (2x8GB) Review: The Verdict

The nature of overclocking is that samples vary. Unlike XMP, which though technically an overclock is one which the sticks are rated to handle, there’s no guarantee a different kit could match our manual overclock. I’ve spent a lot of this article talking about how impressive the overclocked results are, but I can’t actually recommend a kit based on that.

What I can base a recommendation on is the XMP results. Consistently coming in a close second to a much more expensive top-end kit is very impressive. The KLEVV kit in the same price range is consistently behind. Crucial’s Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 provides top tier performance at an accessible price.

What’s hot:

  • Very impressive performance
  • Great price
  • RGB seems to be completely flicker free
  • Great OC results on our sample

What’s not:

  • Could work better with motherboard RGB software
  • MOD software could be better
  • RGB diffuser isn’t as good as the COLORFUL CVN Guardian

Overall, Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 gets a hearty recommendation in this review. We have some gripes with the RGB implementation, but otherwise the only thing that isn’t top tier is its budget-friendly price. Crucial offer an even cheaper non-RGB version, and right now if I was building myself a system from new parts that’s the kit I’d pick. This is an easy gold award.

awards-gold

Thanks to Crucial for sending a sample of the Ballistix RGB DDR4-3600 (2x8GB) in for review.

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