AMD Ryzen processors are now entrenched firmly in the PC firmament. They offer particularly appealing performance-per-dollar if you are able to harness all of the cores and threads.
It is usual to equip hugely multithreaded chips with lots of onboard cache that helps to keep the beasts full of data. And Ryzen is no exception, as the eight-core, 16-thread CPUs have a wholesome 16MB of speedy L3 cache to tap into.
Yet teasing out the last morsel of performance means running system memory at higher-than-default speeds. The gains may well be marginal, truth be told, though the small price premium for, say, DDR4-3,200 memory over DDR4-2,666 should be worth it.
This is exactly why memory manufacturers have been pushing 3,000MHz-plus kits for the Ryzen CPU, whose supporting platforms are now far more stable than at launch a couple of months ago. One such company with Ryzen-specific kits is G.Skill, so let’s take a closer look at its Flare X line and see if faster memory really is worth it.
Flare X is offered in a choice of red or black heatspreaders. Once past the aesthetics, these dual-channel kits range from 16GB (2x8GB) through to 64GB (4x16GB) and, interestingly, are only offered in 2,133MHz, 2,400MHz and 3,200MHz speeds.
The sole 3,200MHz kit at present is a 16GB (2x8GB) pack in black. Cynics may argue that DDR4 memory is DDR4 memory, so what works on the more popular Intel Z270 and X99 platforms ought to work on Ryzen. That is true, of course, though G.Skill says it has tested Flare X on at least 16 Ryzen-based motherboards to guarantee compatibility. MSI takes the lion’s share of certification with no fewer than 11 qualified boards.
It is usual for DDR4 memory scaling beyond 3GHz to have relatively loose timings. Not so in this case, as the Flare X pack ships with 14-14-14-34 timings usually reserved for lower-frequency RAM. Achieving this combination of speed and latency requires a bump to 1.35V, which is entirely normal for premium DDR4, and the modules also feature Intel’s XMP 2.0 timings should you wish to use them in another rig. It appears that G.Skill is using Samsung B-die chips underneath.
There has been a recent trend in making the heatspreaders larger and more overt. G.Skill sensibly shies away from that and presents Flare X in a standard form factor measuring 40mm high. As usual, the kits are backed with a limited lifetime warranty.
Memory prices have been rising steadily since last year, so much so that paying £150 for a 16GB pack of 2,666MHz memory is becoming normal. Being more on the extreme end of matters, particularly for Ryzen processors, the review kit sells for £170. It is almost scary to think that equipping a rig with 32GB of premium memory costs about as much as a Sony PlayStation Pro console, but there you go.
Well-built and promising the best possible performance on an AMD Ryzen 7 system, we want to find out whether paying a 20 per cent premium on the memory subsystem is actually worth it. We can answer this question as we fire up the PC and run numbers on a trio of kits offering a combination of different speeds and timings.