AMD Phenom II - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Today we compare the performance between DDR2 and DDR3 on the AM3 platform using Jetway's new combo motherboard which supports both memory types.

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12 minutes & 37 seconds read time


Jetway Combo AM2/AM3 Motherboard Review

Well, it's now official; AMD has finally started to embrace DDR3 memory and it's about time. Intel has already got eight chipsets out that support DDR3 memory and the Core i7 is devoted solely to DDR3 memory. In fact, Core i7 is Intel's departure from any DDR2 support. AMD has now jumped on the bandwagon, but still manages to keep some legacy support in place.

AM3 based processors from AMD are designed with two integrated memory controllers; a 128bit wide DDR2 memory controller and a 128bit wide DDR3 memory controller. This is made possible thanks to DDR2 and DDR3 having the same mount of pins as DDR2 modules, just differently spaced. AMD has designed AM3 processors to be able to slot into AM2+ boards to run with their DDR2 memory controllers. However, you can also place the CPU into an AM3 based board to take full advantage of the DDR3 memory controller.

Now, this is a time of transition. AMD wants to get the AM3 based Phenom II's out there and current AM2+ boards have already been given support for it. But what about users who don't want to spend a fortune? - Jetway has come to the party with its AM2/AM3 combo board supporting both DDR2 and DDR3 memory slots onboard. Today we will see just how much difference there is in performance between using DDR2 and DDR3 memory thanks to this very board.

The Box and What's Inside

Package and Contents

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Before we have a look over the board itself, we always like to check out the package and contents first. While this is more of a comparison test between DDR2 and DDR3 on the AMD platform, we can't help but show off the board at the same time. Jetway spec'd us about the board before shipping, so we knew it would be a Micro-ATX offering and therefore the size of the box was no surprise. The box colour scheme is red on white with the Jetway girl on the front.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

For a Micro-ATX board we weren't expecting to see a colour photo of the board itself on the back of the box, but Jetway has managed to surprise us. Along with the photo there is also some marketing info on the board in several languages.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Jetway doesn't have a huge mount of additional documentation and software included, but the included pieces are more than ample. The user manual is quite thick, however, it only contains basic info on the board in several languages. The included DVD contains drivers for both Vista and XP 32-bit and 64-bit versions. There are no drivers included for alternate OS users, so if you plan to use Linux or any other derivative you're going to have to search on the relevant websites for each company's drivers.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

As far as the cables and accessories are concerned, it's very basic. There are two SATA data and one Molex to single SATA power converter included along with a single IDE cable supporting two drives.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

This is something that confused us. Even in the user manual there was no reference to this card, so we asked Jetway direct. This card is used on the board to split the PCI-E x16 lanes. If you plan to use a single graphics card in the board then you'll need to install this card into the second PCI-E x16 slot to route all of the lanes to the first slot. If you want to use a Crossfire setup, you take this card out and place a second graphics card in the provided slot, allowing you to have a x8/x8 Crossfire setup.

The Motherboard

The Board

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Moving along, it's now the boards turn to get a viewing. As we mentioned earlier, the board is a Micro-ATX design; however, this is one design we didn't expect to see. Jetway has done a fantastic job. The 24-pin power connector along with the single IDE port powered by the SB750 Southbridge sits behind the four memory slots while the 4-pin power connector is placed between the Mosfet heatpipe and the PS/2 ports.

The board comes equipped with four DIMM slots; however, this is a different configuration than what we're used to seeing with AMD K8 and K10 processors. Why is that? - Well, this board contains two DDR2 memory slots and two DDR3 memory slots. That's right, this is a combo board designed to run AM2+ and AM3 processors. Thanks to AM3 processors supporting DDR2 and DDR3 memory, if you want to you can get this board and use your older AM2 processor and DDR2 memory or put a AM3 processor in and use DDR2 memory, then upgrade to DDR3 later on. It's that simple.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

For a Micro-ATX board, there is no skimping on the setup. Using the SB750, the board is able to support up to six SATA data ports and Jetway has made use of all six, though it's a weird setup as there are two red, two yellow and two green. There seems to be no real logic behind this. Right on the bottom there are three switches; a power on/off, reset and CMOS reset button.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

When it comes to the power regulation system, the board has a 5 phase voltage control to keep the CPU fed with a stable current. The Mosfets are cooled by a heatpipe assembly and are all solid state components.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Moving to the rear I/O ports, Jetway has a good setup here. First off, thanks to the 790GX chipset being used, you have the option of onboard graphics. To this end there is a DVI-I and CRT D-SUB port as well as a HDMI-out port, allowing you to have full HD video output as well as digital audio output through the HDMI interface.

The rest is pretty standard apart from the single eSATA port at the top of the blue USB tower which is run by a PCI-E controller chip. In a word, this board has just about everything; bar FireWire.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Lastly, it's down to the expansion slots. Now, before we get into it, this board has onboard graphics. But before you all say "yuck", ATI/AMD has finally done something that I wanted to see done with onboard graphics for years. Intel did it a while ago with the i815 boards, but it never took off and this idea is even better again.

What we are talking about is local cache memory for the IGP. Originally Intel designed its i815 to use system memory for the graphics card; nothing new, but they had what was called an AIMM module that slotted into the AGP slot. This had 8MB of 133MHz SDRAM memory on it and allowed the IGP of the i815 to use this memory instead of the system memory. The good point about this was the entire system memory was free, while the bad point was that the IGP was severely underpowered with only 8MB of memory; not nearly enough for many 3D applications.

Moving to today's setup, the 790GX has what AMD calls Sideport memory. This is actually a 128MB GDDR3 memory module soldered to the board. Now, what you can do in the BIOS is set the system to work in three different modes when using the IGP; UMA, Sideport or UMA+Sideport. In Sideport mode, the IGP only uses the 128MB of GDDR3 memory that is attached to the board for the frame buffer. In UMA mode the 128MB of memory is disabled and the system memory is used fully. In UMA+Sideport the IGP uses the 128MB Sideport memory and if it needs any more for storage, it then can dynamically use system memory to help boost its performance.

We didn't do much testing on the IGP setup in this article as we plan to look at it more directly in a later article, but there wasn't much difference between using Sideport+UMA and just Sideport mode. Since the GPU isn't a real intensive 3D setup, it's under a lot more strain in most cases than the RAM.

Moving back to the slots now; for a Micro-ATX board it's rare to see Crossfire support, but Jetway still manages to squeeze it in. There are two PCI-E x16 slots; a yellow and green one. The yellow one (when the paddle card is inserted into the green one) gets all 16 lanes for single GPU mode. Removing the paddle card gives eight lanes to each slot for a Crossfire setup. A single PCI-E x1 slot sits between the two PCI-E x16 slots and a single PCI slot makes up the legacy connection.

BIOS and Overclocking


AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Now it comes down to the BIOS and here the board uses an AMI Megatrends BIOS that is designed to look like the Award Modular 6. From our experiences, this type of BIOS tends to be a bit more problematic with overclocking as it either lacks features or has ones that don't work properly.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

The bulk of the overclocking features are found under the Power User Overclock settings where you can change the reference clock and PCI-E clocks. Now, while this board does have what looks like a vcore setting, it doesn't really do much; we couldn't get it to overclock much at all.

However, this review isn't aimed at the board itself; we are purely here to test the difference between DDR2 and DDR3 on the AMD platform.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

To change the memory settings and other reference clocks you need to navigate to the Advanced Chipset Features where you can change memory speed and even overclock the IGP if you so desire.


Jetway Combo AM2/AM3 Motherboard Review

Jetway Combo AM2/AM3 Motherboard Review

Overclocking wasn't the aim here. We will come back and visit this later on as time permits. As we are simply wanting to test DDR2 vs. DDR3 on the AM3 platform, for that we kept things at stock speeds with DDR3 running at 1333MHz, the max that AMD supports. The DDR2 is set at 1066MHz which is again the max DDR2 memory speed that AM2+ supports (which is the same memory controller on the AM3).

Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking, or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.

Test System Setup and Memory Performance

Test System

Processor: AMD Phenom II 810
DDR3 Memory: 2x 2GB DDR3-1600 Corsair Dominator (Supplied by Corsair)
DDR2 Memory: 2x 2GB DDR2-1200 Gskill (Supplied by Gskill)
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M 80GB SSD (Supplied by Intel)
Graphics Card: GIGABYTE 9800GX2 1GB (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II Water Cooling
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista X64 SP1
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.1 , ForceWare 180.24

Today's tests are done on a single platform, the Jetway combo and the same CPU is used. However, we are testing only DDR2 vs. DDR3 performance here, so we wanted to keep things as uniform as possible.

As mentioned before, in regards to the memory settings both the DDR2 and DDR3 memory were set to AMD's maximum supported speeds of 1066MHz and 1333MHz respectively. Latencies for the DDR2 memory were set to 5-5-5-15, while the DDR3 ran latencies of 9-9-9-24.

EVEREST Ultimate Edition

Version and / or Patch Used: 2006
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EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

EVEREST is our first synthetic benchmark and its purpose here is to test the memory only. We can see that the DDR3 memory is able to outperform the DDR2; however, it's still not a huge increase, which is a surprise considering that the processor's on-die memory controller loves high bandwidth and DDR3 has it in abundance.

Benchmarks - Sisoft Sandra

SiSoft Sandra

Version and / or Patch Used: 2009
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SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Moving into Sandra, we see the same trend as we did with EVEREST, so we know that both independent tests are showing consistent results. DDR3 does have more power than DDR2, but in this case the platform isn't able to really make use of it.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage

PCMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
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PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Continuing on with our synthetic tests, we see that DDR3 gives only a slight boost on performance overall.

Benchmarks - SYSmark 2007 Preview

SYSmark 2007

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04
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SYSmark 2007 Preview is the latest version of the premier performance metric that measures and compares PC performance based on real world applications.

SYSmark 2007 Preview extends the SYSmark family, which has been widely accepted by IT Managers, PC OEMs, press and analysts worldwide to support Windows Vista™.

SYSmark 2007 Preview allows users to directly compare platforms based on Windows Vista™ to those based on Windows XP Professional and Home.
The new release also incorporates numerous new features and enhancements such as an improved GUI allowing streamlined start-up and run along with a heads-up-display (HUD) and automated error reporting.

SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Pressing into a more real world app; we see that SYSmark really doesn't benefit when shifting to DDR3 memory.

Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0

Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
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Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

This is where we expected DDR3 to shine, but it didn't go as fast as we had hoped in comparison to what DDR2 offers. It seems that AMD's K10 may not really be able to handle DDR3 as well as first thought. While it does manage to wipe a bit of time off the encode, it's certainly not a groundbreaking result.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
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3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

3DMark Vantage does get a slight boost using DDR3 memory as opposed to DDR2, but again, it's not a big leap.

Benchmarks - Crysis


Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
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From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.

Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE™ 2 offers. The CryENGINE™ 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE™ 2 Sandbox world editing system.

AMD Phenom II AM3 - DDR2 vs. DDR3 Performance

Under real world gaming we don't see much of an improvement either. However, this is early days for AMD and DDR3 and hopefully we will see DDR3 support mature for K10 as the newer revision cores come out.

Final Thoughts

It has been a long time coming; AMD has taken its time to support DDR3 and with good reason. DDR3 has been and still is more expensive than similar density DDR2 modules. However, this should soon change with the demand for DDR3 increasing with AM3 based processors.

From the looks of our results, AMD K10 is a good leap in performance, but it certainly isn't what is required to take full advantage of DDR3 memory. Looking at the design of K10 vs. Core i7, both processors have an on-chip memory controller, eliminating any FSB needed for memory to processor communication. Both have a very fast link between their CPU and their external Northbridge, allowing other components fast access to the system memory. So in all reality, both setups have the necessary basis to get things going. It is AMD's K10 that isn't quite able to take full advantage of this memory at these early stages; what the future holds is anyone's guess.

What is good is AMD's commitment to DDR2 and AM2+. Fearing the same fate for AM2 as 939 received when AM2 first arrived, AM3 processors' backwards compatibility with the AM2+ socket and DDR2 memory makes these processors a definite winner for users wanting to upgrade from Athlon 64 X2's and AM2+ boards to the latest processors. AMD has you covered and with DDR3 support you can be assured you're not going to lose out when DDR2 bites the big one.

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