In the Forums...
With Computex 2006 now over it's yet another few months before the next IT show kicks off. What better way to fill one's sorrow than to catch-up with well known memory outlet, Corsair.
Tweak3D: Please introduce yourself and describe what your job working for Corsair involves. Corsair's John Beekley: My name is John Beekley, and I am VP of Applications Engineering here at Corsair. I am a co-founder of the company along with Andy Paul and Don Lieberman, so Iíve been at Corsair quite a while, now! I am responsible for areas that require a cross between engineering and marketing skills - things like product definition, web-based customer tools, technical support, technical partnerships with processor, chip set, and memory suppliers, and Corsairís labs.
Tweak3D: You state your memory products to feature a lifetime warranty however as is your nature of business, you must expect users to overclock. Currently there is no mention of voiding the lifetime warranty through such practises hence one may interpret this as an ďall clearĒ to ramping up clock speeds and injecting more DIMM voltage. Can you confirm this rather delightful piece of information? Iím sure many overclockers would love to hear how risky tweaking using Corsair can be to their wallets! Corsair's John Beekley: Well, we design and qualify Corsair products with a bit of abuse in mind! Generally, our parts are pretty rugged, and more than handle the treatment that our customers give them. So, our return rate is very low. This low return rate enables us to replace failed modules pretty much no questions asked. We spend a lot of effort supporting our customers and helping them tune their systems; they generally return the favor by not returning parts that they have destroyed by overvolting them too far.
Tweak3D: Notebooks today are far from the heavy, slow and cumbersome devices of yesterday. A substantial number of individuals are now choosing notebooks as their primary computer, be it for work or leisure. Corsair has always seen itself as to deliver performance memory to the enthusiast market. One may wonder, why does Corsair currently not offer such memory for notebooks? Must those who for example game on their 7900GTX notebooks dream on or are things about to change? Corsair's John Beekley: We tried offering XMS SODIMMs a few years ago, and it didnít work out. Since notebooks generally do not allow tweaking in the BIOS, our XMS SODIMMs implemented their aggressive latencies directly in the SPD. This worked great on a handful of enthusiast notebooks, but was a disaster when plugged into a standard Dell, IMB, Toshiba, etc. So we cancelled the product.
This is one area where Enhanced Performance Profiles may be used successfully, however. EPP would allow us to put JEDEC values in the SPD, but selected notebooks would detect the EPP and enable the enhanced performance. We are taking a hard look at this.
Tweak3D: Lets imagine Iím a humble consumer and in seek of some fine DDR2 memory to go with my brand new AMD AM2 FX-62 rig. Iíve been quite lucky to already handle some Crucial PC2-8000 sticks and hence know how they perform. As most consumers however, Iím vividly comparing my options before actually purchasing. Tell me as if I need convincing, why should I buy Corsair DDR2 memory when there are about a dozen other such alternatives to choose from? Corsair's John Beekley: Hmmm... I could go on all day on this one! Not sure where to start, Iíll just start spouting forth and shut up when I think youíve had enough...
ē With Corsair, you know what youíre getting. You are getting reliable, high performance memory from a supplier who absolutely stands behind their product 100%. This advantage alone narrows the field to a list of suppliers I can count on one hand. Any of the others, I would not even consider.
ē Corsair XMS modules are rigorously tested on the platform they are intended for. They are tested on testers, too, but the main thing is, you know that they were 100% tested, at speed, on a motherboard the same as or similar to the one you intend to plug them in to.
ē Corsair has established strong technical relationships. These direct relationships, with guys like Intel, AMD, ASUS, nVIDIA, ATi, Samsung, Micron, Infineon, keep us very aware of what is coming up from who, and how it will work with everything else.
ē Corsairís technical support is second to none. Weíve put a lot of effort into providing on-line tools to help customers solve problems. We have very active forums, and a comprehensive helpdesk application we invented ourselves. We have a strong community of Corsair advocates who often jump in and answer customer questions before we even get a chance to!
ē Corsair is the performance leader. We test newer platforms earlier, with more component combinations, than anyone else. So, we are first to market with the right product for new platforms, like our 5400UL and nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset, our 3500LL with ASUS A8N32 SLI Deluxe motherboard, our 8500C5 with nFORCE 590 chipset, our 6400C3 with AM2. Corsair and the latest performance platforms go together like bread and butter, beer and pizza, hand and glove, Penn and Teller, etc., etc.
ē Finally, Corsair is an active member of the enthusiast community. We sponsor events, participate in forums, build systems and tell the world about it, play games and tweak hardware in our spare time. We are advocates for the enthusiast at JEDEC, with major component suppliers and platform architects, with resellers and distributors. We love hardware, and like to share this love.
And now, as promised, I will shut up ;-)
Tweak3D: Performance profiles are finding their way into the latest wave of DDR2 modules making it easier for novice users to fine tune their systems for best performance. What other benefits does Corsair predict this will have on end users and perhaps most importantly, in what series of memory products will performance profiles be enabled? Corsair's John Beekley: Corsair is creating EPP profiles for all new XMS DDR2 modules. We think EPP is intrinsically good - it takes a published specification and embeds it directly into the parts. No more guessing about what the part is really guaranteed to do. I think this is good for all overclockers, from novice to expert.
Tweak3D: Lets focus a little on your achievements here at Computex 2006. Silence has finally been broken and now the world can view your latest upcoming product, a new cooler to aid cooling DDR2 memory. It wasnít all too long ago when there was a public exchange of words between yourselves and OCZ Technology on whether heat spreaders are necessary on DDR2 chips. So let me cut to the chase Ė has your mindset changed and is it now in your belief that cooling DDR2 memory is a real necessity? That three fan design sure looks to have considerable blowing potential. Corsair's John Beekley: Well, there wasnít really an exchange of words with OCZ. They came out with a new heatspreader type; my hat is off to anyone in this business who innovates. We simply decided to perform some testing in a controlled environment to see how the various heat spreaders performed. And, we decided to share the data - especially since our Pro came out on top!
Are heat spreaders necessary? Probably not, at least under normal conditions. Can heat spreaders provide improved thermal performance? Yes, absolutely, with corresponding benefits in overclockability and reliability. And, the more cooling we can provide, the larger the magnitude of the probable benefit. And we are always looking ways to improve memory performance and reliability.
Tweak3D: Weíve finally seen USB pen drives breaking the 2GB barrier and radically coming down in prices. They are now increasingly becoming the most perfect option for transferring large files. To remind our readers, Corsair also offers a 4GB Flash Voyager USB pen drive. Iíll be somewhat mischievous and try to kill two birds with one stone Ė does the foreseeable future contain an 8GB variant and also importantly, can we expect pen drive read/write speeds to enhance beyond the currently typical ~ 20/15MB/s speeds? Corsair's John Beekley: OK, first the good news... density of flash drives will definitely increase. And this includes the Flash Voyager. Now, as far as speed is concerned, the news is not so sweet. Component manufacturers are increasingly switching from SLC (single layer cell) to MLC (multi-layer cell) technology. MLC has the advantage that it is more dense, and thus cheaper to manufacture. SLC is faster though, in fact several times faster on writes in particular. So, as MLC takes over the mainstream, the fast SLC will become harder to get and more expensive. So you may see drives, in general, get slower rather than faster. Rest assured that we will be producing the fastest drives possible, as long as they are cost effective.
Tweak3D: Iíve been viewing Corsairís product offerings for quite some years now and my memory canít forget you once offered an external water cooling solution - Hydracool seems to ring a bell and bring back the memories. Nowadays, Corsair equally offers some external water cooling products but not as high-end solutions. The market for such products seems to be growing and Asetek has recognised this trend with the recent launch of their Xternal cooling base units. Can we expect something of similar calibre from Corsair? Corsair's John Beekley: Ah yes, the Hydrocool, a product that in some ways was before its time. The feedback we got from Hydrocool customers was that the important things were  performance and  ease of use. Things like displays, temperature sensors, programmable trigger points, etc., were OK, but were not features that our users attributed a lot of value to. We took this to heart when developing the Nautilus 500. This external unit provides superior cooling performance even to Hydrocool, is by all press accounts the easiest water cooling unit solution to install (by a wide margin), and is available at a very low cost. The market is responding very favorably to this combination of high performance and low cost.
Tweak3D: A recent craze is the launch of PSU products by firms that firmly concentrate on other market segments such as memory or graphics cards, for example OCZ Technology or BFG Technology. Does Corsair plan to join this bandwagon? Corsair's John Beekley: We are always looking for new products to bring to our customers. Canít say a whole lot more on the subject!
Tweak3D: To wrap up let me query you about Corsairís views on future trends and user benefits. What direction do you see the PC enthusiast memory industry moving and how do DDR3 and FB-DIMM technologies contribute to yet higher bandwidth and/or lower latency? Can we expect the same type of revolution the industry experienced in 1996 when moving from EDO to SDRAM memory? Corsair's John Beekley: I think we will continue to see enthusiast on an evolutionary path. DDR2 modules are currently making big advances with the launch of some new platforms with very efficient memory controllers. These memory controllers are all relatively new, so I think they will continue to advance. And, memory will continue to advance along with them.
My guess is that DDR2 will start to run out of gas at 1333 MHz, and DDR3 will take over from there. DDR3 is really an evolutionary advance, but the new processing geometries and the lower switching voltage will allow raw memory speed to continue to advance.
FBDIMM is certainly a revolutionary change, but I think we will continue to see this architecture applied towards servers rather than desktops. The main advantage of FBDIMM is not bandwidth per se; the biggest advantage is the size of the memory array that can be implemented. So the evolution of FBDIMM will be density and reliability oriented, as these are the memory characteristics required by servers.
Right now I think we are in the most interesting market that we have experienced for some time. There is lots of variability, with credible processors from two suppliers, advanced graphics solutions all around, HD computing, widescreen displays, ubiquitous broadband, Vista, HD DVD and Blueray, and all sorts of other recent or pending developments. It is a fantastic time to be a hardware enthusiast, I really think it is a golden age of sorts.
Tweak3D: We would like to thank John Beekley for taking time out to chit chat in the interview.