RAM is the bassist of the computer component world. Often overlooked, never really remembered but still crucial to the entire rhythm and flow of the band. RAM is also something that many people only really upgrade once or twice in their battle station's life. Prior to the arrival on my doorstep of a series of Crucial kits, I was still using an 8GB kit I bought in 2010.
In an industry littered with variability in GPU size, CPU cooler positioning and even the shape and style of the PC tower itself, RAM has had to move with the times. Crucial, possibly one of the most recognisable names in the business, caters to a number of markets and a plethora of gamers. As such it was with quite unimagined excitement that I found four different kits from the manufacturer to play with. “RAM is RAM is RAM” you may say to yourself. “Why should I care about a review for it?” Well, read on to be enlightened.
Crucial Ballistix Tactical LP 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1,600Mhz
If you’ve ever installed a massive CPU cooler into your machine and broken a sweat at it coming perilously close to your RAM banks, this is the set that will appeal most to you. The Tactical LP series is low profile, low voltage and relatively high performance, helping you pack in as much punch per inch as possible.
The DIMMs come in a dashing yellow and run at a stock 1.35V with latency at 8-8-8-24 T2 and a base clock of 1,600MHz. At only 20mm high, the Tactical LP is 5mm shorter than your average stick and even with its snazzy perforated heatsinks the kit still looks tiny sat in amidst the (admittedly messy) innards of my PC.
That’s not all the kit has to offer, though, as it packs a surprising overclock potential. At 1.35V manages to keep it at a steady 1,866MHz. Push the kit to 1.5V and it’ll made a decent fist of 2,133Mhz, too.
The Tactical LP is a great answer for gamers wondering how to pack high-clocking RAM into a small space, especially if their third-party CPU cooler is a beast.
Crucial Ballistix Ballistix Sport XT 16GB (2x8GB) 1,866Mhz
Let's get sporty
The Sport edition, unlike the Tactical LP, aims to throw its weight around a little more. It comes in both 1,600Mhz and 1,866Mhz variants, but the DIMMs I received runs at the latter with 10-10-10-30 timings and a 1.5V configuration.
The Sport XT is 45mm high at its tallest, arriving slightly taller than your average Ballistix kit. The large heatsink promises overclocking potential, and is finished in a striking blue. It’s a handsome piece of tech and will look great when viewed through an open case. Unfortunately the majority of my PC is coloured red, so there was an awful colour clash. We’ll let that slide, though.
Performance, again, without going into the minutiae, will always improve if you’re using an older 8GB or 16GB configuration. The 1,866Mhz clock gives you a slightly bigger bang for your buck than the Tactical LP at stock, but again it’s a case of one frame per second, if that.
Overclocking the Sport XT was a bit of a bother. The kit didn’t seem to want to budge from stock speeds no matter how much I tinkered with it. At risk of causing some damage to it (or frying my motherboard) I didn’t endeavour to push it.
The Sport XT is a good piece of kit and it’ll probably come down to whether you like the looks of it or not. The larger profile and heatsink belie its problems with overclocking but at this stage it could have just been my kit or my cack-handed overclocking skills that were the root cause.
Crucial Ballistix Tactical Tracer 8GB (2x4GB) 1,866Mhz
Insert Overwatch joke here
I’m not a flashy, ostentatious kinda gamer. The lights on my rig don’t have any aesthetic design or nature, they just are. Yet, there’s something about having LEDs embedded in your RAM that feels so satisfyingly decadent.
This set comes in at 9-9-9-27 and 1.5V. Finished in black and silver combination, Tactical Tracer comes with gold contact points and heat spreader plates. The plates are cut with oval rivets, the better to shine the LED lights through. They’re fairly low profile and coming in the same series as the LP, will slide in nicely under a third party CPU cooler.
The LEDs are entirely programmable, though you can only choose from red, green, orange and blue.
Despite coming in a lower clock than some of the beefier kits out there, the Tactical Tracer almost matches up in terms of frame rates in games. It even manages to go blow-for-blow with 2,400MHz kits of the same memory level. Tactical Tracer is the kind of RAM that I can imagine someone showing off at a LAN, but not necessarily to brag about clock speeds of overclocking potential. It’s all about the shiny lights. If that’s your thing though, it’ll be just the ticket.
Crucial Ballistix Elite 16GB (2x8GB) 1,866Mhz
The best of the best?
By far the larger and more dazzling of the bunch that GameGrin received is the Elite. Featuring a black metal saw-toothed heat spreader and a matching PCB, the sticks are fairly mean-looking and give off an air of professionalism. No LED lights to be found here.
The Elite comes out of the box at 9-9-9-27 2T and 1.5V and can be overclocked quite comfortably if you so need to. In (non-GameGrin) benchmarking tests the kit managed to reach the maximum safe threshold frequency for the motherboard, even on the standard voltage of 1.5V.
The Elite series is certainly everything its name suggests it is. There are often minute changes in gaming performance with RAM kits, but even a jump of two or three frames is considered pretty exceptional. Compared to the previously reviewed sets, the Elite was consistently outperforming them in all games I tried them on. After an hour’s intense gaming and video rendering I cracked open the PC to check its heat levels and the DIMMs were cool to the touch, too.
Setting you back a cool £80-90 the Elite series is certainly for those who want to pack as much power as possible into their PC. Crucial says that it has designed it for “extreme enthusiasts” and it lives up to that billing.
This is just like, my opinion, man
On a purely anecdotal level, there were noticeable speed boosts to most processes I tested the RAM kits with. This would be expected, however, when you consider that my previous set was an ageing 8GB setup. Video rendering, especially, was visibly quicker in its chugging and even simple actions like opening browsers, game booting speeds and file transfer had a bit of zip about them.
Crucial Ballistix Series Review
All four RAM kits are a great addition to any rig. Your choice, unless you're going for the Elite, should be tailored by the kind of motherboard and case you're running. If you're looking for a nice upgrade to some ageing DIMMs then look no further.