It's a cutthroat market in the world of RAM, giving consumers no shortage of companies to choose from, but making it increasingly harder for one manufacturer to stand out from the next. What used to be a short list of around three names in the high end sector, has suddenly ballooned in past few years to include Corsair, Crucial, OCZ, Mushkin, G.Skill, Patriot, GEIL, Team Xtreem, Kingston, Buffalo (Firestix), Super Talent, and any others I may have left out. Each of these companies offer high speed kits, often times utilizing the same chips underneath the heatspreader (Micron D-9s are the flavor of the month), depending on the specific model. Staying at the front of the pack means coming up with creative ways to separate oneself from the others.
OCZ knows this perhaps better than anyone, with a lineup of RAM that includes such buzzwords as Vista Special, System Elite, Special Ops, SLI-Ready, AM2 Special, Platinum, Titanium Alpha, Reaper, and more. But their newest foray into the limelight isn't another clever naming scheme, but a new beta utility that's going public. It's called SPD-Z, and with it, you'll be able to flash and reprogram your RAM's SPD settings. So if you buy a kit spec'd to run at 5-5-5-18, with SPD-Z, you could reprogram it to be recognized as 4-4-4-15. The Windows based utility only works with OCZ kits, and according to OCZ, "All the end user has to do is make sure the system is 100% stable and not over clocked during the reflash of the modules."
Before flashing your RAM, SPD-Z dials home with your module's part number to verify it's an OCZ kit.
Marketing jargon aside, I'm generally a fan of OCZ's products, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my fingers around this one. Specifically, what's the appeal? I suppose a case could be made that reflashing the SPD settings could save time from having to manually set them in the BIOS, but then again, you have to take the time to run the utility, test for stability at tighter settings, and reflash. So again, why?
And then there's an even bigger question: What's to prevent an unscupulous user from buying a slower kit, flashing it with tighter timings, then resellling it as a faster model? Before you think it won't happen, remember that this is a big reason why processors now come with locked multipliers, save for the ultra pricey Extreme Edition (Intel) and FX (AMD) series. It wouldn't take much for a shady seller to peel off the label and remarket, for example, a kit of 5-5-5-15 Platinum as a 4-5-4-15 Platinum Extreme Edition part. If you're the buyer, unless you remove the heatspreader and know exactly which chips should be underneath, you'll never be the wiser.
I'm sure this new utility will find its share of proponents, but as much as I've come to like OCZ over the years, you won't find me among them. Like the Killer NIC, I just don't see the need for something like this, and unlike the ping reducing card, SPD-Z opens the door to a shady underworld that, IMO, needn't be opened.