Getting ready to build that kickass Core 2 rig you’ve been lusting over? If so, chances are you’ve been eyeballing nVidia’s 680i chipset as a foundation, and with good reason. NVidia knows a thing or two about chipsets, just ask last generation’s legion of socket 939 adopters how they felt about their nForce4 X16 SLI based setups. Even I’m admittedly reluctant to fully retire my now aged MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum / 4400+ X2 rig. But alas, it’s a dead socket, and I too have considered pairing my sexy Core 2 processor with a 680i based motherboard capable of scorching through the benchmarks. But is that all it’s scorching through?
You won’t find this unappetizing entrée at your local bistro, nor would you want to, as it's been known to cause serious heartburn.
Users across the web are logging complaints of their RAM dying prematurely when paired with 680i based motherboards, particularly EVGA’s iteration. And this isn’t the cheap (read: generic) stuff either, but enthusiast level kits capable of high frequencies and rated up to 2.4V. The problem garnered so much attention that nVidia recently released a press report (posted on EVGA’s website that reads:
NVIDIA has investigated end user reports of high performance DIMM failures on the NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI-based platforms. During this process we have been in close contact with DIMM manufacturers and the DRAM manufacturers they rely on to understand the failure scenario. By working with our community, we believe that the observed failure is a breakdown of the silicon in the DRAM caused by the prolonged application of 2.4V on the voltage rails of the DIMMs.
NVIDIA’s own internal testing has observed this failure on multiple motherboards using different chipsets (both NVIDIA and non-NVIDIA chipsets). This issue is not directly related to motherboards using the NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI MCP or other chipsets.
If you are using this type of memory and are experiencing this issue, NVIDIA recommends contacting your memory manufacturer or system manufacturer for additional information and warranty information.
Sounds like a typical PR response attempting to pass the responsibility buck, but are they on to something? JEDEC, the body that issues standards for RAM technology (among other things) still specs DDR2 for 1.8V, and while they’ve never been quick to approve advances in enthusiast oriented RAM, pumping 2.4V tends to makes chips awfully warm at high frequencies, regardless of the rating on the package. I’m reminded of the short lived OCZ VX and Mushkin Redline DDR kits that required high voltages (and active cooling) to reach their full potential, but ultimately ended up discontinued after repeated failures. If we’re to believe nVidia’s in-house testing, then welcome to DDR2 déjà vu. But Mike Clements (RAM Guy) from Corsair, one of the companies offering 2.4V kits, contends that they have not seen the same problem in their lab. So who’s right?
I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. Rare exceptions aside, active cooling has never been a necessity for RAM. That could be changing, as high frequency, high voltage kits outgrow the cooling prowess of a typically air cooled chassis, particularly for those running two toasty videocards. At the same time, the 680i is still an immature chipset and could very well be choking on enthusiast kits. And if it’s providing more juice than what’s selected in the BIOS (not uncommon for motherboards of any chipset), that only compounds the problem.
What this all means is buyer beware. If you insist on pairing high frequency 2.4V DIMMs with a 680i based motherboard (or any motherboard, really), be sure your cooling is up to the task.