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Memory Manufacturers Could be Cheating 223

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the please-don't-look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain dept.
Mark Brown writes "Tom's Hardware is live-testing DDR2 memory products in order to determine whether memory manufacturers submit cherry-picked products for reviews. 'GeIL DDR2-667 that was claimed to be purchased performed worse than the review samples they got: 471 MHz for the review samples vs. 421 MHz for the retail memory.'"
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Memory Manufacturers Could be Cheating

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  • O'RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hinhule (811436) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:33PM (#15116767)
    Oh dear lord, a company wants to make sure their product gets the best review possible and tests it before they send it.

    I'm shocked!
  • In Other News... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MudButt (853616) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:34PM (#15116778)
    ... Job seekers have been putting ONLY their best accomplishments on their resumes
    ... Advertisers are STAGING their product photo shoots
    ... etc
  • Well, duh! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bwcarty (660606) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:36PM (#15116796)
    There's a reason why Consumer Reports buys all of their products for testing through normal retail outlets.
  • by eln (21727) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:36PM (#15116800) Homepage
    Obviously companies will test any unit they send out to be reviewed to make sure it works as well as it can. The question is, how many other units did they test? If they only went out and bought one other unit, and the discrepancy was that large, it could be that the unit they bought was defective. They would need to buy several units from several retailers, preferrably in geographically dispersed areas, to get a real feel for how well these things will perform on average.
  • by venicebeach (702856) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:38PM (#15116813) Homepage Journal
    In order to evaluate this claim we need to know about the reliability of the test. What is the variance if the test is repeated many times on the same RAM? Without this piece of information we don't know if 50 MHz is a small or large difference, or if even if it is a real one.
  • Re:O'RLY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by markild (862998) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:38PM (#15116815)
    Seeing as they send out a finished product that differs about 10% from the product being reviewed, I'd say it actually is a big deal.

    And I doubt that the products they send out differ as much as this.
  • I wonder... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by slughead (592713) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:39PM (#15116829) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if chips selected for reviews are overclocked first (just a bit), knowing full-well that it'll last long enough to go through the review process and the warantees wont be expensive to honor on just a small percentage of product.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:40PM (#15116831)
    Memory is rated to perform within certain specifications. If it doesn't perform well within this range, that's a legitimate complaint.

    Tom's is complaining about something totally different. They are seeing how well the memory will overclock. But the manufacturer makes no claims about how well it will overclock. They explicitly tell you that they cannot guarantee what will happen. This is a reasonable position on their part.

    But what Tom's is asking is for all memory from a given manufacturer to overclock the same. This is crazy. The manufacturer has every right to switch production methods and to make other changes which could affect overclocking performance. The only question should be: does the memory perfom as specified.

    If you overclock your memory and it works well, good for you. But you have no right to complain if overclocking doesn't work as well as you want!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:41PM (#15116840)
    Remember, the choke point in a running program is usually the memory. Once it's been read off the hard disk (which is a startup cost, but doesn't matter much after the first quarter second or two), and as long it isn't doing a lot of I/O, performance is highly tied to memory.

    For the top of the line CPUs, if your memory isn't fast enough, you've wasted your money.

    So with that in mind, I'd say an ~10% drop in performance is significant.
  • Re:Well, duh! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) * on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:42PM (#15116860) Homepage Journal
    And there's a reason why all the review sites beg like dogs for sample hardware, and why companies are willing to send it.

    I don't see nerds lining up to donate money for hardware testing that they will never get to own, however.

  • by JoshRosenbaum (841551) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:43PM (#15116868) Homepage
    It can't be too surprising...besides, is 50 MHz really that large a discrepancy?
    I think it is a big problem, since many people check out reviews and tend to pick the items with the highest benchmarks. A 10% advantage may be just the advantage to put you ahead of the pack and get more sales when your product may actually be inferior.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:45PM (#15116884)
    1) The article says that they bump the clock rate until the systems crash.
    I'd be a little happier with running a memory test and running at progressively faster speeds until it detects an error. Some memory errors might not cause the system to crash ... just to carry on running with bad data.
    2) They have two "identical" systems ... one for the review sample, and one for the retail purchased.
    How do they know that all the components in the identical systems really have exactly the same specs? It would be more fair use just one system, or after the tests complete to swap the ram and re-run.
  • Re:O'RLY (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Babbster (107076) <aaronbabb@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:48PM (#15116909) Homepage
    You'd have a better point if the suspicion was simply that a company takes the product out of its packaging and makes sure that it works. For example, if I'm a company sending a video card to a known reviewer I might put it in a PC and make sure a game or two could run. I don't see anything too bad about that, assuming the company has confidence that the end-user failure rate will be miniscule. That would actually skew the results closer to average since the average purchaser would get a working product.

    But, in this case, they're trying to test the idea that a manufacturer would take a bunch of product, benchmark the samples, then send out the one that performs best. In that situation, the manufacturer is deliberately making the review experience better than that which would be enjoyed by the average customer.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:53PM (#15116965) Homepage Journal
    The ram was rated as DDR2 667 even the retail at 421 MHZ. That comes out to DDR2-842 doesn't it?
    The ram met and far exceeded it's rated clock speed. Sure the give good stuff to reviewers. If the review sites want to do valid tests of which brand of ram is the best for over clocking they would have to purchase multiple samples of each brand from the retail channel.
    When overclocking the truth is your results may very. If you are pushing past specs then some will work and some will not. Heck even different production batches will give different averages.
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:56PM (#15116988) Homepage Journal
    Horsepower in cars rarely meets up with the numbers. Fuel efficiency, either. Carb content in food is labeled, but most people don't read the serving size, so that is advertising funk, too.

    Why should this be different? When a company ships a product to be reviewed and tested, they'll ship the best. When they test their own, they'll test the best. You should NEVER accept that specs are factual, and you should spend some time confirming what you bought.

    This is the great thing about specs -- if they're lies, just return the product. If a company lies enough, the customers will go elsewhere.

    It is really all common sense.
  • by grimdel (767484) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:57PM (#15116997)
    Hmmm... If I read this right, it looks like the motherboard that came w/ the memory had its voltage increased to induce higher speeds. This would skew any test - not just overclocking, unless you knew to reset it.
  • In summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nagora (177841) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @05:59PM (#15117006)
    The reviewed samples passed the specification my a mile, and the retail ones by only seven furlongs. Big deal. Now, if the RAM makers had made any claim to exceed the spec by some particular percentage then this would be news. But they didn't, so it's not.

    TWW

  • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:03PM (#15117034)
    the manufacturer makes no claims about how well it will overclock.

    THANK you.

    Since the retail product and review sample were both rated as DDR2-667 (or is it 553? Depends on whether you're reading page 2 or page 2 of the "article"), neither one needed to perform reliably at memory clock rates any higher than 333.5MHz. That the retail product didn't fail until it was overclocked to 25% more than its rating suggests to me that it's solid kit.

    I would also hesitate to conclude from the findings that any hardware vendor routinely sends out review samples that outperform retail units. We only have TWO data points here, not enough to extrapolate any type of meaningful findings. For all we know, a different review sample from the same manufacturer would fail at only 340MHz.
  • by xWeston (577162) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:04PM (#15117041)
    From TFA:
    "Its DDR2-667 memory......"

    "maximum clock speed of 471 MHz, which corresponds to DDR2-942"

    vs

    "a memory clock of 421 MHz (DDR2-842)"

    So its more than 20% faster than what it is rated at... Whats the big deal? Everyone knows there are certain processors/memory modules from the same exact part# that outperform others. This has been the case since before the Celeron 300a even. If the memory performed below its rating, then there would be a problem

  • The Way I See It (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Postmaster General (136755) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:05PM (#15117048)
    If all of the manufacturers cheat, then none of them are cheating.
  • Naive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jemenake (595948) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:08PM (#15117065)
    GeIL DDR2-667 that was claimed to be purchased performed worse than the review samples they got: 471 MHz for the review samples vs. 421 MHz for the retail memory.
    PLEASE don't tell me that you're surprised by this. In fact, you should be surprised if it isn't happening.

    Recall the hubub from as recently as a half-decade ago, when video card manufacturers were rigging their drivers (or the cards themselves) to recognize when they were being asked to draw the same patterns over and over again (like, say, 10,000 colored boxes, or circles... like benchmark programs do) and would silently decide to perform only a fraction of them to jack the benchmark numbers up?

    Never, ever trust the results from an item that the company sent you when they knew you were a reviewer. You should just go out and buy one off the shelf in a store. If you can't afford to do that, buy one from a store and ask the company for a review sample, return the sample to the store and test the, now free, one that you got "in the wild", as it were.
  • by Andrzej Sawicki (921100) <ansaw@poczta.onet.pl> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:09PM (#15117074)
    I don't think even a gamer would notice unless s/he was running the benchmarks
    Consider that modern games can easily eat 400 MB, and in some cases (Civ4 on a huge map) -- up to 1 GB of RAM. Add to that the fact that one session can take anywhere from half an hour to a whole day (or weekend...). I believe it is fair to say that many gamers are running benchmarks on their overclocked systems, pretty consistently.
  • by Trejkaz (615352) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:12PM (#15117099) Homepage

    Hardly.

    A DDR-667 chip (or more specifically, a PC2-5300 stick) is supposed to run at at 333 MHz. So one runs at 421 MHz and the other runs at 471 MHz. To me, it looks like both of those sticks are performing way faster than the specification requires.

    Isn't this just the price the user pays for being too stingy to pay for a memory stick which is actually rated to run at 400 MHz in the first place?

  • Re:Blow me down (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Everleet (785889) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:14PM (#15117114)
    Corporations are ripping off its customers with rigged tests... I'm truly shocked.

    They aren't necessarily rigging anything -- chip production runs always produce a range of qualities, and they're submitting the best they have. To not do so, especially when everyone else does, would be to sabotage your own reviews. There are no "unbiased" samples.

    The only practical way to fix this is to establish a standard for what companies should send in -- preferably something like five to ten random chips that have passed basic testing.
  • by Tired and Emotional (750842) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @06:21PM (#15117164)
    Not really. Manufacturers are always free to derate chips (stamp a lower frequency than they can actually do) so as to match demand curve. Otherwise they would have to make the yield curve match the demand curve, which may be impossible. Or else fail to meet some part of demand, forcing people to buy more expensive parts - which would really upset the customer. You get what you pay for - chips that run at the advertised rate. Its like when you get upgraded to business class for free because cattle class is full. You certainly can't use this as a precedent next time you fly to argue that you deserve to be in business class again.
  • by Yartrebo (690383) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @07:25PM (#15117523)
    What about the reviewers? To be accepting free samples (aka bribes) seems asking to get tricked like this. I doubt the review companies/reviewers care, as they kind of like their perks. A little like lobbyists and politicians.

    The only magazine I know of that buys their test samples retail is Consumer Reports, and they do it for this reason (as well as to avoid any conflict of interest).
  • by Trejkaz (615352) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @09:40PM (#15118203) Homepage

    So what you're basically saying is, someone is using the product outside of the product's operating specifications, and then bitching because some other guy was able to use it *further* outside of the operating specifications.

    I still don't see the problem here, except perhaps the problem that overclockers are a little too enthusiastic about saving those extra few dollars.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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