The buzz in extreme overclocking circles recently has been about DDR3 memory featuring Elipda Hyper ICs coming to an early death
. In response to this, several companies have stopped selling very high frequency and/or very low latency DDR3 products built with these ICs.
Corsair was one of the first to move, announcing it was pulling all its GT products based on the Hypers from the channel . Talking to Corsair, the company explained that because of the very high price of Hyper IC, only its most aggressive performance modules featured it. We asked if all its Hyper products were seeing an increased RMA rate, to which Corsair replied; "Higher than acceptable, yes."
Corsair explained that due to the nature of the design of its GT products, it had to first ascertain whether the GT modules were dying because of excessive voltage application. This didn't seem to be the case so this has lead the company to question the IC and cease production of products based on them.
OCZ firstly seemed to have a different take on the matter though, initially claiming: "OCZ has not yet seen extended failures in the field, and the Elipda Hyper ICs we have used came from earlier batches so we do not yet know if this is the reason why we are not seeing field issues".
This statement is further backed by Mushkin, which posted on its forum:
"Due to the issues that have been experienced with Elpida Hyper modules in general, we at Mushkin Enhanced would like to address our customers and the community about Mushkin Enhanced products using the Elpida Hyper DRAM. The RMA rates of Mushkin Enhanced’s Elpida Hyper-based modules have been at low levels; similar to our other product offerings. We have been building these particular modules with a tight range of date codes which seem to not be affected by this issue."
Despite this, both OCZ and Muskin go on to state that they have stopped using Hyper ICs in their products. This raises the question, if those small batches that have shown normal RMA rates are OK, why stop selling them?
Since no one has yet said "this batch is OK by our books"
it makes it extremely difficult for the enthusiast community to know if what they're buying is fine.
Kingston on the other hand claims to have contained any current issues and after "a long and successful partnership with Elpida [and] has no plans for this engagement to end"
. It will continue to provide Hyper products, and claims to have adapted its testing and validation in order to prevent the issues currently being seen.
We probed Kingston further, pressing for details on this adaptation that no one else seems to employ. Kingston helpfully replied;
"During a suspected Quality Hold/Alert all affected inventory from global stock is pulled out to ensure nothing gets shipped into the channel. This segregated stock is then returned to their manufacturing sites for further inspection and testing called Failure Analysis.
Depending on the severity of the issue, we can either repackage Builds/BOMs (Bill of Materials) or repair them i.e. reprogram the SPD chip for instance. In the rare case of no repair options existing, we qualify a new build instead of the affected part(s) and scrap the defective ones.
This Quality Control process is constantly monitored and documented in Kingston's ISO documentation. The company is audited twice a year on it as per ISO 2001 and we continually improve on it.
Any cases that pop up in the field are handled by offering the customer a direct replacement so that the affected part is removed from the channel ASAP."
This combined with just seven
reported failures of its 2,000MHz Hyper-X parts in the last 3 months, yields a "perfectly normal" sub 1 percent global RMA rate, according to Kingston. Fair enough.
The acceptable RMA varies from company to company, but replacements cost not only time, energy and money, but also negative PR too - so logically it's in a companies best interests to keep them as low as possible, unless, that is, they are making a huge amount of profit to compensate. And now with competitors not selling product, and/or stacked inventories, it could simply be a business decision to risk it.
G.Skill also sells Hyper parts - however unlike Corsair it uses them for its 2,000MHz C7 to C9 products, rather than just for the bleeding edge. After talking quite frankly to them, G.Skill explained that it previously saw an unacceptable RMA rate for C7 parts as early as May, and pulled them from sale back then, however continued to sell C8 and C9 Perfect Storm kits because RMA rates were "very low and entirely normal."
In a pre-release statement shown to bit-tech
, G.Skill explained that it will continue to sell Hyper kits for C8 and C9 from the stock of Hyper ICs it already has, and will continue to monitor them more closely.
Patriot Memory also replied stating that it will not stop selling Hyper IC parts either: "We assure you and your readers that we work closely with all our technology partners to test and qualify each and every component to make sure it meets our strict standards.
To date we have not seen the problems that Corsair Memory has mentioned in their production lines. To address your RMA question, I have talked to our RMA department and we have only received 1 product back that has used the Hyper ICs.
I would also like to add that on our Extreme Performance DRAM lines we offer a lifetime warranty and we fully stand behind our products if end users find them defective."
There are several issues raised here - with, I must stress, no specific direction to any one memory company:
1) People who typically buy kits with Hyper ICs are unlikely to be satisfied with just running them at their rated speed - often wishing to exceed the performance as much as possible. Of course, this is more the case with some brands (such as Corsair's GT range) than others, but does this mean extreme overclockers will seek out other Hyper-based kits instead that are still selling, or are all Hyper ICs now tainted with a black brush?.
2) Carrying on supplying Hyper IC based parts that have low RMA rates, targetting them for users that only want to run memory at the speed is says on the box, is still important. Keeping options open is necessary for a healthy market, otherwise we'll see price hikes for other popular parts - Samsung or Micron-based products for example.
3) On the PR front: has the image of all Hyper ICs (or even Elpida itself) been permanently compromised? If I was Elpida, I'd pull my finger out and tell people what's really going on...