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Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR4-3400 16GB Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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When we recently reviewed the GIGABYTE X99-SOC CHAMPION we highlighted its unique four memory slot configuration. Whereas all other X99 motherboards feature a more traditional eight memory slots, GIGABYTE elected to use a different configuration in order to shorten the electical traces between the processor and the memory slots. The reasoning behind this unique design was simple: it is engineered with an eye towards extreme memory overclocking. By having the channels next to each other, they are located closer to the CPU socket which results in shorter trace pathways, faster communication with the processor, and theoretically the best possible memory overclock.

While that might all sound good on paper, you're probably wondering if it actually makes a difference. Well clearly GIGABYTE are on to something because not only do they hold the DDR4 memory frequency word record, but Corsair has just released the fastest DDR4 memory kit on the market and it was exclusively designed for the X99-SOC CHAMPION. When the 800-pound gorilla in the enthusiast memory market makes a special memory kit for a unique motherboard, you know that it's going to be special.

While Corsair's Dominator Platinum series is their highest-end product line, the model that we are reviewing today manages to stand even further above the rest thanks to its specs and aesthetics. The Corsair Dominator Platinum CMD16GX4M4B3400C16 is a quad-channel 16GB (4x4GB) memory kit rated at DDR4-3400 with timings of 16-18-18-36 at 1.35V. This eclipses the previous high water mark of DDR4-3333 and is considerably higher than the impressive G.Skill Ripjaws 4 DDR4-3200 kit that we recently reviewed.

While previously unseen memory frequencies is obviously the strongest selling point, the kicker is that this model features a Limited Edition Orange colour scheme that matches perfectly with that of the X99-SOC CHAMPION. Corsair have also bundled two of their Dominator Airflow Platinum LED Fan accessories to help cool the memory modules, but which also feature built-in LEDs that can be set to any of 16.8 million colours.

When it comes to price, this type of product is never cheap, or even just run-of-the mill expensive. Give or take a penny, this exclusive model retails for $1000 USD. It's a lot of money, but you have to consider the amount of work that goes into manufacturing a kit like this one. The Hynix MFR ICs that are used in this memory kit are extremely highly binned. In fact, they represent the top 0.5% of all ICs. These are the Best of the Best of the Best memory chips in existence, and as you will see later on in this review, their superiority over anything that we have seen before is absolutely evident and undeniable.

Have we peaked your interesting? Keep reading!

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Packaging & Memory Overview

Packaging & Memory Overview


Although most consumers will never even see the packaging of the products they buy online before ordering them, a little attention to detail does go a long way towards creating a positive initial impression when they receive their product. As a result, let's see what Corsair have done with this new industry-leading memory kit.

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We have said this before, and we'll say it again: when your memory kit comes packed in a huge box you know that it's going to be something special.This packaging is pretty sleek with mirror-like silver sides, and a bunch on information detailing the unique DHX ( Dual-path Heat eXchange) heatspreaders that Corsair puts on their high-end Dominator Platinum modules, as well as the capabilities of their proprietary Corsair Link interface.

When you open the box you are presented with two separate trays, and as you will see below the reason the box is so large is because of the included accessories.

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Each tray holds two memory modules and one Dominator Airflow Platinum LED Fan, which we will explore in much greater detail on the subsequent page. There is also a Quick Start Guide included that explains how to assemble the fan accessory, and how the Corsair Link interface and software works.

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These Dominator Platinum modules feature the Dominator DHX heatspreaders, which are not only designed to cool the ICs directly, but also help transfer heat from the PCB to the heatspreaders as well. This is all possible because of the highly custom PCB's that Corsair have designed with an eye towards conducting heat from the memory chips, transferring it to the PCB and the fins, and ultimately dissipating it with the help of the included fan accessories.

When it comes to height, these memory modules clock in at about 55 millimeters/2.17 inches, so they are definitely taller than average due to the fins and top bar. Speaking of which, the limited edition orange top bar is actually upgradeable, so if in the future you decide to upgrade from your X99-SOC CHAMPION, you will be able to colour match this memory kit with that next motherboard.

On one side of each module you will see the Corsair Link interface connector. Since we don't have a Corsair Link control unit, we can't really dive into the capabilities of this interface, but we can tell you that it's useful for directly controlling the PWM fan speed from within Windows, changing the colour of the LED fans, and a bunch of temperature-related features if you have a Corsair case, PSU, or all-in-one liquid cooler.

By the way, if you take a close look at the sticker on each module, you will probably spot "ver5.29" which is an identifier that - based on past experience - is proof that these modules do in fact feature Hynix MFR memory chips.

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These are just gratuitous money shots to show how sexy this combo looks together. If this doesn't cause an uptick in the number of black and orange DIY builds, nothing will.

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Each module also features a built-in "light pipe", which is a LED illumination that shines white light downwards. It an orange light would have maybe been more appropriate, or it could have been overkill depending on the look you are going for. Overall, the effect was quite pleasant.

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In order to get this memory kit to work, you need the GIGABYTE X99-SOC-CHAMPION and the latest F4F BIOS. Getting a motherboard (and accompanying processor) to support such a high memory frequency requires a ton of fine tuning, so it's no surprise that a custom BIOS was released which focused heavily on supporting this unique memory kit. For those who are curious, we did try this memory kit on our ASUS X99-Deluxe motherboard, and it was not able to run at the highest of the two settings.

Two settings you say? Yes, as you can see in this CPU-Z screenshot, Corsair have programmed these modules with two separate XMP profiles. The first is the fully fledged DDR4-3400 profile, while the second is set to operate at DDR4-3200. This is a thoughtful addition since there is always the slight possibility that your particular CPU might not actually even be able to handle DDR4-3400.

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This is the XMP-1 profile. It is programmed for DDR4-3400 with 16-18-18 timings and a 2T command rate. It requires 1.35V which is identical to other enthusiast-oriented memory kits, and impressively low all things considered. As you can see, Corsair have also elected to set a nice little 200Mhz processor overclock, and a 60Mhz bump in the Uncore frequency. Both are welcome additions.

All of these values are programmed into the XMP file, so they can all be instantly applied by simply enabling the correct XMP profile in the BIOS. It couldn't be simpler. Having said that, if you do encounter any issues, we highly recommend that you go into the "Advanced CPU Core Settings" sub-menu and try manually disabling C1E and/or C6/C7 State Support. Most of you shouldn't encounter any issues, but if you do, this is worthwhile tip to keep in mind.

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This second XMP profile is set to DDR4-3200 with 16-18-18 timings, a 2T command rate, and a 1.35V default voltage. As you can see, there is no CPU or Uncore overclock programmed into it. One of the most notable aspects is that it uses the 100Mhz CPU Strap instead of the 125Mhz CPU strap of the primary XMP profile. This is good since if your particular processor is not very strong with that higher strap, you might have more success with this one. Having said that, as on all other motherboards, we were unsuccessful at enabling the 34X memory multiplier with the 100Mhz CPU strap. Perhaps a future Intel microcode update will improve these limitations.
 

SKYMTL

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Dominator Airflow Platinum LED Fan Accessory

Dominator Airflow Platinum LED Fan Accessory


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The aforementioned Dominator Airflow Platinum LED Fan accessory is a welcome addition to this bundle, especially when you consider that they retail for $50 USD each. While these memory modules never ran hot or even particularly warm in our open-air test bed - even when overclocked and overvolted - the same might not be true if other components like a highly clocked CPU and power hungry GPU are radiating heat towards the RAM slots. As a result, these fans are a great way to help improve the thermal environment on and around your very pricey memory kit.

Included with these fans are adaptable mounting brackets that were clearly designed for motherboards with four memory slots on each bank, but which are suitably easy to install on the X99-SOC CHAMPION. There are two 50mm ball bearing fans per unit, with RGD LEDs built-in. These PWM controllable fans that spin at up to 3,700RPM, put out a maximum of 21.2CFM, and output up to 25.6 dBA.

Thanks to the Corsair Link connector, if you own a Corsair Link Lighting Node, you can interface these two components and adjust the RGB LED fans to display any of 16.8 million colours. We didn't have the necessary hardware to do it, but we've seen in person and it's pretty darn cool if you want to create a cool lighting effect.

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Here we have the fan accessory installed on the motherboard over two memory modules. As you can see on the bottom left-hand image, since this motherboard only has two memory slots on each side, the bracket doesn't have as much area to rest on as it normally would. It can initially make things a little wobbly, but once you set it up correctly and have everything tightened up properly it is relatively stable.

If you want to keep things low key - but why would you with this über-high-end combo? - you can just plug the fans into the fan header to power them, and all you see is a nice soft glow coming off of the light pipes built into the memory modules. However, if you want something a little more impressive, you can do that too...

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When you plug the Corsair Link connectors together it sends power to the onboard RGB LEDs and you get a properly bright light show. Although their default colour is regrettably red, they can be set to any of 16.8 million colours - including orange - if you buy a Corsair Link Lighting Node.

It is a nice effect, but we do really wish they had defaulted to orange in this case since aesthetics are one of the main selling points behind this unique memory kit.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology


For this review, we are going to be testing a variety of different frequency and timing configurations while also attempting to keep the CPU and Uncore clocks are identical as possible across all of those configurations, unless otherwise noted. Aside from manually selecting frequencies, timings, and voltages every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

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Intel Core i7 LGA2011-v3 Haswell-E Test Setup​
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For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 7 and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off

D) All available Windows updates are then installed.

E) All programs are installed and then updated, followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three to eight times, and unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.

Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • 3DMark Vantage Professional Edition v1.1.0
  • 3DMark11 Professional Edition v1.0.132.0
  • 3DMark 2013 Professional Edition v1.2.362
  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition v3.00.2536 Beta
  • Cinebench R11.529 64-bit
  • SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP
  • MaxxMEM² - PreView v2.01
  • Sisoft Sandra 2014.SP3 20.28
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark v1.0.0.0
  • wPRIME version v2.10
  • X3: Terran Conflict Demo v1.0

That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 

SKYMTL

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Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


For our memory overclocking tests we are usually interested in two main elements: how well the memory scales with additional voltage and how versatile it is at overclocking with different timings. Though we suspect that many of the overclockers who buy this kit won't hesitate to use 1.45V or even 1.50V, we are sticking with 1.40V to stay inline with all our previous DDR4 reviews. This allows us to compare kits on a roughly equal footing, and allows us to put all our efforts on testing timings scalability instead.

In order to make sure that there weren't any possible CPU-related bottlenecks, the CPU Cache Voltage was set to 1.35V and the CPU System Agent Voltage set to 1.25V. We focused on four basic timing configurations (12-12-12 / 13-13-13 / 14-14-14 / 15-15-15 / 16-16-16 / 16-18-18) all with a 1T command rate for optimal performance.

With the pleasantries out of the way, let's get to the fun stuff.

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Before we start getting into how unbelievably good the above results are, click here to get a popup showing the overclocking results that we achieved with the G.Skill Ripjaws 4 DDR4-3200 kit, which was G.Skill's flagship model up until very recently and the very best Hynix MFR-based DDR4 memory kit that we have reviewed until today.

If you compare them side by side, you will see that this new Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR4-3400 memory kit absolutely demolishes the G.Skill across the board. At the time, we sincerely believed that we had a pretty firm grasp on the upper limit capabilities of Hynix MFR memory chips, but clearly that was not the case. This DDR4-3400 is so much better than anything else that we have tested due a exceptionally stringent binning process. This kit is manufactured with the top 0.5% of all Hynix MFR ICs that Corsair have binned.

As you might expect or even rightfully demand at this price, at every timings level it achieved new records for a Hynix-based kit. While there isn't a huge difference when it comes to the tighter timings (12-12-12/13-13-13) that Hynix never really excels at, when we reach 14-14-14/15-15/16-16-16 the gap ranges from huge to unbelievable.

This kit is so good, that ironically it looks like it might have outpaced our processor. If you notice the minimal difference between 16-16-16 and 16-18-18, and similar lack of improvement between 16-18-18-1T and 16-18-18-2T, it definitely seems like our particular Core i7-5960X has hit a wall at the voltages we outlined above. Throwing more voltage at it and more importantly switching to sub-zero cooling would definitely help extend its limits considerably.

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These screenshots are just to prove that we did indeed achieve the overclocks listed, and that they were stable enough to pass a series of mainstream benchmarking and stress testing applications. If you are doing super critical work, then maybe a little Prime95 stress testing should be done as well, but for gaming and day-to-day tasks our testing is more than sufficient.

At this point, we usually try to find the maximum stable frequency that we can achieve using a memory kit's default timings, which in this case are 16-18-18-2T.

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We kind of ruined the surprise above, but there wasn't much improvement when going from 16-18-18-1T to 16-18-18-2T. The increase from DDR4-3441 to DDR4-3452 is obviously not enough to warrant the switch from a 1T to 2T command rate, so we decided to exclude it from our already cramped benchmarking charts.

Check out the next few pages to see our benchmarking results. We kept CPU frequencies as clock to 3.7Ghz as possible - to match the core clock set by the primary XMP profile, and increased the Uncore frequencies to around 4.2-4.25Ghz to try an eliminate any memory bandwidth bottlenecks. It's not perfect, since there is only so much you can do with a finite number of frequency multipliers but what you will be seeing are the basically true performance differences caused by the different memory settings.
 
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SKYMTL

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System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


In the System and Gaming Benchmarks sections, we reveal the results from a number of benchmarks run with the Core i7-5960X and ASUS X99 Deluxe at default clocks, with the G.Skill memory kit's XMP profile applied, and using own our manual overclocks. This will illustrate how much performance can be achieved at various DDR4 memory speeds and timings. For a thorough comparison of the Core i7-5960X versus a number of different CPUs have a look at our Intel Haswell-E Core i7-5960X Review.


SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP


When running the SuperPI 32MB benchmark, we are calculating Pi to 32 million digits and timing the process. Obviously more CPU power helps in this intense calculation, but the memory sub-system also plays an important role, as does the operating system. We are running one instance of SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP. This is therefore a single-thread workload.

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wPRIME 2.10


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload.

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Cinebench R11.5


Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
Test1: CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R11.5 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.

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AIDA64 Extreme Edition

AIDA64 uses a suite of benchmarks to determine general performance and has quickly become one of the de facto standards among end users for component comparisons. While it may include a great many tests, we used the AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark in order to tests the raw memory performance, combining copy, read, write and latency tests into one global score. This memory benchmark is a classic way to measure bandwidth of a memory subsystem.

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SKYMTL

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Gaming Benchmarks

Gaming Benchmarks



Futuremark 3DMark (2013)


3DMark v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Fire Strike Preset
Rendered Resolution: 1920x1680
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark is the brand new cross-platform benchmark from the gurus over at Futuremark. Designed to test a full range of hardware from smartphones to high-end PCs, it includes three tests for DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 hardware, and allows users to compare 3DMark scores with other Windows, Android and iOS devices. Most important to us is the new Fire Strike preset, a DirectX 11 showcase that tests tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Like every new 3DMark version, this test is extremely GPU-bound, but it does contain a heavy physics test that can show off the potential of modern multi-core processors.


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Futuremark 3DMark 11


3DMark 11 v1.0.5
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x720
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark 11 is Futuremark's very latest benchmark, designed to tests all of the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. At the moment, it is lot more GPU-bound than past versions are now, but it does contain a terrific physics test which really taxes modern multi-core processors.


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Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.1.2
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.


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Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti-Aliasing: 4X
Anisotropic Filtering: 8X
Graphic Settings: High
Comparison: Particle Performance Metric

Originally intended to demonstrate new processing effects added to Half Life 2: Episode 2 and future projects, the particle benchmark condenses what can be found throughout HL2:EP2 and combines it all into one small but deadly package. This test does not symbolize the performance scale for just Episode Two exclusively, but also for many other games and applications that utilize multi-core processing and particle effects. As you will see the benchmark does not score in FPS but rather in its own "Particle Performance Metric", which is useful for direct CPU comparisons.


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X3: Terran Conflict


X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0
Resolution: 1680x1050
Texture & Shader Quality: High
Antialiasing 4X
Anisotropic Mode: 8X
Glow Enabled

Game Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

X3: Terran Conflict (X3TC) is the culmination of the X-series of space trading and combat simulator computer games from German developer Egosoft. With its vast space worlds, intricately detailed ships, and excellent multi-threaded game engine, it remains a great test of modern CPU performance.


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SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


This is an interesting memory kit to review since it depends so heavily on another component. Thankfully, that component in question is the GIGABYTE X99-SOC CHAMPION, and as we mentioned in our review it is an excellent motherboard for any serious overclocker. It is a purpose-built motherboard designed from the ground up to excel at overclocking, and with a very special emphasis on memory overclocking as demonstrated by the daring four memory slot design.

Clearly this caught Corsair's attention, because otherwise we definitely wouldn't be reviewing a DDR4-3400 memory kit today. We really can't overemphasize how impressive it is for an out-of-box motherboard + RAM kit combo to be able to handle such high memory speeds without any user interaction or extreme cooling. We can pretty confidently state that there are no other motherboards on the market right now that can handle a DDR4-3400 XMP profile; yes we tried and failed miserably.

At $1000 USD, the special edition Dominator Platinum is unquestionably expensive, but it's not actually overpriced. You have to consider that the CMD16GX4M4B3400C16 is manufactured using the best 0.5% of all Hynix ICs that Corsair have hand screened up until now, so this is an extremely low yield product that Corsair couldn't mass produce even if they wanted to. Anyone even considering such a specialized product knows how much better this kit is than anything else on the market right now.

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DDR4-3400 memory modules are not going to revolutionize your gaming experience, or significantly speed up your productivity programs, but in the hands of talented overclockers they are capable of breaking DDR4 frequency records and setting popular benchmarks ablaze. If you just dig the black and orange colour scheme, and have the funds to back it up, at least you can be confident in the knowledge that your money is going towards something that is actually worthy of the "Limited Edition" label.

Recently, we have had to concede that there wasn't a remarkable overclocking difference between all the 16GB Hynix MFR-based memory kits that we have reviewed. We have always known that these ICs were being very heavily binned from Day 1, so we knew that there wouldn't be any "diamonds in the rough" making their way to the lower priced kits.

Our mistake was believing that we had been reviewing high-end kits using those rare "diamond" ICs, and thus knew what the upper-end limits of Hynix-based kits were. Apparently we were wrong. We might have reviewed a few good to great kits at this point, but this Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR4-3400 model is truly exceptional and has shifted our expectations considerably.

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