We recently had the opportunity to evaluate the SP3000 memory tester from CST,Inc. Designed for service professionals and system/subsystem manufacturers, this unit allows for a wide range of modules to be tested by using plug-in adapters. The adapters provided with our unit were for FPM and EDO (both 72 pin and 168 pin) and PC66/PC100 SDRAM. The PC133 adapter was not available at the time of our evaluation, but is available now. There is also a 144pin/168pin SDRAM adapter available.
The SP3000 is a relatively small, portable unit that has a 2-line by 40-character LCD display for instructions and test results. A set of 5 function keys are arrayed along the front panel for input and test selection. A ‘virtual demo’ is available on the CST website for those who wish to get a feel for how the unit looks and operates.
For those wanting to keep a hardcopy of the test results, there is an on-board parallel port. An optional handler unit provides automatic feeding of modules for hands-free testing. There is also a new handler/labeler unit which will automatically label good modules, and leave bad modules unlabeled as well as place them into a separate bin. This is an especially handy feature for resellers and systems integrators who purchase memory in bulk. The unit also has a communication port for connecting to a PC for firmware updates or for displaying the test results onto a monitor screen. The interface kit is an optional accessory.
Setting up for the first test is very simple. Basically, you need only plug in the appropriate adapter, insert the memory module, plug in the DC Power adapter and turn on the power switch. Within a few seconds, the LCD will display a menu to select your test from using one of the 5 function keys.
There are 4 test patterns available for testing the memory, which include Walk Address (1’s and 0’s), Walk Data (1’s and 0’s), Marching (1’s and 0’s) and Checkerboard. In addition, the SDRAM adapter will test Burst Read, Burst Write, Chip Select, DQM, and SPD information.
One of the nice features on the unit is the Auto ID capability, which will identify and display the module configuration when the appropriate function key is chosen. This is especially useful in a situation where the memory being tested is of an unknown origin. The information provided includes the memory type, row and column configuration, refresh rate, number of banks, number of data lines and the operating voltage.
If the module being tested is a known configuration, the unit has 8 standard devices and allows for several user defined devices to be stored. These device files contain not only configuration, but also the test patterns to use, access timings, address and bank control parameters and other parameters which may be important to the specific module. The SPD information can be stored as well, and after the test is completed can be written to the serial EEPROM chip.
Each adapter comes with a reference and user manual, which is very readable and fairly complete. Each of the features and menu options is covered and explained well. There is also a set of examples for testing/configuring several different types of modules and a complete SPD reference guide in the back of the manual. The handler unit also has its own manual.
Unfortunately, the manuals we received did not quite match the actual operation of the unit we tested. According to the CST representative, the firmware had recently been updated but the manuals were still being printed. Nonetheless, we found that all of the options were explained well, and the manual was laid out in a logical and straightforward manner.
We were able to test a number of different modules, including 72-pin EDO and FPM, and 168-pin PC66/PC100/PC133 SDRAM. The adapter we were provided was not designed for PC133 modules, so it identified it as PC100. In addition, we had a registered module which was identified correctly as well.
We tested modules with various parameters, including changing the access timings, until the module failed the tests. At that point we would then plug the module into a motherboard which allowed various speed settings and tried to run them at the fastest successful speed we tested, and the speed that failed. In most cases, the modules operated exactly as the tester had indicated. In a few tests, however, the tester did indicate that a PC66 SDRAM module would operate at 100MHz plus (8ns or 6ns access time), yet it would not function at that speed in the motherboard. With the number of options and parameters to set, this could well have been user error on our part (i.e., setting the CAS Latency or some other timing parameter incorrectly on the memory test unit).
This unit is obviously designed for professionals who need to test relatively high-volumes of modules, and not for those who need to test only a few modules per week (or less), as there are lower cost alternatives (see our RST review). CST also sells very high-end units for OEMs and large memory manufacturers, but these are extremely expensive and out of range of the smaller systems integrators and component manufacturers. For these companies, the SP3000 seems like an inexpensive alternative.
While the memory tests are not exhaustive, the unit should be able to identify the most common errors, including opens, shorts and bad cells, thereby helping to insure a fairly low failure rate. For those businesses who must deal with a lot of modules of unknown origin (specifically service oriented businesses), the automatic identification feature will provide some benefit, however as shown in our tests setting up the parameters correctly is critical and subject to error when the module configuration frequently varies between tests. The relative ease-of-use and well-written documentation means that it doesn’t require a specially trained engineer to setup and operate the unit, though care is required to make sure all parameters are correct.
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