DDR5 memory started to make waves in the PC market in the latter half of 2021 when Intel launched its 12th Gen desktop CPU. While they were the first processors to support the latest memory standard, Intel’s 13th Gen and AMD’s Ryzen 7000 CPUs also offer DDR5 support. If you’re building a new PC or debating whether to upgrade your PC memory, there’s much to unpack in the DDR4 vs. DDR5 debate. This guide examines the differences to help you decide whether you should upgrade.
Tip: if you’re in the market for a new motherboard, we have roundups that feature the best Intel and AMD motherboards.
If you look up DDR5 memory sticks (DIMMs), one of the first things you’ll notice is the significantly higher memory speed or frequency compared to DDR4 RAM. While DDR4 sticks typically top out at 5000 MHz, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a DDR5 stick slower than 4800 MHz. This higher memory speed is one of the main selling points of the newer DDR5 standard and one of the primary reasons to upgrade from DDR4.
The higher bandwidth of DDR5 RAM has been shown to improve framerates in games, albeit by a small margin. But as games get even more demanding and push even the fastest CPUs to their limits, faster memory will make more of a difference in the coming months and years.
For the more productivity-oriented users, DDR5’s higher bandwidth will be more than welcome. For PC builders looking to build for the long term, buying DDR5 memory makes sense if the price premium over DDR4 isn’t excessive.
Good to know: you can boost the speed and performance of your RAM by overclocking it.
Memory capacity is another aspect that has seen improvement with the introduction of the DDR5 standard. Most commercially available DDR4 RAM sticks come in 8GB and 16GB variants, with a maximum of 32GB. If you need to go higher than that while sticking with the DDR4 standard, the availability and price become limiting factors.
In contrast, DDR5 memory sticks have 16GB minimum, and 32GB models are also widely available. With compatible mainstream motherboards, this will allow users to double their maximum RAM capacity to 128GB by using four 32GB sticks.
Since DDR5 memory will feature capacities of 64GB to 128GB per stick as the standard matures, this can only get better. Do note that before dropping hundreds on a flashy new high-capacity DDR5 stick, you should determine your computer’s maximum RAM capacity.
3. Power Efficiency
With a new generation of memory, you may expect the power requirements to increase. But the operating voltage of DDR5 is 1.1V, a 0.1V decrease over the DDR4. If this sounds negligible, consider that DDR5 is improving performance by a higher margin while requiring less power. This makes the newer memory standard much more power efficient than the previous one.
Although the operating voltage is likely to increase as RAM kits with overclocked frequencies and tighter timings become available, it will still remain much lower than the power requirements for comparable DDR4 sticks.
Another significant change seen in DDR5 RAM is the migration of voltage regulation from the motherboard to the DIMMs themselves. This move to onboard power regulation will inevitably enable motherboard manufacturers to simplify motherboard design and allow them more control over the quality of components. Even the higher operating temperature in DDR5 sticks will not be an issue, as the onboard heat spreaders will be more than enough to ensure cool operation.
Also helpful: if you’re worried about overheating your CPU, learn how to choose the right CPU cooler.
4. Channel Configuration
You might have heard that running dual-channel RAM provides more performance than single-channel RAM. While previously this meant using at least two DIMMs for DDR4 memory, this can now be achieved with just a single stick on DDR5 memory, as DDR5 RAM has two 32-bit channels per DIMM instead of just one 64-bit channel on DDR4. This allows the processor to access the same memory stick more than once simultaneously.
A dual-channel configuration on a single DIMM allows DDR5 memory to be more efficient than DDR4 memory, further reducing latency and improving performance in many scenarios.
ECC or Error Correction Code is a feature supported by specialized memory and motherboards to ensure that the data residing on the memory and transferred to the processor is free of errors. The DDR5 standard brings this functionality to standard DIMMs by adding an onboard chip. In contrast to DDR4 RAM, data stored on DDR5 RAM will be checked and corrected in the case of corruption.
However, this implementation of ECC isn’t ideal, as data integrity is only ensured for the data stored temporarily on the RAM. It doesn’t do the same for the data transferred to the CPU. Therefore, any corruption during the transfer will need additional ECC functionality to ensure correction. However, servers and enterprise setups will use both on-die ECC and standard ECC to ensure complete data integrity.
Tip: learn how to set up and use a RAM drive in Windows.
The performance improvements in DDR5 are not cheap. Existing 16GB x 2 DDR5 kits can cost 50 to 100 percent more than comparable DDR4 kits. While the price premium for DDR5 has come down a bit over the past two years and will reduce more as the technology matures, users must consider whether the higher investment is worth it. Even new system builders can save a lot by choosing DDR4, while not sacrificing much in performance.
DDR5 is still a new technology and will take a few more years to be as commercially viable as DDR4 is today. If your budget permits being an early adopter, you should jump on the newer memory standard. But if you’ve already allocated most of your budget to components like the CPU and GPU, opting for the older DDR4 memory is not a bad option. This is especially true for gamers who are not sacrificing a lot of performance but saving quite a few bucks by sticking with the older standard.
7. Platform Compatibility
The price premium for DDR5 can further increase if you factor in the entire platform cost. DDR5 DIMMs are not backward compatible with DDR4 motherboards. Therefore, you must invest in a DDR5-compatible motherboard and CPU to fully upgrade to the new standard. This is further complicated on the Intel side, as the 12th and 13th Gen processors support DDR4 and DDR5 memory standards. You’ll need to be careful while selecting your motherboard, as the same chipset models come in DDR4 and DDR5 variants.
On the AMD side, things are far more straightforward, as the latest Ryzen 7000 processors are only compatible with DDR5 RAM. There’s no room for confusion, as the newer AM5 platform has dropped support for DDR4 altogether. But going with AM5 will cost you more than Intel’s 12th Gen or 13th Gen platform. AM5 chipset motherboards are costlier than the LGA 1700 chipset boards on the Intel side and will force you to stretch your budget.
Tip: if you’re interested in a deep dive into these competing platforms to help you choose, check out our AMD vs. Intel CPUs guide to learn the latest developments.
DDR4 vs. DDR5: Which One Should You Choose?
The choice between DDR4 and DDR5 essentially comes down to where you are in your computer’s lifecycle and which workloads you’re targeting. If you’re building a PC from scratch and are willing to spend a bit more, buying DDR5 memory and a compatible motherboard and CPU can make sense.
However, if you’re considering upgrading your existing RAM on a setup that is DDR5-ready, it’s better to wait for some time if you can. DDR5 memory prices will continue to fall as manufacturers begin to make them more readily available.
Secondly, upgrading from DDR4 memory to DDR5 for increased gaming performance is not wise. You will not gain as much performance as needed to justify the premium. But if you’re considering DDR5 RAM for professional workloads, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the higher capacity and increased speeds of DDR5.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 8GB DDR5 better than 16GB DDR4?
No. Memory capacity has a far more significant impact on performance than memory speed, especially when considering 8GB DDR5 vs. 16GB DDR4. Modern gaming and non-gaming workloads will fill up 8GB of RAM fairly quickly, leaving your system memory-starved, regardless of whether you have DDR4 or DDR5 RAM. It’s much better to have 16GB DDR4 RAM than 8GB DDR5 RAM.
Is it worth waiting for DDR5 to mature?
Any newly introduced technology goes through multiple iterations before maturing to a point where it becomes an obvious choice. DDR5 memory is beginning that journey and still has a few years before becoming a mainstream option. Future DDR5 DIMMs will be more efficient, stable, and powerful, not to mention cheaper than the currently available models. If you can wait, buying into the newer standard will be much more beneficial. However, if you need a new system and can’t wait, you can still make the jump to DDR5 and later swap sticks when more powerful DIMMs become available.
How long will DDR4 be around?
You can still buy DDR3 memory, so DDR4 DIMMs and motherboards will still be around for some time. But CPU manufacturers like Intel and AMD dropping support for DDR4 memory can likely happen as soon as 2024 or 2025. AMD has already ditched DDR4 with its AM5 platform, and Intel will likely follow suit with its next generation of desktop processors. Users can technically keep using DDR4 systems for many more years, the same way we see DDR3 computers being used now, but mainstream support for DDR4 is likely to end by 2025.
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