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DDR4 vs. DDR5? Which You Should Buy

Learn about the differences between DDR4 and DDR5. Find out whether DDR4 or DDR5 is the better value.

Motherboard Timur Garifov / Unsplash

Last Updated: May 23, 2022

Written by Kevin Jones

DDR5 is the latest memory version available for desktop computers, but is it worth upgrading?

This article will discuss the differences between DDR4 and DDR5 and help you decide whether it's worth making the switch to DDR5 at this time.

DDR4 vs. DDR5

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Consumer DDR4 vs. DDR5
DDR4DDR5
Max UDIMM (Unbuffered) Capacity 32 GB 128 GB
Bandwidth 12800–25600 MB/s 38400–57600 MB/s
Transfer Rate 1600–3200 MT/s 4800–7200 MT/s
Base Frequency 800–1600 MHz 2400–3600 MHz
Effective Frequency 1600–3200 MHz 4800–7200 MHz
Voltage 1.2 V 1.1 V
On-die ECC No Yes

DDR5 provides twice the bandwidth and density of DDR4 while reducing power consumption. Higher bandwidth translates to faster processing for memory-intensive applications such as games, video and image editors, 3D tools, and browsers.

Additionally, all DDR5 memory will have on-die ECC, which provides error detection and correction before sending data to a CPU. DDR5 ECC is expected to improve reliability and reduce defect rates.

Check out my Recommended RAM below.

Is DDR5 Worth the Upgrade?

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DDR5 is the path forward in the long run, but current conditions may limit its benefits. Let's dig into the various considerations.

Cost and Availability

Currently, DDR5 is more expensive than DDR4. Stock is often limited for DDR5 but is becoming more available.

CPU and Motherboard Upgrade

Intel's 12th generation Core CPU supports both DDR4 and DDR5. However, DDR5 isn't backward compatible with DDR4. Motherboards only support one or the other. This motherboard limitation means that you'll need to choose whether you want to get the lower cost DDR4 memory or get DDR5 with the ability to upgrade it in the future.

Timings

DDR5 may experience slower timings at initial release but should be much better than DDR4 as the technology matures. However, keep in mind that the timings scale inversely with the clock rate (frequency).

The timing values are in units of clock cycles, but more cycles are happening per second with DDR5. For example, DDR3-2133 CL10 has nearly the same latency as DDR5-8400 CL40. So don't let the CL40 timings of DDR5 scare you away; the number just looks bigger!

Bandwidth

Even if the latency is roughly the same between DDR4 and DDR5 currently, the amount of data that DDR5 can transfer per second is much higher. This increased bandwidth will often lead to an overall improvement in performance.

CPU Support

Currently, only Intel has released CPUs which support DDR5. Lack of DDR5 support from AMD means that if you want to use an AMD CPU, you'll be limited to DDR4.

Future Upgradability

If you get a DDR4 motherboard, you won't be able to use it with DDR5. Motherboards typically only support DDR4 or DDR5, but not both.

Which CPUs Support DDR5?

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Intel's 12th generation Core processors, code-named "Alder Lake," support DDR5. Additionally, Intel is expected to support DDR5 with its next-generation Xeon server processor, code-named "Sapphire Rapids."

AMD has not yet released processors which support DDR5 but is expected to include DDR5 support in their next-generation Zen 4 architecture, which AMD will release in 2022.

Learn more in my article Which Intel and AMD CPUs Support DDR5?.

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Before purchasing memory, review your motherboard specification to verify which speeds are supported. For example, if a DDR4 motherboard stated that it supports "DDR4 3400(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3300(O.C.) / 3200 / 3000," that would mean that it could support DDR4-3400, DDR4-3333, and DDR4-3300 with memory overclocking, and DDR4-3200 and DDR4-3000 at stock speeds. Motherboard specifications also indicate the maximum capacity per stick of RAM (DIMM) and across all slots.

Get RAM recommendations
for a specific Intel CPU:
Get RAM recommendations
for a specific AMD CPU:
  • At an effective frequency of 4800 MHz, this memory hits the fastest speeds supported by Intel Alder Lake (e.g., 12th Gen Core) CPUs without overclocking.
  • Compact heat spreaders avoid conflicting with a CPU cooler.
  • 32 GB provides ample memory for gaming and multitasking. Corsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (2x16GB) DDR5 4800MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (2x16GB) DDR5 4800MHz Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
  • At an effective frequency of 3200 MHz, this memory hits the fastest supported stock DDR4 speeds.

  • It is also available in other (effective) frequencies for overclockers, including 3600 MHz and 4000 MHz.

  • Lower-speed versions are also available on Amazon, in various capacities, including DDR4-2933 (affiliate link), DDR4-2666 (affiliate link), and DDR4-2400 (affiliate link).

  • The low-profile form factor ensures that the heat spreaders don't get in the way of other devices, including your CPU heatsink. Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

How to Choose RAM

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Memory Form Factors

When purchasing RAM, ensure that you get the correct form factor (i.e., physical size) for the device to ensure compatibility.

DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module)
DIMMs are larger memory sticks made for desktop computer motherboards.
SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module)
SO-DIMMs are smaller memory sticks made for laptops and some mini-PC small form-factor motherboards.

DDR Versions

DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM is the memory used in nearly all computers today.

With each version of DDR, faster memory speeds become available.

DDR Generations (Without Overclocking)
DDR3DDR4DDR5
Max UDIMM (Unbuffered) Capacity 16 GB 32 GB 128 GB
Bandwidth 6400–17067 MB/s 12800–25600 MB/s 38400–57600 MB/s
Transfer Rate 800–2133 MT/s 1600–3200 MT/s 4800–7200 MT/s
Base Frequency 400–1067 MHz 800–1600 MHz 2400–3600 MHz
Effective Frequency 800–2133 MHz 1600–3200 MHz 4800–7200 MHz
Voltage 1.5 V 1.2 V 1.1 V
On-die ECC No No Yes

Memory Speed

DDR ram speed is measured in megatransfers per second (MT/s). MT/s measure how fast data can be read and written per second to and from RAM.

Faster PC memory can improve game performance and frame rates, but using the fastest RAM may not have as much of an impact as upgrading your CPU and graphics card or adding more RAM.

Suppose you do not use your computer for memory-intensive applications such as games or video processing. In that case, you may see little benefit in using the fastest memory.

Look up the motherboard model on the manufacturer's website to determine which speeds are supported. Price typically scales with the memory speeds, so choose one in your price range that meets your needs.

Memory Timings

Similar and related to memory speed, memory timings can also impact performance. Timings measure how many clock cycles it takes to perform an action. Manufacturers often reference timings as a series of numbers, such as 16-18-18-38. Assuming memory sticks have a constant memory speed, lower timing values indicate a shorter time between commands. Because timings are measured in clock cycles, they scale down as the memory speed increases.

While memory timings can impact performance, they are typically less critical than speed and capacity.

Memory Capacity

DDR ram capacities are measured in gigabytes (GB).

Even if you are not an enthusiast PC user, I recommend at least 16 GB of ram. This amount of RAM will allow you to keep several browser windows, video streams, and documents open simultaneously without worrying about your computer slowing down.

Suppose you use more memory-hungry software, such as Adobe graphics products, 3d or physics tools, or high-resolution video editors. In that case, you might consider 32 GB of memory for peak PC performance. However, you could likely get by with 16 GB of memory if you are okay with closing some applications before opening others.

Look up the motherboard model on the manufacturer's website to determine which memory capacities and module sizes are supported. Also, refer to your motherboard's documentation for guidance on which slots to use.

Memory is typically purchased in a pack of two or four modules (sticks). Make sure to use the same speeds, capacities, and timings. The lowest values will be used if multiple speeds or timings are used. If multiple sizes are used, you may need to use single-channel mode, which will be slower.

The easiest way to get matching sticks for peak performance is to buy them together in a pack.

Precautions When Selecting RAM

Before purchasing memory, review your motherboard specification to verify which speeds are supported. For example, if a DDR4 motherboard stated that it supports "DDR4 3400(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3300(O.C.) / 3200 / 3000," that would mean that it could support DDR4-3400, DDR4-3333, and DDR4-3300 with memory overclocking, and DDR4-3200 and DDR4-3000 at stock speeds. Motherboard specifications also indicate the maximum capacity per stick of RAM (DIMM) and across all slots.

When overclocking, you may be able to exceed speeds that are officially supported by CPUs. Motherboard specifications will indicate their supported overclocked-memory speeds. To be able to overclock DDR memory, your motherboard chipset needs to support memory overclocking.

RAM can also be underclocked to achieve compatibility. Underclocking can be used when you purchase memory that is faster than the maximum speed supported by the CPU or motherboard. However, precise underclocking also requires a motherboard that supports memory overclocking. Without this support, the memory may fall back to a slower speed than the maximum supported memory speed. To achieve the maximum memory speed without overclocking support, use the maximum speed supported by the motherboard and CPU.

By looking up a motherboard's specifications, you can verify whether it supports a particular speed. Additionally, the motherboard manufacturer's website will typically indicate which memory kits have been confirmed to be compatible.

Get RAM recommendations
for a specific Intel CPU:
Get RAM recommendations
for a specific AMD CPU:

Learn more in How to Choose the Best RAM for Your PC.

Other Considerations When Building a PC

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Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles: