Double Data Rate (DDR) RAM has been the standard system memory for desktop computers and laptops for nearly two decades. The original DDR debuted in 2000, bringing major performance improvements over the previous SDRAM memory standard. Since then, we‘ve seen several generational leaps – DDR2, DDR3, DDR4, and most recently DDR5.
Each new iteration delivers faster speeds, higher bandwidth, increased capacity, and lower power consumption. The transition from one generation to the next requires compatibility with new CPUs and motherboards designed specifically to support the new memory type.
DDR4 has reigned supreme since its release in 2014, but the new DDR5 standard is set to take over as the high-performance memory of choice for cutting edge PC builds. For system builders and upgraders, an obvious question arises: is it worth jumping on DDR5 yet, or should you stick with the more established DDR4?
In this guide, we’ll compare DDR4 and DDR5 to highlight the key differences and help you decide which one makes more sense for your next build.
A Brief History of DDR RAM Generations
Let‘s start with a quick history lesson covering the evolution of DDR RAM over the past two decades:
DDR – The first generation Double Data Rate SDRAM debuted in 2000, delivering major gains over the original SDRAM standard. DDR DLL technology and dual-pumped bus allowed clock speeds up to 400 MHz.
DDR2 – Arriving in 2003, DDR2 further increased performance with clock speeds reaching 800 MHz. Higher bus speeds, lower voltage requirements, and reduced power consumption were hallmarks of this second generation.
DDR3 – Launched in 2007, DDR3 expanded capacity to 8GB per DIMM while pushing frequencies up to 2133MHz. It also reduced voltage to 1.5V for improved energy efficiency.
DDR4 – In 2014, DDR4 brought another doubling of max capacities up to 16GB per DIMM and clock speeds reaching 3200 MHz. Operating voltage dropped further to 1.2V.
DDR5 – The latest generation launched in 2020 with blistering fast frequencies up to 6400 MHz thanks to onboard voltage regulators. DDR5 supports capacities up to 128GB per DIMM.
Now let’s take a deeper look at how DDR4 and DDR5 compare head-to-head.
DDR4 vs DDR5 Specs Comparison
|Speed||1600-3200 MHz||4800-8400 MHz|
|Power management||On motherboard||Onboard PMIC|
|Density||16Gb per die||64Gb per die|
Bandwidth and Performance
One of the key improvements with DDR5 is the major bump in bandwidth. While DDR4 maxes out at 25.6 GB/s, early DDR5 modules can hit 51.2 GB/s. This results in significant performance gains in memory intensive applications.
DDR5 achieves this higher bandwidth through:
- Faster base speeds, starting at 4800 MT/s versus 3200 MT/s for DDR4
- Wider 128-bit bus interface (DDR4 uses 64-bit)
- Dual independent 40-bit channels per DIMM
Benchmark tests show DDR5 consistently outperforming DDR4 by large margins in tests like Sandra Memory Bandwidth and AIDA64 Memory Read/Write/Copy. Real-world usage experiences mirror these synthetic benchmarks with major performance uplifts in memory hungry tasks like video editing, data compression, and gaming.
Transitioning to DDR5 brings notable improvements in power efficiency. Running at 1.1V versus 1.2V for DDR4 results in a 10% reduction in voltage. Combined with advanced memory controller and PMIC components, DDR5 consumes around 13% less power compared to equivalent DDR4 configurations.
This improved efficiency pays dividends in the form of cooler operation, extended battery life on laptops, and reduced electricity costs for high capacity server deployments. DDR5 also introduces on-die ECC (error correcting code) to enhance stability and reliability of high speed signals.
Early DDR5 modules are delivering comparable capacities to modern DDR4, with 16GB UDIMMs and 32GB SO-DIMMs widely available at mainstream price points. But DDR5 has much more headroom to grow thanks to the move from 16Gb to 64Gb memory chips.
This 4x density improvement means we will see 256GB UDIMMs and 128GB SO-DIMMs hitting the market in the near future. In contrast, current DDR4 maxes out at 128GB and 64GB for UDIMMs and SO-DIMMs respectively.
While some of the bandwidth gains with DDR5 come from the wider bus, speed is also making a huge leap. DDR5 clocks in at up to 6400 MT/s, while DDR4 tops out at 3200 MT/s. So a high-end DDR5 kit can offer double the clock speed of today’s fastest DDR4.
Latency is slightly higher on DDR5, but massive gains in bandwidth easily offset this minor lag. Expect DDR5 speeds to continue ramping up too – the JEDEC standard goes all the way up to 8400 MT/s and modules will eventually reach this ceiling.
Upgrading to DDR5: When Does it Make Sense?
DDR5 brings an array of technological advancements that deliver tangible performance improvements – especially for systems running memory intensive applications. But is now the right time to upgrade? There are a few factors to consider:
Platform Compatibility – DDR5 requires a CPU and motherboard designed for it. Intel‘s 12th Gen and AMD‘s Ryzen 7000 chips are your current options.
Premium Pricing – Early adoption means paying higher prices, though DDR5 costs are falling steadily. 16GB DDR5 kits now dip under $100.
Benefits for Your Usage – If you utilize memory hungry programs, DDR5 is likely worth the premium. For light work, DDR4 still handles most tasks smoothly.
For high-end builds using the latest CPUs, DDR5 is a no-brainer. Mid-range systems still benefit from more affordable DDR4. With rapid adoption across the industry, DDR5 pricing and availability will continue improving over the coming year.
Recommended DDR4 and DDR5 Kits
Here are some of the best DDR4 and DDR5 kits available today:
Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) 3200MHz C16 – Tried and true high performance DDR4 kit running at 3200 MT/s with CL16 latency. XMP 2.0 support for one-click overclocking. Starting at $54.99.
G.Skill Trident Z Neo 32GB (2x16GB) 3600MHz C16 – Excellent sweet spot between speed (3600 MT/s) and capacity (32GB kit). 16-16-16-36 timings and stylish aluminum heatspreader. $164.99 MSRP.
Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 32GB (2x16GB) 5200MHz C40 – Top-tier DDR5 pushing speeds up to 5200 MT/s out of the box. Advanced aluminum heatspreader and 12 zone RGB lighting. $424.99 MSRP.
TEAMGROUP T-Force Delta RGB 32GB (2x16GB) 5600MHz C40 – Impressively fast while more budget-friendly. Tightly-tuned timings and slick RGB design. Just $189.99.
DDR5 delivers a new level of performance and efficiency for cutting edge builds, though DDR4 still offers great bang for buck. For most mainstream PC users, sticking with DDR4 will provide smooth performance for both work and play. But those utilizing memory intensive applications will benefit greatly from upgrading to bleeding edge DDR5 RAM.
Within the next couple years, DDR5 pricing and compatibility will improve to where it becomes the default choice – much like DDR4 has been for the past decade. For now, choose what makes the most sense based on your budget and needs. Both standards provide excellent reliability and adequate horsepower for modern demands.