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DDR3 vs. DDR4 Full Comparison

DDR3 vs DDR4 RAM: Full Comparison for 2023
As a computer enthusiast always looking to stay on the cutting edge of technology, one of the most important components I focus on is RAM, or random access memory. RAM has a huge impact on overall system performance, and there have been many advancements in memory technology over the years. Two of the most recent RAM generations that are still widely used in PCs today are DDR3 and DDR4.

In this in-depth comparison, I‘ll break down all the key differences between DDR3 and DDR4 memory. I‘ll dig into the technical capabilities of each, discuss compatibility requirements, analyze current prices, and provide my expert recommendations on which type of RAM is right for your needs and budget. Whether you‘re building a new system from scratch, upgrading an older machine, or just curious about the evolution of PC memory, read on for everything you need to know about DDR3 vs DDR4!

DDR3 vs DDR4: Technical Differences Explained
First, let‘s look under the hood at how DDR3 and DDR4 actually differ in terms of specifications and technology. DDR stands for "double data rate" and the number afterwards indicates the generation – so DDR3 is 3rd gen, DDR4 is 4th gen. With each new generation, improvements are made to increase performance. Here are the key technical differences:

Speeds: DDR3 memory modules have standard speeds ranging from 800 to 2133 MT/s. DDR4 starts at 2133 MT/s and goes up to 3200 MT/s for most standard modules, with some high-performance kits capable of 4400 MT/s or more.

Capacities: The maximum capacity of a single DDR3 memory stick is 16GB. For DDR4, the max per module is much higher at 64GB. However, high capacity DDR4 modules are quite expensive. Most common DDR4 consumer modules are 8GB or 16GB.

Pin counts: DDR3 memory uses 240 pins to connect to the motherboard. DDR4 has 288 pins. The different pin counts mean that DDR3 and DDR4 modules are physically incompatible with each other.

Voltage: DDR3 memory typically runs at 1.5V or 1.35V. DDR4 operates at a lower voltage of 1.2V. The lower voltage of DDR4 translates to less power consumption and heat generation.

So in summary, DDR4 is faster, enables higher capacity modules, and consumes less power compared to DDR3. It achieves this through higher bus speeds, more pins for communication with the motherboard, advanced materials, and lower operating voltage. While DDR3 is now considered an older standard, it‘s still very capable for most computing use cases.

DDR3 vs DDR4 Compatibility
One of the most important things to know about DDR3 and DDR4 memory is that they are not cross-compatible. A DDR3 memory module will not fit into a DDR4 RAM slot, and vice versa. This is because of the physical differences in pin configurations between DDR3 (240 pins) and DDR4 (288 pins).

Not only are the RAM modules themselves incompatible, but DDR3 and DDR4 also require different motherboards. A motherboard designed for DDR3 RAM cannot support DDR4, and a DDR4 motherboard cannot use DDR3 memory. The CPU socket and chipset on the motherboard must match the type of RAM as well.

This means that if you want to upgrade an older system from DDR3 to DDR4 memory, you can‘t just swap out the RAM modules. You would also need to change the motherboard and potentially the CPU as well. It‘s basically a whole new platform. For a new PC build, you‘ll need to choose a motherboard and CPU that support DDR4 if you want to use the latest memory standard.

DDR4 Advantages
DDR4 has several advantages over DDR3 that make it the superior choice for a new system:

Faster speeds: With data rates starting at 2133 MT/s and going up to 4400 MT/s and beyond, DDR4 offers substantially more memory bandwidth than DDR3. This means your system can transfer data between the CPU and RAM faster, which can boost overall performance. Intensive tasks like gaming, video editing, and data processing especially benefit from the extra speed.

Higher capacities: Since DDR4 enables much greater memory density, you can install more total RAM in your system without needing to populate as many slots. With DDR4, it‘s possible to have a high-end system with 128GB or more RAM using just four slots. The increased capacities of DDR4 are great for heavy multitasking, content creation, virtualization, and other memory-hungry applications.

Lower power usage: The lower 1.2V operating voltage of DDR4 compared to 1.5V for DDR3 equals meaningful power savings, especially in laptops and mobile devices. Lower voltage also means the memory modules run cooler.

Future-proof: DDR4 is still the dominant standard for new PCs and will likely remain so for several more years until DDR5 becomes mainstream. Adopting DDR4 now in a new build ensures a longer viable upgrade path. Most new CPUs only support DDR4 and not DDR3.

DDR3 Advantages
While DDR4 is undoubtedly the more advanced technology, DDR3 still has a couple points in its favor:

Lower cost: The biggest advantage of DDR3 is that it‘s significantly cheaper than DDR4 at any given capacity. Since DDR3 has been on the market longer, production is very mature and costs have come down a lot over time. If you‘re on a tight budget and don‘t have extreme performance needs, DDR3 offers great value.

Still adequate: For basic computing tasks like web browsing, office apps, and media streaming, the bandwidth provided by DDR3 is still more than sufficient. An older system with DDR3 can remain perfectly viable by upgrading to higher capacity DIMMs at a much lower cost than moving to DDR4.

DDR3 vs DDR4 Price Comparison
Speaking of price, let‘s take a look at how DDR3 and DDR4 modules compare. I‘ve compiled current prices from popular retailers for some common capacities. Note that prices can fluctuate frequently due to market conditions.

DDR3 Prices (per module):
4GB – $15-20
8GB – $25-35
16GB – $50-80

DDR4 Prices (per module):
4GB – $20-25
8GB – $30-45
16GB – $50-90
32GB – $100-200

As you can see, DDR3 comes out ahead on cost across the board. The price gap is most noticeable at lower capacities commonly used in budget systems. For example, an 8GB DDR3 module is around 30% cheaper than an equivalent DDR4 DIMM.

However, the price difference diminishes as you go up in capacity. High-end DDR4 actually offers better value if you need a lot of RAM. A 32GB DDR4 module is only about twice the price of 16GB, while 16GB of DDR3 costs over three times as much as 8GB.

My Recommendation
So which type of RAM should you get? It depends on your specific needs and budget. Here‘s my general guidance:

Get DDR4 if:

  • You‘re building a new PC from scratch
  • You do intensive computing work like gaming, content creation, data crunching, etc.
  • You multitask with many apps open at once
  • You want a system that will remain capable for years to come
  • You‘re willing to spend a bit extra for the best performance

Get DDR3 if:

  • You‘re upgrading an older system that supports DDR3
  • You mainly use your PC for basic tasks like web browsing and media streaming
  • You‘re on a tight budget and just need "good enough" performance

For most people building a new PC today, I strongly recommend going with DDR4. It‘s faster, enables higher capacities, and consumes less power than DDR3. All the latest CPUs and platforms are designed for DDR4. Yes, you‘ll pay more upfront, but the performance benefits are worth it. And you won‘t have to upgrade again as soon.

On the other hand, if you‘re working with an existing DDR3-based system, it probably makes sense to stick with DDR3 for upgrades. Stepping up to a higher capacity DDR3 kit will give you a nice performance boost for a fraction of the cost of moving to a whole new DDR4 platform. A machine with 16GB of DDR3 RAM will still handle most modern apps and multitasking needs admirably.

Looking Ahead to DDR5
Even as we compare DDR3 to DDR4, the next generation is already on the horizon. DDR5 SDRAM promises another huge leap in performance, with initial speeds up to 6400 MT/s, the ability to scale to capacities measured in terabytes, and even lower voltage than DDR4.

The new DDR5 standard was finalized in 2020 and the first consumer platforms supporting it could debut as early as 2023 from Intel and AMD. However, it will likely be a few years before DDR5 becomes the dominant memory technology in mainstream PCs. As with past generational shifts, expect a price premium for DDR5 initially before it fully replaces DDR4.

The Bottom Line
There you have it – everything you need to know about the differences between DDR3 and DDR4 memory! DDR4 is clearly the superior, more future-proof technology for new systems. But DDR3 remains a highly cost-effective option to breathe new life into an older machine on a budget.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to get enough RAM for your typical workload and understand what‘s possible with your platform. Getting the right memory kit is one of the best investments you can make in your PC‘s performance. If you found this comparison helpful, let me know in the comments. And keep an eye out for my upcoming guide to DDR5!