DDR4 has powered millions of computers in the past decade and continues to have a good run. However, there’s a new kid on the block: DDR5. AMD has switched to DDR5 for its new 7000 series processors, and Intel also supports DDR5 memory for its 12th- and 13th-Gen processors (read 13th-Gen Intel Core i9-13900K review). Undoubtedly, DDR5 is more forward-looking, but is it comprehensively better than its predecessor? Let’s have a DDR4 vs DDR5 match to find out whether you should upgrade or not.
DDR4 vs. DDR5 RAM: All You Need to Know
The newer DDR5 standard brings a few upgrades over DDR4 memory, both design and performance-wise, and is now readily available in most markets. Is it worth upgrading or should you stick with DDR4 for a little longer? Let’s find out!
What is DDR5?
DDR5 is the 5th generation of SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory). It brings several new features, including Decision Feedback Equalization (DFE), which enables I/O speed scalability for higher bandwidth and improved performance. DDR5 RAM also offers increased memory capacities, higher speeds, and reduced power consumption across the board — something gamers, creators, and professionals will appreciate.
DDR4 vs DDR5
Let’s explore the differences between the two memory standards.
Features DDR4 DDR5 Benefit of DDR5 Speed 1.6-3.2Gbps data rate
800Mhz-1600Mhz clock rate
4.8-6.4Gbps data rate
1600-3200Mhz clock rate
Higher bandwidth I/O Voltage 1.2V 1.1V Better power efficiency Power Management Motherboard On-DIMM PMIC Better power efficiency & scalability Channel Architecture Single 64-bit channel (72-bit for ECC) per DIMM Two 32-bit channels (40-bit with ECC) per DIMM Higher memory efficiency, better performance on single DIMM Burst Length BC 4, BL 8 BC 8, BL 16 Higher memory efficiency Maximum DIMM Capacity 64GB 512GB Higher capacity DIMMs
As per the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council, or JEDEC, DDR4 modules have data rates ranging from 1600—3200 MT/s. The DDR5 standard, on the other hand, has specified data rates ranging from 3200—6400 MT/s. However, DDR5 3200 MT/s are uncommon, and you’ll see DDR5 4800 MT/s as the base spec everywhere.
Clock frequencies have also taken a step forward, going from 800—1600 MHz in DDR4 to 1600—3200 MHz in DDR5.
Another significant change with DDR5 is the power architecture. DDR5 modules feature an onboard PMIC or Power Management Integrated Circuit (12V PMIC on server-grade DRAM DIMMs and 5V PMIC on consumer-grade DRAM DIMMs). For older generations of DRAM, the motherboard was responsible for power management.
Moving the power management function to the DIMMs helps improve signal integrity and reduce signal noise. Plus, motherboard manufacturers now have one less thing to worry about.
DDR5 also uses less power than DDR4 (1.1 volts vs. 1.2 volts). While the difference — 0.1 volts — is not very significant, DDR5 delivers better performance (almost 2x, in some cases) at a lower power draw, which is impressive.
ECC stands for Error-Correcting Code. It helps prevent data loss or corruption, which makes it a vital feature for servers and workstations. While ECC was an optional feature in the DDR4 standard, all DDR5 DIMMs have an onboard ECC.
The older DDR4 standard maxed out at 64 GB per module (or DIMM). DDR5 doesn’t share the same limitation. Theoretically, a single DDR5 module can have a maximum memory capacity of 512 GB. However, most CPUs don’t support more than 128 GB of DRAM, but that might change soon as chip manufacturers are trying to take advantage of the total bandwidth and capacity of the DDR5 standard.
New Channel Architecture
DDR4 modules feature a single 64-bit channel (72-bit for modules with ECC). Thus, you need to install two separate RAM DIMMS in the appropriate slots on the motherboard to get a dual-channel configuration. Such a pain, right?
The new DDR5 standard has your back! DDR5 modules sport two independent 32-bit channels — meaning that a single stick of DDR5 RAM is already configured to run in dual-channel mode. Installing two DDR5 DIMMs into your PC will give you a quad-channel config.
For the first time, the PC overlords shalt not shame thou for having one RAM DIMM installed unto thine motherboard.
RAM is a temporary memory bank for your CPU where data is stored for quick, short-term access. The higher the speed and lower the CAS (Column Address Signal) latency of your RAM modules, the quicker your CPU can access data stored in the RAM.
DDR4 takes the lead here, offering lower latency than its successor. The most common DDR5 modules on the market sport 4800 MT/s with CL40 CAS latency. While those speeds are faster than what regular DDR4 DIMMs offer, the higher latency means it takes longer for the RAM to deliver data to the CPU for processing, thus making them slower overall.
For instance, a DDR5-4800 CL40 module has a latency of 16.66 nanoseconds. A DDR4-3000 CL20 module, on the other hand, offers a latency of 13.33 nanoseconds, which is faster.
However, you can find G.Skill Ripjaws S5 DDR5-5600 CL28 RAM with a total latency of 10 nanoseconds. While that’s better (and much faster) than other DDR5 options, it’s also super expensive. DDR4-3200 CL14 options will still give you lower latency at 8.75 nanoseconds.
DDR5 is relatively new, and modules with lower latencies may hit the market soon. For now, DDR4 wins the latency round.
Another change in the DDR5 standard is burst length. The burst chop and burst length in DDR4 are four and eight, respectively. In DDR5, they have been doubled to eight and sixteen, respectively. This allows a single burst to access up to 64 Bytes of data, offering considerable performance gains in concurrency (single channel) and memory efficiency (dual channel).
Alas, a new memory standard calls for new hardware. DDR5 modules will not be compatible with older motherboards and processors, including AMD’s 5000 series CPUs and Intel’s 11th-gen Core processors. If you have hardware newer than that, you’re in luck!
AMD switched to DDR5 with their new Ryzen 7000 series processors, leaving the older DDR4 standard behind once and for all. Intel takes a slightly different approach — its 12th-gen and 13th-gen chips support DDR4 and DDR5 memory. However, since DDR4 and DDR5 don’t share the same pinouts, you cannot put DDR5 RAM into a DDR4 motherboard. If you have a 12th or 13th-gen Intel processor and want to switch to DDR5 RAM, you will need to upgrade to a DDR5 motherboard.
What is LPDDR5?
Not to be confused with DDR5, LPDDR5, or low-power DDR5, is the fifth generation of Low Power Double Data Rate technology introduced in early 2019. While standard SDRAM is used in desktop computers, LPDDR5 is used in mobile devices since it offers higher power efficiency. It also has specialized use cases in cloud computing, autonomous cars, AR systems, and more. LPDDR5 succeeds LPDDR4x and consumes up to 30% less power than its predecessor while improving data transfer speed by up to 50%. Notable devices with LPDDR5 memory include the Poco F4 5G, Asus ROG Phone 6, Galaxy S21-series, Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G, Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro, OnePlus 8 Pro, and more.
There’s no shortage of DDR5 modules in the market, and they’re competitively priced, too! You can find 8GB modules of DDR5-4800 CL40 memory at or around $30. However, they’re still more expensive than their DDR4 counterparts. We expect the pricing to drop further as the adoption rate increases.
DDR4 vs DDR5: Is it Worth the Upgrade?
DDR5 RAM offers significantly faster speeds and higher bandwidth than DDR4. However, the latency is also higher. While you may notice a jump in performance in some productivity tasks such as rendering and video encoding, the difference is modest at best. DDR5 does not outperform the older DDR4 standard by a landslide. In gaming, the difference is even less.
DDR5 is undoubtedly more forward-looking. So, if you’re building a PC right now, going the DDR5 route gives you a better upgrade path for the future. However, it will cost you a pretty penny. Lower-priced DDR4 memory with higher speeds and low CAS latencies offer better performance per dollar. Thus, if you’re building a gaming PC and want the most value out of your rig, DDR4 might be a better investment.