RAM is an essential component of any PC. Therefore, if you are looking to build a PC, choosing the right RAM modules can make a substantial difference in performance, speed, and responsiveness. With the announcement of the fifth generation of DDR RAM, it can be essential to look at the characteristic properties that differentiate it from the last age and whether you should be waiting to get on board or purchasing what is currently available. Here, we take an in-depth look at the DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM debate.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM--What is RAM?
RAM or Random-Access Memory is a high-speed, low-latency, volatile memory that functions as the short-term memory space for computers. In other words, whenever your computer is in use, this memory space stores the most critical data you need during usage. And this can include running programs, prefetch files, cached data, and more. The fast speeds go a long way to aid performance during use.
Besides, RAM does not retain its data once the system is powered off. For permanent storage, slower memory with more capacity, like the kind you would find in hard disk drives and SSDs, is the storage of choice.
Therefore, depending on your use case and the programs and games you are looking to run on your PC and the other hardware you have chosen, you would need to select RAM’s appropriate type and capacity to have a seamless user experience.
For instance, too little RAM can cause your usage to slow down considerably. Similarly, too much can put a dent in your budget. So, this is an area where you need to decide with insight.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM
DDR or Double Data Rate RAM has been the de facto standard for consumer computers for a long time. To date, four iterations of the measure have come into force. The most recent hardware available in the market uses the DDR4 standard. However, the DDR5 standard has already been finalized and is on its way to the market.
DDR4 RAM: What is DDR4?
The fourth generation of DDR memory made its appearance in the market with the Intel Haswell line of chips and the AMD Ryzen processor line. These are usually available in capacities of up to 16GB for consumer use and 64GB for server or workstation use. The RAM comes in 288-pin DIMMs for full-size desktops, while laptops would use the 260-pin SO-DIMM modules.
Typically, DDR4 RAM runs at the base speed of 2133 MHz, with most modules quickly going up to 3000 MHz using built-in XMP profiles. However, the market also has faster kits that can be overclocked up to 4000 MHz and beyond. The RAM runs with a standard voltage of 1.2V and can reach a maximum data speed of 3.2 GB/s.
The memory channel architecture specifies a single 72-bit channel per RAM stick.
DDR5 RAM: What is DDR5?
The relevant bodies have already finalized the next generation of DDR RAM, which soon comes to the market. As with all previous generational upgrades, this new standard of RAM will feature numerous incremental upgrades in the areas of speed, performance, power management and consumption, and bandwidth. The standards specify that the RAM will run at a voltage of 1.1V and feature a full 6.4 GB/s.
A change in memory channel architecture in this new standard implements two 40-bit data channels per RAM stick.
Comparison Table: DDR3 vs. DDR4 vs. DDR5 RAM
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM--DDR5 - A Detailed Look
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM-- Important Advantages
DDR5 RAM contains several advantages over the previous generation. Mostly, these improvements come in the areas of speed, performance, latency, and power management.
1. Memory Bandwidth and Data Rate
The first significant advantage is in the area of bandwidth. Many might view this as a marketing gimmick not indicative of performance. However, it can be a meaningful metric when you choose which RAM to buy next.
It is important to remember that both memory speed and size play an important role in deciding bandwidth. While a boost in speed can benefit you in some applications, others might require you to have more memory in your system rather than faster memory.
Use cases that merit high bandwidth can, therefore, benefit from an eventual switch to DDR5. The current generation of DDR4 memory maxes out at 3.2 GB/s, working at a clock rate of 1600 MHz DDR5 RAM; however, it is slated to arrive at a maximum speed of 4.8 GB/s, which would ultimately improve to 6.4 GB/s. This is double the top speed of the current generation and presents a compelling argument for its adoption.
DDR5 also means implementing new features like DFE or Decision Feedback Equalization to help achieve these higher speeds.
2. Memory Voltage
Another important consideration is the reduction of the operating voltage. While DDR4 has an operating voltage of 1.2V, DDR5 RAM would operate at 1.1V. That comes with another change— it would locate the power management IC on DDR5 memory on the memory stick itself, unlike the previous generation where the IC would reside as a part of the motherboard circuit. The power controlled on the DIMM can achieve a better granularity of power delivery for a more reliable and consistent operation.
3. Memory Channel Architecture
A significant advantage of DDR5 is bound to be the updated channel architecture. In DDR4 memory, a single DIMM would have a 72-bit memory bus with 64 bits dedicated to the data width. However, DDR5 RAM incorporates a dual-channel per DIMM architecture with two 40-bit memory buses. While the total data width is still 64 bits, memory access can happen faster and more efficiently with two independent memory channels. Instead of two output clocks per side in DDR4, DDR5 memory will have four output clocks. As a result, there is better signal integrity.
4. Burst Length or Prefetch
Burst length is an essential factor when it comes to speed and consistency of performance. DDR5 will double the previous generation’s burst lengths, incorporating a burst chop length of 8 and a total burst length of 16. This allows a single burst of data to access the perfect equivalent of the usual size of the CPU line cache. This can prove helpful for overall memory efficiency. The larger prefetch buffer would allow the RAM to operate in better sync with the CPU.
5. Die Density
RAM density limits determine how much RAM can fit on to a single module. DDR5 will feature higher memory densities of 64 GB on an available memory die. Compared with the maximum of 16 GB per die with DDR4, this represents the opportunity for manufacturers to pack in more memory per stick for consumer use. In essence, users with a requirement of higher memory capacities can benefit from adopting DDR5 RAM in the future.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM -- When is DDR5 Slated for Release?
The development timeline of DDR5 indicates that JEDEC was gearing for a 2018 release of the standard. However, with delays in developing the middle and the market having been caught up in a battle of the brands between AMD and Intel, development was slow. The standard was finally released in its complete form in July 2020.
While companies like SK Hynix and Rambus have already made strides in DDR5 development, there are a few things to consider regarding the mainstream release of DDR5. SK Hynix has already come up with running prototypes of DDR5 RAM chips that operate at several speed ratings. However, the market release of DDR5 RAM depends on many factors.
Using DDR5 RAM chips to create DDR5 DIMMs happens at the sole discretion of companies that sell RAM as a product. The demand for a particular generation of RAM in the market depends squarely on the currently available platforms that support it. For example, DDR4 is the current standard in both AMD and Intel platforms across consumer, workstation, and server workloads. There is currently no platform on the market that supports DDR5.
However, estimates can be made that consumer-grade DDR5 RAM would start making an appearance in the market in late 2021 or early 2022. This is in sync with Intel’s plans of supporting the DDR5 standard in its upcoming Sapphire Rapids microarchitecture and AMD’s plans to include support for DDR5 in the forthcoming Zen 4 line of CPUs.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM--DDR5 Availability and Pricing Details
With every new generation of DDR RAM, a particular trend is always observable. When a new generation of RAM enters the market, its pricing is at a premium. Over time, with adoption and an increase in the number of supported products and platforms, prices tend to come down. However, RAM costs usually remain relatively consistent once they reach an equilibrium point, and there are always premium options that remain expensive.
DDR4 memory can still cost a lot if you go for a quality kit that can reach high speeds and has added bling like beefy heat spreaders, attractive designs, and RGB integration. With a sizable performance improvement looking likely with the DDR5 standard, initial product offerings will probably not come cheap.
As both Intel and AMD start adopting this standard in their newer processors and motherboard chipsets, availability is likely to increase, and prices are reasonable to come down.
However, RAM chip shortages in the past have been known to cause price hikes. With a new standard and manufacturers scurrying to come out with their spins on it, RAM chip shortages might be a thing to expect.
A significant factor in this estimation is the renewed rise in the global popularity of AMD processors that started with their first-generation Ryzen lineup. Since then, AMD has steadily moved into a position of dominance in the CPU market and taken back a lot of market share from Intel’s previous market leader. Ryzen CPUs implement an “Infinity Fabric” architecture that is proven to benefit from faster RAM. With AMD processors steadily growing in performance and core counts, the demand for faster DDR5 RAM might increase rapidly in the future if they continue on their path of market dominance.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM --Which DDR Generation Should You Buy?
Performance should not be the only metric you consider while buying RAM. The current price and availability can also play a significant role in your decision-making. In the case of DDR3 and DDR4, early adoption was often hindered by the limited performance gains that would come with the switch. However, with successive new generations of hardware platforms being deployed with DDR4 support, adoption slowly increased until it became the market’s default standard.
However, this might not be the case when switching from DDR4 vs. DDR5 RAM. After the launch of consumer DDR5 modules, it might take some time to catch on as CPU and motherboard manufacturers develop enough model options to attract the consumer base. However, sizable performance gains can be an essential consideration for customers, especially those who can benefit from higher speeds and bandwidth.
If you are looking to purchase RAM right now, the only viable option is DDR4. While premium DDR4 kits can be expensive, they are currently the best way to achieve enhanced performance. In modern PC platforms, DDR4 is also the only choice unless you want to look at older hardware and explore the used market. Therefore, with a recent DDR3 or newer DDR4 platform, you can consider deferring an upgrade right now. It’s logical to do this so that you can directly take advantage of the benefits of the new, improved DDR5 standard.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM-- To Be Concluded
In conclusion, it is easy to discuss the pros and cons of a product that has already hit the market. However, in the case of DDR5, we are still quite a bit removed from the actual product hitting the shelf.
While it promises to be an exciting change for future platforms, it is wise to reserve judgment until real products hit the market. And independent reviews and benchmarks are available for analysis.
For now, it’s a salient idea to be alert and attentive to new developments. If you want to be an early adopter, this is the best strategy that can help you get your foot in the door immediately after release.