DDR4 vs. DDR5 RAM: What’s the difference?

PCs and their components are always improving in order to provide better performance. SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory), which provides for quick but temporary storage in your computer, is no exception, and Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM has evolved over the years. DDR4, which came after DDR3 and so on, was the most recent widespread variant of SDRAM until recently.

While Samsung appears to be working on DDR6 SDRAM, the DDR5 generation has only recently gained traction with the release of Intel’s 12th Gen Core “Alder Lake” desktop processors. These CPUs are currently the only mainstream chips that support DDR5 memory, but that is expected to change soon.

Let’s compare DDR5 RAM to earlier (but still relevant) DDR4 RAM, as well as where it’s compatible and whether it’s worthwhile to upgrade.

DDR4 and DDR5 RAM have significant variances.

SDRAM speed is usually expressed in data rate and clock rate, with a few key terms to help you understand the numbers. RAM data rate is measured in Megatransfers per second (MT/s), which is commonly used in official papers or when big manufacturers unveil new products. This measurement isn’t used nearly as often in commercial listings, and if you’ve ever looked for RAM, you’re probably used to seeing something like “DDR4-3200MHz” as the standard.

In this scenario, where does the “3200MHz” number come from? The MHz measurement has also become the de facto standard for data rate, which is why DDR4 RAM is commonly advertised with speeds ranging from 1,600MHz (MT/s) to 3,200MHz (MT/s). DDR4 clock rates typically range from 800MHz to 1,600MHz, which is why DDR stands for “double data rate.” Because the bus transfers on both ends of the clock cycle (up and down), the MT/s rate is essentially doubled. These rates can be pushed higher with overclocking, and the superb Corsair Vengeance LPX sells at 3,600MHz (MT/s).

DDR5 outperforms DDR4 in terms of data and clock rates. DDR5 transfer rates typically range from 4,800MHz (MT/s) to 8,400MHz (MT/s), with the latter number increasing as the technology advances. With a frequency rate range of 1,600MHz to 4,800MHz, DDR5 picks up where DDR4 left off.

Efficiency, capacity, and channels

Depending on the RAM’s capacity, each stick of RAM (also known as a DIMM) is made up of a number of individual integrated circuit modules (or dies). DDR4 has a maximum die density of 16GB, whereas DDR5 quadruples it to 64GB. DDR5 RAM sticks have significantly larger total capacity than DDR4 RAM sticks. DDR5 sticks with capacities more than 64GB will scale as our demand for memory grows.

While DDR4 and DDR5 have the same total data width, DDR5 channel architecture has changed. Each DIMM now has two channels instead of one, increasing efficiency by allowing the CPU to access the same stick of RAM several times at the same time. In comparison to DDR4, DDR5 has double the burst chop and burst length. This, combined with the dual-channel design of each DDR5 DIMM, boosts efficiency even more.

The motherboard is in charge of DDR4 RAM power management. With DDR5, however, the power management integrated circuit (PMIC) is embedded right into the RAM stick. This prevents power from being spent on DIMMs that don’t require as much power. Finally, DDR5 has a lower operating voltage than DDR4. Although the dip from 1.2V to 1.1V isn’t significant, it will be more noticeable in smaller devices.

Real-world DDR5 performance

On paper, DDR5 RAM offers several appealing benefits, but how does this translate in practice? RAM-master Rich Edmonds tested raw performance across a variety of benchmarks in our Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR5 and XPG Lancer DDR5 tests.

When these two DDR5 kits were pitted against G.SKILL Trident Z Neo DDR4-3600 RAM, the results were predictable. Except for a number of tests, performance was practically identical. Although transfer rates are outstanding, the higher latency (C38 for Corsair and XPG DDR5 kits) implies the difference between DDR4 and DDR5 isn’t significant. DDR5 technology is still in its infancy, and it has a long way to go before it reaches the level of maturity that DDR4 has attained.

Pricing, availability, and compatibility

Intel’s 12th Gen “Alder Lake” processors, including the Intel Core i5-12600K, Intel Core i7-12700K, Intel Core i9-12900K, and their KF counterparts, are currently compatible with DDR5 RAM. Although these CPUs are compatible with DDR4 RAM, motherboards will only support one type of RAM. Before purchasing a new motherboard, you must make a decision.

Because the CPU socket has changed, all 12th Generation Intel CPUs require a new motherboard. Our evaluation of the top motherboards for the Intel Core i5-12600K shows that prices for motherboards with DDR4 and DDR5 capability vary significantly.

Purchasing DDR5 RAM is nearly hard right now due to stock constraints. Even when it is accessible, DDR5 RAM is much more expensive. Our roundup of the finest RAM for 12th Gen Intel CPUs, which covers both DDR4 and DDR5 alternatives, highlights the price disparity once more.

If you have a higher budget and can find stock, investing in DDR5 RAM now makes sense. Many individuals enjoy being early adopters, and DDR5 has the ability to completely eclipse DDR4. If you’re on a budget but still have a 12th Generation Intel system, high-end DDR4 can clearly keep up with current DDR5 performance. If you don’t want to use DDR5 right now, our selection of the best DDR4 RAM can help you get what you need.

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