Now that Intel and AMD's latest CPUs both support DDR5, a new era in memory has begun. However, that doesn't mean DDR4 is all in the past. Intel's 12th- and 13th-generation CPUs support DDR4, as do AMD's more affordable Ryzen 5000 CPUs, which are a popular choice for anyone on a budget that's looking for good value.
Deciding between DDR4 and DDR5 memory could be one of the most important choices you'll have to make as long as both standards remain viable options. It's not just a question of value and performance, but also determines the kinds of motherboards and CPUs you can use.
DDR4 vs DDR5: What's different
The DDR5 RAM modules are physically identical to the existing DDR4 sticks. That's not necessarily a surprise, though. Unlike the DDR3 to DDR4 transition, the new DDR5 doesn't have a new or additional number of pins than the predecessor. It retains the arrangement of 288 pins but the pinouts are slightly different. The real difference, however, resides at an architectural design level. While the DDR4 modules have a single 64-bit channel, DDR5 DIMMs come with two independent 32-bit channels. The burst length has also been doubled from 8 bytes to 16 bytes. Let's take a detailed look at some of the key differences now:
Bandwidth & capacity
One of the biggest advantages of DDR5 memory modules is that they bring a higher level of bandwidth. This is more important now than ever as we continue to get new processors with a lot of cores. The Intel Core i9-13900K, for instance, has 24 cores in total. Even the relatively low-powered mainstream parts like the Core i5-13400 have ten cores. The mainstream PC market is only going to get better CPUs with higher core counts in the future, so increasing bandwidth is a necessity.
The JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) specifies DDR4 data rates (or frequencies) spanning from DDR4-1600 to DDR4-3200, though there are a number of kits that are rated for even higher speeds. For DDR5, it's specified as DDR5-3200 to DDR5-6400, but it's safe to say that you'll see DDR5-4800 serving as the baseline while the latter number keeps increasing as the standard matures over time. DDR5's higher frequency is what gives it superior bandwidth to DDR4.
Another thing that the DDR5 standard brings to the table is denser memory modules for high capacity. While the DDR4 modules topped out at 16Gb memory chips, DDR5 quadruples that number to use up to 64Gb memory chips. In theory, we can have as much as 128GB of memory per module, which is significantly more than what any DDR4 memory stick has to offer. There's still some time before we start seeing 128GB capacity DDR5 modules, but we already have 64GB kits with 2x32GB sticks on the market, as well as new 2x24GB kits
Power efficiency is also one of the major talking points of DDR5 memory modules. On the surface, DDR5 memory modules have an operating voltage of 1.1V, down from DDR4's 1.2V. This is bound to be different for each kit as they're overclocked or have higher binned memory with tighter timings. We've seen DDR4 modules scale up to 1.6V, and it's safe to say that DDR5 will further increase to hit higher values. We already have DDR5 modules on the market that go as far as 1.35V for DDR5-6800. As faster memory speeds take priority, DDR5's operating voltage will also climb alongside to hit new highs.
It's also worth pointing out that motherboards are not responsible for voltage regulation for DDR5 modules. These new modules have power management IC (PMIC) — 5V for mainstream modules and 12V for server-grade DIMMs. PMIC, in case you don't know, uses 5V input from the motherboard and converts it to usable volts. The PMIC has a lot of advantages including improved voltage regulation, strong signals, and low noise. It's definitely a good change, but it makes the RAM modules expensive and is currently one of the main reasons behind the DDR5 supply being short.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: Specifications
Now have we've covered some of the major differences between the standards of memory, let's take a look at the key differences to summarize the transition from DDR4 to DDR5 (baseline specs):
1600MHz - 3200Mhz
4800Mhz - 6400Mhz
16Gb SDP -> 64GB DIMMs
64Gb SDP -> 256GB DIMMs
On DIMM PMIC
With that out of the way now, it's time to compare modules from each standard to see exactly how these changes reflect in real-world usage.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: Performance
For this particular comparison, we'll be using Kingston's Fury Beast DDR5 memory alongside an Intel Core i9-12900K. Intel's Alder Lake-S desktop CPUs were the first consumer-grade processors to arrive on the market with support for DDR5 memory, but they also support DDR4 memory, which means a direct comparison of DDR4 and DDR5 is possible.
Our motherboard of choice for this test will be the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Pro DDR5 motherboard. You can also grab a version of this motherboard that's compatible with DDR4 kits, which is what we used for this particular comparison while keeping the rest of the hardware the same. By default, the Kingston Fury Beast DDR5 memory modules operate at DDR4-4800 at 1.1V. It runs at JEDEC specified timings of 38-38-38. However, a quick visit to the Intel XMP 3.0 will boost the Fury Beast up to DDR5-5200 with CL40 and 1.35V.
It goes without saying that both DDR4 and DDR5 modules must be operating in a similar system configuration. We compared the 32GB (2X16GB) DDR5 memory with an equivalent 32GB (2X16GB) DDR4 kit on a similar test bench. The lack of DDR5 modules on the market has limited the number of modules we could use for this test, but we'll try to add benchmark numbers of more modules to this comparison as we get our hands on other kits.
Here's a quick look at some of the benchmarks that we were able to run for this particular test:
Kingston Fury Beast 32GB(2X16) DDR5-5200 CL40
ADATA XPG GAMMIX D30 32GB(2X16) DDR4-3600 CL18
PCMark 10 (Higher is better)
Cinebench R23 - Multi (Higher is better)
Blender - BMW (Lower is better)
Corona 1.3 - RT (Lower is better)
Handbrake x264, .mkv to .mp4 (Lower is better)
Handbrake x265, .mkv to .mp4 (Lower is better)
The benchmark numbers reveal some unsurprising results. The performance differences between these two memory kits range from negligible to slight. After all, these are CPU benchmarks that really more on the raw horsepower of the CPU cores, which makes other factors like memory relatively unimportant. In games, however, the better performance from DDR5 is much more apparent since the CPU takes on a different role.
While the transfer speeds of the new DDR5 memory modules are excellent, there's still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to price, frequency, and latency. DDR5 is still in its infancy, though. We'd give it more time to mature and dominate the DDR4 modules on the market.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: Compatibility
Compatibility is probably the most crucial difference between DDR4 and DDR5. DDR4 has surprisingly good compatibility thanks to Intel continuing to support it with 12th- and 13th-generation CPUs; it's also compatible with older Ryzen 5000 CPUs, many of which are still in demand today. Intel's 12th- and 13th-generation, plus AMD Ryzen 7000 are the only desktop CPUs that currently support DDR5, and Ryzen 7000 is the only one that absolutely requires it.
One important thing to note is that although 12th- and 13th-generation CPUs support both DDR4 and DDR5, LGA 1700 motherboards can only support one or the other. This is because DDR4 and DDR5 are physically and electronically different, and it's impossible (or at least extremely challenging) for a motherboard to support both at the same time. The motherboard determines the kind of memory that is compatible, which is important to double-check if you're building a new PC.
DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: Which one should you buy?
We've seen the major differences between DDR4 and DDR5 memory modules along with some benchmark numbers, showing some real-world performance tests. Now for the most important question — which one should you buy for your next PC build? The answer to that question depends on your budget for the PC build, what kind of CPU you want, and what you're going to be doing on your PC.
Corsair Vengeance RGB DDR5
Corsair's Vengeance Pro RGB DDR5 memory kit offers some of the highest frequencies and lowest latencies of any DDR5 kit, and features a stylish strip of RGB lighting.
Since LGA 1700 motherboards only support one memory standard, ditching DDR4 for DDR5 only makes sense if you have the budget for it and actually need the extra performance. Our collection of the best DDR4 RAM and the best DDR5 RAM kits will tell you that there's a significant difference in price. Add that to the overall build, you'll end up paying big money as the platform entry cost for DDR5. Not to mention, it's also not particularly easy to find DDR5 memory modules in stock.
Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 RAM
Corsair's Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory is affordable, reliable, has one of the lowest profile designs around, and XMP has a one-click setup. There are two different versions: one optimized for AMD and another optimized for Intel.
So if you're looking at a tight budget for a 12th- or 13th-generation Intel build, then we recommend picking up a decent DDR4 memory kit with relatively high speeds. It can definitely keep up with the current crop of DDR5 modules on the market. However, if you're assembling a higher-end build for high-framerate gaming, the extra price for DDR5 is probably worth it and can help get the framerate a little higher.
DDR4 also has a strong argument because it's compatible with older Ryzen 5000 chips, which means you're not just saving money on the memory but also the CPU and motherboard. It's pretty expensive to build a Ryzen 7000 PC, and DDR5 RAM being a required component is one of the primary reasons. That being said, Ryzen 7000 is really fast, and the extra price for DDR5 isn't that bad on the higher-end models.
Generally speaking, DDR5 is going to be worth it to the kind of user that primarily games at a high framerate and has a big budget. For everyone else, DDR4 is perfectly fine or even desirable since it's much cheaper. Of course, choosing DDR4 or DDR5 will come down to what motherboard you choose, since a motherboard either only has one or the other.
If you have any further questions regarding the DDR4 vs DDR5 comparison, then be sure to let us know by dropping a comment down below. As always, you can also join our XDA Computing Forums to interact with other experts in the community to discuss your build, get product recommendations, and more.