DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: What’s different and which one should you buy?

DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: What’s different and which one should you buy?

The new 12th-gen Intel Core processors and AMD’s Ryzen 6000 series mobile CPUs have both arrived on the market with support for DDR5 memory modules. The upcoming AMD 7000 series desktop processors will also support DDR5 RAM, which means we’re about to see a whole lot of DDR5 memory in the coming months. DDR5 standard enters the market bearing a lot of improvements. Some of them are more significant than others but they all echo the idea of opening doors to better performance. But just how much of an improvement are we talking about? What’s new in DDR5 vs DDR4 that warrants an immediate upgrade plan, if at all.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM comparison to tell you everything you need to know. We’ll check out the specifications to highlight some of the key differences and try to understand the performance difference to see which one’s better to consider for your next gaming PC build.

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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

G.Skill Trident Z5 RGB DDR5 RAM kits with a black-colored heatsink on a table next to a CPU water block and a screwdriver

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 i9-12900K, for instance, has 16 cores in total. Even the relatively low-powered mainstream parts like the Core i5-12400 have six cores. The mainstream PC market is only going to get better CPUs with a higher core count in the future, so this is one of the most important things to consider.

The JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) specifies DDR4 data rates spanning from DDR4-1600 to DDR4-3200. For DDR5, it’s specified as DDR5-3200 to DDR5-6400. That being said, 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.

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.

Operating Voltage

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. There’s also the new Intel’s Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 3.0 that supports up to five XMP profiles, with two custom profiles saved directly on the SPD.

RAM modules shown on a Gigabyte Aorus Pro Z690 motherboard

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):

FeaturesDDR4 RAMDDR5 RAM
Memory Speed1600MHz – 3200Mhz4800Mhz – 8400Mhz
Die Density16Gb SDP -> 64GB DIMMs64Gb SDP -> 256GB DIMMs
Voltage1.2V1.1V
Power ManagementOn motherboardOn 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 the Kingston Fury Beast DDR5 memory alongside an Intel Core i9-12900K. For the DDR5 test, our motherboard of choice will be the Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Pro DDR5 compatible platform. 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 test of the hardware the same.

Intel’s new Alder Lake-S desktop CPUs are the first consumer-grade processors to arrive on the market with support for DDR5 memory. AMD has also announced DDR5 support with its new Ryzen 6000 series mobile CPUs and the upcoming Ryzen 7000 series desktop chips, but they’re not yet available on the market. It’s safe to say that Intel has beat AMD to this one. So for this test, we paired an Intel Core i9-12900K processor with a Kingston Fury Beast DDR5-4800 32GB memory kit. It’s a dual-channel kit with two 16GB DDR5 modules with an integrated heat-spreader.

An XPG RAM module with a red-colored heat spreader being installed on a motherboard

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 XMP 3.0 will boost the Fury Beast up to DDR5-6000 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:

BenchmarkKingston Fury Beast
32GB(2X16) DDR5-5200 C40
ADATA XPG GAMMIX D30
32GB(2X16) DDR4-3600 C18
PCMark 10
(Higher is better)
12,14511,628
Cinebench R23 – Multi
(Higher is better)
27,08627,140
Blender – BMW
(Lower is better)
8788
Corona 1.3 – RT
(Lower is better)
5454
Handbrake x264, .mkv to .mp4
(Lower is better)
123131
Handbrake x265, .mkv to .mp4
(Lower is better)
283291

The benchmark numbers, as you can see, revert some unsurprising results. As far as the baseline numbers are concerned, the DDR5-4800 C38 obviously performed better than the DDR4-2666 C18. This performance delta decreases as you bump the DDR4 module’s memory speeds up to, say, DDR4-3600 as shown in the table above. Going up to DDR4-4000 C16 against DDR5-4800 resulted in a very minimal performance difference.

While the transfer speeds of the new DDR5 memory modules are excellent, we think there’s still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the memory timings 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

DDR5 memory, as we’ve mentioned plenty of times in this article, is only compatible with the 12th-gen Intel Core processors on the market right now. This includes the three unlocked parts — 12600K, 12700K, and 12900K — but even the other mainstream CPUs in the lineup support DDR5. DDR5 compatible AMD CPUs are not available on the market yet, but they’ve been announced and are coming sooner than you think.

The aforementioned Intel chips are also compatible with DDR4 memory modules, which is why we were able to test both standards with the same CPUs. However, you’ll need a separate DDR4 compatible motherboard for it. This is because all the Intel 600 series chipset motherboards including the Z690, H670, B660, and H610 either support DDR5 memory or DDR4, not both. You’ll have to decide which standard to stick to for the foreseeable future before buying one of these LGA 1700 motherboards for your Alder Lake-based PC build. As for the Ryzen 7000 series chips, well, it remains to be seen how AMD’s supported chipsets will handle memory compatibility, so we’ll have more to talk about that closer to the 7000 series launch.

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? Well, the answer to that question, at least at the time of writing this in early 2022, depends on your budget for the PC build and how easy it is for you to source DDR5 RAM kits.

    Kingston Fury Beast DDR5 RAM
    The Kingston Fury Beast DDR5 is one of the DDR5 RAM kits that went on sale. This particular module supports speeds of up to 6000MHz.

Since the 12th-gen Intel Alder Lake motherboards only support one memory standard, ditching DDR4 memories for DDR5 only makes sense if you have the budget for it. 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 paying big money as the platform entry-cost with DDR5. Not to mention, it’s also not particularly easy to find DDR5 memory modules in stock.

    XPG Gammix D30 DDR4 RAM
    The XPG Gammix D30 DDR4 RAM modules are available in a couple of different flavors. The memory speeds vary from 2666Mhz to 3600MHz.

So if you’re looking at a tight budget for a 12th-gen 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. This is subject to change in the future depending on the DDR5 stock availability, subsequent change in prices, and the arrival of more mature kits with tighter timings. We’ll definitely revisit this comparison at a later time to see how things have changed. In the meantime, we think there are other components to spend more money on including the best M.2 SSDs, best CPU coolers, best PC cases, and more.

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 products recommendations, and more.

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.