13 November, 2022
This year has seen some major advancements in PC technology, including the introduction of DDR5 RAM. This is the first major upgrade to RAM since DDR4 was introduced back in 2014. It also opens up a new question for PC builders and gamers: Is DDR5 RAM worth the investment for your gaming computer?
DDR4 RAM, which is what you will find in all gaming computers today, was first shipped in the second half of 2014. The earliest modules were available at just 1600MHz (DDR4-1600). DDR-3200 modules were eventually supported by standards. Since then, overclocked modules can reach 4000MHz and 4133MHz from the box.
DDR4 RAM has seen a tremendous improvement over its lifetime, and skilled overclockers have made the technology even more powerful. DDR5 however, is a huge leap in speed and bandwidth. Consumer-level DDR5 RAM sticks run at 4800MHz. There are 5200MHz and 6600MHz options available.
DDR5's faster speeds than DDR4 have been confirmed by reviewers. This has led to better performance in certain games and applications. Performance gains will be even more evident in 2022 and beyond, when manufacturers start selling DDR5 modules with lower latency.
DDR4's limits mean that the maximum memory you can purchase today, as a regular consumer at least, is 32GB. DDR5 has four times the capacity. A top-of-the line DDR5 gaming computer can support a staggering 64GB of RAM.
Gaming PCs do not require a lot of memory. Most video games don't use more that 16GB. There are many productivity and content creation applications that can benefit from more RAM. These include the Adobe suite, 3D render, machine learning tools and many others.
DDR4 RAM needs 1.2 volts to operate, but DDR5 RAM only requires 1.1 volts.
If you enjoy getting into the details, the key difference between DDR5 memory and DDR4 is the power delivery. The power management for DDR4 memory is handled by a motherboard on a modern PC. Instead, DDR5 RAM sticks have an integrated power management chip (PMIC) that acts as a regulator.
PMIC chips provide greater stability and efficiency. This is important as DDR5 speeds increase and latencies decrease in the future. However, PMIC chips can be expensive and are in limited supply. This is leading to global shortages.
Older DDR4 sticks use a single channel architecture that has a 72-bit bus. It includes 64 data bits as well as eight error correction codes (ECCs) bits. DDR5 uses two 40-bit bus channels. Each channel is divided into 32 data bits, and eight ECC bits.
The total data widths are the same but the architecture is more efficient if there are two channels. It is easy to see a highway with only one lane. Naturally, it can only accommodate so many cars. The flow and volume of traffic can be improved by adding a second lane.
This should translate into better gaming performance as well as greater data processing speed.
Data from the CPU to RAM is not transmitted at once. It is broken down into smaller bursts. The burst length refers to the amount of data transferred in each burst.
DDR4 RAM can only provide eight burst times, but DDR5 RAM doubles that to 16. The dual channel architecture and the improved burst length will further optimize efficiency.
The latest Intel Alder Lake CPUs and AMD's Zen 4 chips support DDR5 RAM. However, the Z690 motherboards also support DDR4 RAM. DDR5 RAM slots are not compatible with all motherboards. However, it is likely that motherboards that ship after 2022 will only be compatible with DDR5 memory. Some motherboards, such as the high-performance Gigabyte Z690 AORUS master, have dropped DDR4 support.
DDR5 is more efficient and faster than DDR4 with consistent higher benchmark scores at various resolutions. However, in real life things are not so easy.
While DDR5 can improve your performance, it's not cheap. You will also need a new motherboard, CPU and cooling system. You should also consider the lack of DDR5 chips as well as the compatibility issues with Alder Lake CPUs.
The best tech will be bought by early adopters who have the cash. Casual buyers will want to keep their current system until new hardware becomes more affordable and more common.