Choosing between DDR4 vs DDR5 memory is one of the biggest dilemmas when buying an Intel Alder Lake (LGA 1700) CPU.
These next-generation processors are the first to add support for DDR5 RAM, while maintaining compatibility with DDR4.
So, we must analyze if it is really worth the change to DDR5, or if it is better to stick with DDR4 memory. Let’s start!
DDR5, the Last Big change in Memories
We are already in the 5th version of the double data rate memories that have been in our equipment for decades.
With these new versions, better performance is pursued thanks to more speed, greater energy efficiency, and better capabilities for future CPUs.
As happened in the transition from DDR3 to DDR4, the evolution to DDR5 RAM is not going to happen all at once, instead DDR4 and DDR5 will coexist for a few years until all new CPUs only support the latest version.
The new memories have the following main characteristics:
- Better speeds: the minimum speed in DDR5 will be 4800MHz, compared to 2133MHz for DDR4. We will see modules up to 6400MHz, or even more.
- Greater efficiency: DDR5 runs at 1.1V, compared to DDR4’s 1.2V, allowing it to consume 20% less.
- ECC on the chip itself: the vast majority of DDR4 RAM memories were NON-ECC, and did not have this feature that provides greater reliability to the memories. Now DDR5 integrates it into the chip itself, and we can have this feature on any PC with DDR5.
- Design efficiency improvements that enable better performance when managing data.
At this stage of transition, deciding between DDR4 and DDR5 is going to be difficult. There is new a point may rise (in a few months or a couple of years) where the answer will be very clear, why we should buy DDR5 and why not.
An Argument in favor of DDR4 and DDR5
Before seeing the performance tests, we are going to comment on an argument in favor of continuing with DDR4 memories and another in favor of DDR5.
This will help you a lot to make a decision, since without a doubt they can tip the scales to one side or the other.
DDR4 is cheap and Easy to Find
The great advantage of DDR4 is its price and availability. While two 8GB 3600MHz modules can be worth between $60 and $80, a single 16GB DDR5 module at 4800MHz or 5200MHz can be worth around $150 or more. We are talking about a price of more than double.
Added to all this is the fact that the stock of DDR5 memories is lousy, if not non-existent. The supply problems of these memories are exaggerated.
For example, at the time of writing this article, PC Components is practically the only store that lists these memories, and they don’t have any in stock. On Amazon they appear with shipping in 1 to 2 months.
So, DDR4 is perhaps the only option for those who want to build an Alder Lake CPU and are in a hurry to have their PC, or a tight budget that does not include the exaggerated prices of DDR5.
DDR5 has more future
On the other hand, it must be recognized that installing DDR5 memories compared to DDR4 implies a better future for your PC.
We are in the process of transitioning from DDR4 to DDR5, and there will come a point where the latest CPUs will only support DDR5 memory.
Therefore, launching to buy a computer with DDR5 now can be a good decision if you are going to upgrade your CPU in the future and do not want to have to sell your DDR4 modules.
In addition, you can be the first to take advantage of games and applications better optimized for these memories.
However, this argument loses steam due to the fact that DDR5 modules are not 100% mature yet, and higher speed memories will gradually be released.
For example, the most common modules are 4800 or 5200 MHz right now, when we will see more than 6000MHz as the norm in the future.
DDR4 vs DDR5 Performance Comparison
Let’s now see what performance DDR4 and DDR5 show in our tests with the Intel Core i9-12900K and an RTX 3080 Ti graphics card.
We will compare DDR4 at 3600MHz and DDR5 at 5200MHz, and we will incorporate DDR4-2400 and DDR5-4800 for AIDA64 tests.
The ASUS TUF Gaming Z690 Plus Wifi D4 board has been used in DDR4 tests, and the ASUS Z690 Hero in DDR5 tests.
Synthetic tests and games
The synthetic tests leave us results in which DDR5 is somewhat higher, especially in Cinebench, but still without great differences.
We see how the potential of the i9-12900K can be exploited without problems using DDR4-3600 memories.
In the case of games, we see how at 1080p and 1440p there are some titles in which DDR5 manages to scratch the performance of DDR4, and others in which the opposite occurs.
In 4K, as expected, there are no differences (the graphics card is the limiting factor, not the CPU).
The truth is that the data in games is somewhat discouraging, but it must be borne in mind that the configuration with DDR5 should age better, and be used more in future games that make greater use of memory bandwidth.
Memory Performance in AIDA64
It would not make sense to make this comparison without analyzing the performance of the memories themselves. That is, what data transfer rate is achieved with Alder Lake, and what latencies do they give.
In terms of transfer rates, a clear advance is seen in DDR5. We see much higher read and write speeds being achieved on DDR5-4800 and DDR5-5200, versus DDR4-2400 (i.e. comparing the slower speeds of DDR5 to DDR4), and even versus DDR4-3600.
This gives DDR5 a bright future when faster modules become more widespread.
Let’s also remember that these tests are done under Alder Lake, future generations of CPUs could take even better advantage of the capabilities of DDR5 and offer better speeds.
Regarding latency, we clearly see that this is the point where DDR5 gives the most disappointing results, and it is precisely what takes away a good part of the advantage granted by the higher speeds.
With DDR5-4800 and DDR5-5200 levels similar to DDR4-2400 are achieved, hovering between 80 and 90ns, while DDR4-3600 manages to drop below 70ns.
As we have seen, the performance differences between DDR4-3200 RAM and DDR5-4800 or DDR5-5200 are very small. This means two things:
- Make the most of DDR5, somewhat higher speeds are needed, at least in current Alder Lake CPUs.
- We can mount our equipment with 12th generation CPUs using our current DDR4 memory, without fear of losing much performance.
So, in view of the results, who is DDR5 for and who is DDR4? Our answer does not change much from the analysis we did at the beginning of the article:
- DDR4 is for people who already have good speed modules from their old equipment, or for those who don’t have a big budget and want to save on RAM.
- DDR5 is ideal for those looking for a bet for the future in order to switch to a platform for future generations. Alder Lake will be one of the last CPU platforms to support DDR4. If you don’t have budget problems (and find stock), DDR5 is a good solution.
If we add to all this that there are quite a few Z690 boards compatible with DDR4, such as the TUF Z690 that we have tested.
We come to the final conclusion that this transition between DDR4 and DDR5 is going to be smoother and more gradual than expected.
As with the transition from DDR3 to DDR4, we are at a time when it is difficult to define what type of memory is worth the most. Now, it depends, and in the future, it is clear that DDR5 will dominate the market.
Zahid Khan Jadoon is an Interior Decorator, Designer and a specialized Chef and loves to write about home appliances and food. Right now he is running his interior designing business along with a managing a restaurant. Also in his spare time he loves to write about home and kitchen appliances.