Best DDR4 RAM

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Best DDR4 RAM

Over the past year, desktop PCs have seen plenty of change. Systems have been shaken up by new processors, chipsets and sockets, and all of that has happened hand-in-hand with the arrival of DDR4 memory.

These upgraded chips look much the same as older DDR3 modules, but offer improved speed and capacity – both of which make them a tempting addition to a new system, or a worthwhile upgrade to an existing build.

There are numerous options for DDR4 out there, with different speeds, capacities and prices on offer. I’ve gathered nine kits from four manufacturers to find out which are worth buying.

Best DDR4 memory for gaming Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB 3,000MHz (CMD16GX4M2B3000C15)

Best budget DDR4 memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB 2,666MHz (CMK8GX4M2A2666C16)

Best high-end DDR4 memory – G.Skill TridentZ 16GB 3200MHz (F4-3200C16D-16GZTB)

Best mid-range DDR4 memory – Kingston HyperX Savage 8GB 3000MHz (HX430C15SBK2/8)

This Week's Best DDR4 Ram Deals

G.Skill Trident Z 16GB 3,200MHz (F4-3200C16D-16GTZB) at Amazon.co.uk | Was £115 | Now £105

Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB 2,666MHz (CMK8GX4M2A2666C16) | Was $75.99 | Now $51

DDR4 Memory Explained

There are several fundamental differences between new DDR4 memory and the DDR3 variant that’s been used for the past eight years.

The most obvious is speed. Older DDR3 modules usually run between 800MHz and 2,133MHz, but it's at this latter figure that DDR4 begins. There are already modules available at speeds beyond 3,000MHz, with market-leading kits clocking in at 3,866MHz. If the development of DDR3 is any indication, I expect that manufacturers will go even further by overclocking their memory.

DDR4 modules are also capable of offering far larger capacities than DDR3 modules – 512GB rather than 128GB – but, for the foreseeable future, this is an advantage that will remain theoretical for home users.

Best DDR4 RAM

DDR4 DIMMs have a distinctive bulge in the centre of the pins

The new modules provide a speed boost while also consuming less power. Older DDR3 modules required 1.5V of electricity to function, while DDR4 DIMMs need only 1.2V. This isn't a huge difference, but it’s enough to slightly reduce PC power consumption – and the more memory inside a PC, the larger that reduction will become.

On the whole it's good news, then, except for one department: latency. This refers to the speed at which read requests are answered by the memory. Older DDR3 chips answered calls in 13.75ns, which is referred to as CL11, but most DDR4 chips function at CL15 – which means a latency of 14.06ns. That’s a tiny difference that won’t be noticeable in the real world, especially as the increased speed of DDR4 should pick up the slack.

Processors, Chipsets and Motherboards – Using DDR4

There’s no doubt that DDR4 memory is far better than its predecessor, but these newer products work with a smaller range of compatible hardware.

At present, DDR4 works only with Intel’s Haswell-E and Skylake processors. The former chips are Extreme Edition parts that range in price between £311 and £815, and they’re really only suitable for high-end work tasks that demand six or eight cores. The Skylake range is far broader: chips with Pentium, Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 branding all use the Skylake architecture and support DDR4. That means it’s possible to buy DDR4-compatible Skylake chips that vary in price from £48 to £319.

The Haswell-E and Skylake processors that work with DDR4 also bring different chipsets to the fore. The X99 silicon that works with Haswell-E processors was the first commercial chipset to support DDR4, and it can handle the new memory chips in dual- or quad-channel modes. As a result, PCs can use two or four sticks of memory at once.

It’s a little different with Skylake and its Z170 chipset. That part supports only dual-channel DDR4, and any build will be restricted to sticks of memory that operate in pairs. So, a system can have four sticks of memory but they’ll work in sets of two, rather than in a single rack of four.

On paper, both Haswell-E and Skylake chipsets support DDR4 that runs at 2,133MHz, but motherboard manufacturers muddy those waters by engineering their boards to run DDR4 at higher speeds – which is why every kit I’ve tested in this group runs at 2,400MHz or higher.

Aside from that, however, it’s business as usual when it comes to buying a motherboard to work with DDR4 memory. As long as it’s a Haswell-E or Skylake-compatible board then DDR4 will work.

Best DDR4 RAM

Memory technology over the years

In addition, fitting sticks of memory is as easy as it’s ever been: simply open the plastic gates at the end of the DIMM slot and push in the DDR4 until it clicks into place. Just make sure that the indentation on the stick of memory lines up with the raised area on the motherboard slot.

It shouldn’t take too much work to get DDR4 working at the correct speed. Some motherboards play it safe by defaulting to a lower speed. To check that memory is running correctly, head into the BIOS – memory speeds should be displayed on the front page. If it’s incorrect, open the Advanced menu and head towards the tweaking section. There will likely be an option for DRAM frequency; set this to the DDR4’s rated speed, save the changes and reboot.

The situation isn’t as good for AMD-based users. The firm’s current FX CPUs use the Vishera architecture, and its APUs use Kaveri, but neither of those support DDR4 – they’re both stuck with DDR3.

The only way to use DDR4 on AMD right now is to use obscure embedded chips, because they’re the only parts to deploy the more modern Excavator architecture. The best bet for consumers on AMD is to wait for its Zen architecture, which is scheduled for release in October 2016 across a wide range of consumer desktop and laptop components.

How We Test DDR4 Memory

I’ve run these memory kits through a variety of tests to determine which DDR4 modules perform the best in a variety of situations.

Cinebench R15 and Geekbench 3 test the single- and multi-core performance of the test rig. Applications such as the Dolphin Emulator and wPrime further evaluate pure CPU performance – and the impact that different memory has on a machine. HandBrake is used to test video encoding, and Mozilla Kraken is a browser-based JavaScript benchmark.

I’ve also deployed a set of memory-specific benchmarks to find out which DDR4 offers the best pure performance. SiSoft Sandra is packed with tests to evaluate bandwidth, latency and cache speed, and AIDA64 runs through read, write and copy speeds.

The final tests evaluate games performance. I’ve tested with Battlefield 4 and BioShock Infinite using both discrete and integrated graphics to discover which memory modules are the best partners for high-end gaming.

The test machine uses a Core i5-6600K processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics card and a Samsung 850 Pro SSD.

All the prices stated here are accurate at the time of writing.

Test Results

Best DDR4 RAM

MattMe

March 17, 2016, 12:50 pm

This new round-up format is very difficult to extract information and compare products. Not sure if it's in an attempt to force readers to look at every page, but a summary or verdict page would be most useful. Also when you have charts uploaded that cannot be expanded it defeats the purpose - they're so low resolution it's impossible to read the text.

Really I tried to go through as much of this as possible but the way 8GB performance has been compared to 16GB performance (as one example) makes the whole thing a waste of time.

MattMe

March 17, 2016, 1:03 pm

Also, for anyone else reading, it appears that if you have the same amount of RAM in your system, the difference between budget and very expensive memory is probably not going to be noticeable real-world at this point. Maybe as latency lowers and clock speeds increase, but don't waste your money on it yet.

From another site:
"what's shown is that overclocked DDR4-3200 (which currently commands a huge premium) is no faster than DDR3-2133, which doesn't...

...the implication is that you'll need DDR4-4266 to even see an improvement -- and since DDR4-4266 may not come to desktops at all if HBM or HMC are ready first, it further implies that buying into high-end RAM is merely purchasing expensive snake oil unless you're absolutely certain you use applications that rely on it."

JanxSpirit

June 8, 2016, 12:17 am

It's certainly not "snake oil" by any stretch of the imagination.

Any application that relies heavily on memory throughput sees the full benefit of the extra bandwidth offered by DDR4-3000 and above. Plenty of reviews have already shown this time and time again.

Here's just one example showing minimum framerates in games receiving a very healthy boost from faster DDR4... https://youtu.be/YUTPgWYTqyk?t...

When an 8GB (2x 4GB) kit of HyperX Savage DDR4-3000 can be had for as little as £40 now, it makes little sense to buy anything slower for a new build where an extra couple of quid is an insignificant drop in the ocean compared to the cost of an entire PC.

MattMe

June 8, 2016, 11:08 am

My comment was made over 3 months ago, and yes prices have changed (as expected) and now DDR4 sits closer to DDR3. Yes, logically, if there's a few quid difference get the more modern, faster tech. I still wouldn't go spaffing loads of cash on faster RAM right now. I flicked through that video and perhaps I'm wrong but I'm not really confident of their benchmarking technique. Even still, it's only a few fps.
Either way there are plenty of reviews showing the opposite. That says to me it's not that cut-and-dry.
Personally if I were building a new machine I'd probably go for cheap DDR4 over DDR3 based on current prices, but I wouldn't be paying for EXTREME versions.

JanxSpirit

June 14, 2016, 3:30 pm

I couldn't agree more on avoiding the extreme versions. We've gone way, way beyond the point of DDR3/DDR4 price parity though for performance RAM.

DDR4-3000 at £5 per GB beats DDR3-2800 at £15 per GB for raw bandwidth, so DDR4 is now one-third the price/performance ratio at the kind of bandwidth you need to keep a fast i5 or i7 almost free from RAM bottlenecking.

Moscato

July 26, 2016, 1:51 pm

I'm seeing ddr4 3k at a 25℅ premium over the 2133 stuff

I'd avoid the high end kits but 3k isn't expensive

MattMe

July 26, 2016, 2:31 pm

It's now 5 months since my original comment, and yes, as expected the prices differences are continuing to shrink.
If you're buying 4GB or even 8GB modules the 25% premium is probably small enough to warrant going for the slightly faster RAM.

But still, realistically you'll notice 0% performance improvement between the two. Power consumption may be a consideration, but for most people with desktop PCs I'd doubt it.

Until the real 4k+ DDR4 comes along:
Snake oil ;)

vor24

August 18, 2016, 7:06 pm

i'm confused because I thought clock speed and latency where what determined performance. I couldn't see the results chart but does it show that at the same clock speed a module with HIGHER latency is outperforming some with LOWER CL/CAS ?

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