What is DDR5? The PC’s next-gen memory, explained


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Major changes to the PC’s RAM subsystem typically occur once in blue moon, but mere years after DDR4’s delayed rollout, that time is upon us yet again.

With the imminent release of DDR5 support in Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs next month (and potentially AMD’s Zen 4 chips next year), we’ll soon be entering a junction where you’ll need to decide what memory is right for you—DDR4 or DDR5.

How fast is DDR5? What will I need to run what? What even is DDR5? By the end of this guide, you’ll know everything you need to make the right decision for you

What is DDR5?

DDR5 is the next evolution of PC main memory. This version is primarily focused on increasing the density and bandwidth of RAM while lowering its power consumption.

How much DDR5 RAM can I put in my PC?

With today’s DDR4 technology, the largest consumer modules top out at 32GB. DDR5 can quadruple that capacity. A typical mainstream PC with four DDR4 DIMM slots will max out at 128GB. A cutting-edge system built around four DDR5 DIMM slots can reach 512GB. And even higher-end systems with eight DDR5 DIMM slots should be able to reach a ludicrous 1TB of RAM. 

Do I really need 512GB of RAM in my PC?

No, most consumers and gamers don’t really need more than 16GB to 32GB of memory today. All PCs are personal though—hence the name—and for every 29 people who don’t need more than 16GB of RAM, there’s probably one person who does, and would be glad to have 512GB for some esoteric scientific, research, or extreme imaging reasons.

How much more memory bandwidth will DDR5 give me?

RAM manufacturer Micron said it’s seeing a 36 percent increase in bandwidth with a DDR5 module vs. a DDR4 module at the same data transfer rate of 3200 MT/s. A DDR5/4800 module Micron tested would offer an 87 percent increase in performance against a similar DDR4/3200 module.

corsir ddr5 Corsair

Corsair DDR5 RAM.

Does DDR5 lower latency?

Despite all these improvements, overall DDR5 memory latency is about the same as DDR4’s, according to Corsair officials. They’re indicating that single-access latency is about the same, with column access strobe latency being slightly worse. Corsair’s guidance so far is that overall latency of a “top-tier” DDR5 module will be about the same as a DDR4 module in the 14ns to 15ns range.

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