DDR4 vs. DDR5: The Finest Reminiscence for PC Gaming

A few weeks ago we tested Intel's new Alder Lake architecture for the first time and thus got our first chance to play around with DDR5 memory. In our Core i9-12900K review, we tested both DDR4 and DDR5 memory in a number of applications and games and found that the faster, more expensive memory usually offers little additional performance, which was especially true for gamers.

Some titles showed nice increases in performance, but overall performance was pretty much the same, so we recommend future 12th generation owners to ignore DDR5 for the time being and stick with the tried and tested DDR4. When we published this review, which was before Alder Lake was released, we had to see what DDR5 pricing and availability looked like and we had to comment on it based on feedback we received from vendors and manufacturers.

They all told us that DDR5 availability would be poor and prices extreme, and they were right …

At this point in time, most PC dealers do not have DDR5 memory in stock. The cheapest 32GB kit we can find is the Kingston Fury Beats DDR5-5200 CL40 memory for $ 560, which is pretty ordinary memory for the price. Over at Newegg, for example, they have ADATA DDR5-4800 16GB CL40 sticks for $ 330 per module. Meanwhile, the cheapest memory is a Corsair Vengeance DDR5-4800 CL40 32GB kit for $ 310. The DDR5-6000 CL36 memory we used to test in our 12900K review (and will be using again today) costs $ 470 for a 32GB kit.

Given the price alone (and the fact that availability is next to nonexistent), DDR5 makes little sense to most.

But DDR5 supply is expected to improve over the next year, as is prices, so we wanted to take a closer look at what DDR5 gamers can do if they were to use an Alder Lake CPU with the new memory technology occupy.

We compared 41 games with 1080p, 1440p and 4K with the Radeon RX 6900 XT. We use a G.Skill Trident Z Neo 3600 CL14 kit to test DDR4 memory and the Trident Z5 RGB 6000 CL36 kit for DDR5 memory. The DDR4 memory was tested on the MSI Z690 Tomahawk Wi-Fi DDR4 and the DDR5 memory on the MSI Z690 Unify.

We've tested a huge amount of games, but we're not going to go through each title individually. We picked about a dozen games and then we look at a full breakdown looking at the margins across all of the titles we tested.

Benchmarks

Starting with Assassin's Creed Valhalla, we see a 13 to 15% performance improvement with newer DDR5 memory, increasing the average frame rate from 121 fps at 1080p to 137 fps. But even more impressive was the 17% increase in performance at 1440p when you look at the 1% lows with a 12% increase in average frame rate.

As expected, the margins close at 4K, where the GPU becomes the main limiting factor, but still I was surprised that the average frame rate rose 9% to the 1% low and 13% upwards. DDR5 therefore offers a clear performance advantage in Assassin's Creed Valhalla.

One game that doesn't benefit from using DDR5 memory is Battlefield 2042. While this data is based on our bot match, which is easier to run, the 128 player modes also don't see any improvement with the higher bandwidth DDR5 memory. So this one is a bust for the ultra-expensive DDR5 memory.

Call of Duty Vanguard is another game where we found a negligible difference between the two types of memory, even at 1080p. So it seems that this game is not limited by memory bandwidth.

Counter Strike Global Offensive is a heavily CPU limited game, and here we see that adding more bandwidth to the processor doesn't help improve performance at 1080p and 1440p, although we're only talking about a minor single digit difference. But it seems like lower latency memory is more important to this title.

Interestingly, Far Cry 6 benefits massively from higher memory bandwidth and that is not because the VRAM buffer has been exceeded as we are using a 16GB card. Rather, this game dips quite a bit into system memory and as a result we see up to 22% better performance at 1440p when we look at the 1% lows.

Even the average frame rate was increased by 10% and 13% respectively at 1080p. The edges are neutralized at the GPU-limited 4K resolution, but still some impressive gains at 1080p and 1440p in this title.

Fortnite also saw some benefits to using DDR5 memory, though the margins were, for the most part, less impressive. We saw a 12% increase in 1080p to a low of 1%, with a 6% improvement in average frame rate, which was reduced to 5% in 1440p and nothing in 4K.

Next up we have Halo Infinite and I've been nudging a little further into this and unfortunately I can't go back to our demanding test that is included in our Halo Infinite GPU benchmark so apparently I have to start over and play a few games for hours, to return to that scene.

Right now we have this less demanding part of the game and here DDR5 offers very little over DDR4, although I suspect that will apply to more demanding scenes as well.

The performance in Hitman 3 gains next to nothing when using DDR5, we only see a very small increase at 1080p, practically nothing at 1440p and 4K.

To test Microsoft Flight Simulator I use the latest DirectX 12 version and here we only see slight increases in the lower single-digit percentage range, so no cause for alarm.

Testing PUGB shows a small improvement over the 1% lows in DDR5, around 5-7%, so nothing to write home about. Meanwhile, the average frame rate stayed pretty much the same, so you can get the most out of an Alder Lake CPU with either memory technology in this game.

The Riftbreaker is a basic building survival game with action RPG elements, and what makes it especially useful for our tests is the high CPU usage. Riftbreaker makes good use of core heavy processors and with thousands of units in the game this is a very heavy workload.

Here we see that the higher bandwidth DDR5 memory increased performance by 15% at 1080p and the same is seen at 1440p too, if you look at the 1% lows. Even at 4K, we see a small increase from 6% to 1% lows with the newer storage.

StarCraft II is another CPU-intensive game, but for the wrong reasons. This old title only makes heavy use of a single core, but we can see that there are some benefits to adding more bandwidth to that core as performance has increased by 7% almost everywhere.

Finally, let's take a look at War Thunder and here we see pretty impressive performance gains at 1080p, though it's hard to argue about how useful a 24% performance gain is when you're already above 200 fps. Nevertheless, we expect a performance increase of up to 9% even with 4K.

Take the average

We spent a total of a few weeks testing 41 games, and we're about to see how all of those games are compared in a moment. But if we look at an average graph computed with the Geomean, we see that DDR5 memory averaged only 3% boost at 1080p, 2% at 1440p, and then one percent at 4K.

Based on these numbers, DDR5 does very little to support the Core i9-12900K in a wide variety of current games.

41 Game breakdown

Here is a look at the individual results of all 41 games, with the focus on the 1% lows.

As we just saw, DDR5 offers an overall performance increase of 3%, but here we can see that the gains are up to 20% in games like Far Cry 6 and Bright Memory. Other games that have seen strong gains include Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, The Riftbreaker, and Fortnite, to name a few.

There were also games that ran 5% or more slower with DDR5, such as Age of Empires, Hitman 2, The Division 2, Valorant, and Death Stranding.

Additionally, 26 of the 41 games tested showed a performance variation of 4% or less, which is basically nothing and the gameplay is identical. In over 60% of the tested games, the performance was the same. It's also worth noting that in 75% of the games tested, the DDR5-6000 memory did not provide more than 5% improvement.

For those of you who want to see the average fps data, here's a look at it …

The data moves a little. War Thunder, for example, now shows the best results for DDR5 together with Doom Eternal. But overall we have very similar performance trends in mind.

Bottom line

Depending on the games you play, DDR5 memory may offer little to no performance gain, and this is true for most titles. The top performing examples show a significant increase of up to 20%, and here we are comparing premium DDR4-3600 memory to premium DDR5-6000, where the DDR5 kit has a price premium of ~ 70%.

Obviously, DDR5 isn't worth it at the moment, but we already knew that. Apart from the price, DDR5 has little to offer compared to DDR4 in today's games with a mostly Alder Lake processor. For this reason, budget-conscious buyers should only consider DDR5 at a 10% markup, or perhaps 20% at most, when opting for a flagship product like the Core i9-12900K.

The value equation for DDR5 turns out much worse if you compare sweet spot memories like DDR4-3600 CL16, for example. The G.Skill Ripjaws V-Series 32GB is available for just $ 135 for the 32GB capacity kit. Meanwhile, the cheapest DDR5 32GB kit currently listed on Newegg is Corsair's Vengeance for $ 310, and it's out of stock. That's a 130% markup compared to sweet spot DDR4 memory, huh.

It should also be noted that you can still easily get away with 16GB of RAM for most games, especially if you're a good Hummer and keep your operating system clean. Getting a DDR4-3600 CL16 16GB kit for well under $ 100 is very easy, the Ripjaws V for example is only $ 80.

It should also be noted that you can still get away with most games with 16 GB of RAM without any problems.

We can also bring up the "future proof" argument that came up a lot in our early Alder Lake reviews. The basic argument is: Invest in DDR5 now so that you don't have to change your motherboard later if you want to upgrade to the 13th generation Core (code name Raptor Lake).

But wait … Raptor Lake will support DDR4 memory, and while DDR5 may be of more use a year from now, it still won't be massive and gamers will almost always be GPU-limited, not CPU-limited, in games. The big issue with this future-proof argument is still that it depends on the investment paying off in the long term with very few short-term benefits.

Let's take a more expensive mid-range motherboard like the Gigabyte Aorus Elite AX for this argument. It costs $ 270 for the DDR4 version or $ 290 for the DDR5 version, so you're already paying a 7% premium for the DDR5 motherboard. As mentioned earlier, a decent 32GB DDR4-3600-CL16 kit costs $ 135, which is $ 270 for the motherboard, $ 135 for the memory, and let's go with the Core i9-12900K for $ 620 Going Insane = $ 1,025 Combo.

Now if we settle for the cheapest DDR5 memory we can find at Newegg, the Corsair Vengeance DDR5-4800 CL40 32GB kit for $ 310, add the $ 290 Aorus Elite AX DDR5 with the Add a Core i9-12900K and you have a package price of $ 1,240, around a 20% premium in total.

The problem is I expect DDR5-4800 CL40 memory to be slower than DDR4-3600 CL16.

If we recalculate with the memory tested here, the Trident Z RGB, DDR4-3600 CL14 and DDR5-6000 CL36, we find a similar margin with the Core i9-12900K and Aorus Elite AX, basically DDR5 costs 20% more in the end .

DDR5 that is currently available is going to be terrible compared to DDR5 memory in a year or two …

One could argue that a 20% premium is worth it, as we are already seeing examples of 20% winnings in games. But you're better off saving the money on a future upgrade because the DDR5 currently available will be terrible compared to DDR5 memory in a year or two. We saw the same thing with DDR4 and DDR3 before that.

As we explained in our first Alder Lake test, one can reasonably argue with the Core i9-12900K for DDR5, since it is such an expensive CPU. However, our advice to gamers is to go for the much cheaper Core i7-12700KF for just $ 395 – and at this point, the DDR5 package is 25% more expensive – and then nearly 30% more with the 12600K.

For budget-conscious gamers looking to jump on Alder Lake with a Core i5 or i7, I recommend an entry-level Z690 motherboard like the Gigabyte Z690 UD DDR4 for $ 200 or the MSI Z690-A Pro DDR4 for $ 220 Buy and combine that with an affordable DDR4 kit like the Ripjaws V for $ 135.

If Raptor Lake is a big step forward and worth upgrading, your best bet is to just buy a new Z790 motherboard with DDR5 memory and sell the DDR4 device secondhand as it retains its value well, as Intel motherboards do this is always due to the strong product segmentation. At this point, you should get a better motherboard and much higher quality DDR5 memory at a significantly cheaper price anyway.

There is also the possibility that owners of the Core series of the 12th

After comparing DDR4 and DDR5 memory in a variety of games, the next step is to provide a detailed video on memory scaling for Alder Lake, and that's a work in progress. The plan is to compare a wide range of DDR4 and DDR5 memories to find the sweet spot for Intel's 12th generation series in both games and applications. Stay tuned.

Purchase abbreviation
  • G.Skill Trident Z Neo DDR4-3600 CL14 on Amazon
  • G.Skill Trident Z5 RGB DDR5-5600 CL36 on Amazon
  • Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro DDR4-3200 CL16 at Amazon
  • Corsair Vengeance DDR5-4800 on Amazon
  • Kingston Fury Renegade DDR4 CL18 on Amazon
  • MSI Z690-A Pro WiFi DDR4 at Amazon
  • Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Elite AX DDR4 at Amazon
  • MSI Z690 Tomahawk WiFi DDR4 on Amazon
  • Asus TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 on Amazon
  • Intel Core i5-12600K at Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-12700K at Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-12900K on Amazon

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