When to upgrade to DDR5

The new RAM is already available for purchase, as is the first platform to support it. The marketing materials promise significant boosts in clock speeds and performance. So is it time to switch to DDR5 now, or is there not much sense in the new memory yet?

The release of a new type of memory occurs every few years. The first DDR as a completely new type of memory replaced SDR at the turn of the new millennium. DDR2 replaced its predecessor in less than 4 years – at the end of 2003, and itself gave way to the next DDR3 already in 2007. The successor lasted longer – the most widespread DDR4 today began to be used for HEDT platforms only in 2014, and for mainstream desktops and laptops – in 2015. And now, 7 years later, the successor to DDR4 is released – this time immediately as memory available for the mainstream platform.

Each type of new memory entering the market brought with it new advantages over its predecessor – increased operating speed and reduced supply voltage. This happened with DDR5, it is capable of operating at higher frequencies – standard strips at 4800, 5600 and 6400 MHz, according to the JEDEC specification. Faster ones are above 8000 MHz.

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Compared to DDR4, the speed increase is, on average, two times – the previous generation has standard speeds of 2133, 2400, 2666, 2933 and 3200 MHz, fast modules most often do not exceed the 5000 MHz ceiling. Also, the DDR5 voltage is reduced to 1.1V versus 1.2V in the previous generation of memory, which should contribute to lower heat dissipation.

Is it worth updating on the first waves for an unfinished memory? What is it fraught with?
The Intel Alder Lake platform fully supports the new DDR5 memory, and the modules themselves are already available for purchase. So maybe you should update the system right now and enjoy the multiple acceleration of the memory subsystem? But everything is not so simple here, and among the arguments “against” the following reasons can be distinguished:

1. The first DDR5 modules released to the market have extremely high timings. It is because of them that in modern applications and games DDR5 almost does not overtake fast DDR4, and in some places it is inferior, despite the superiority in frequency. Modules with lower timings, the advantage of which will be more noticeable, will appear on sale later.

2. The memory controller of Alder Lake processors works with the new memory only in Gear 2 (1: 2) and Gear 4 (1: 4) modes – this is the ratio of the memory controller frequency to the memory frequency. Because of this, additional delays appear, which partially negate the frequency advantage of the new memory.

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3. Alder Lake processors, in addition to DDR5, work with DDR4 – and they do it perfectly: the performance of processors practically does not depend on the type of memory, often the difference is comparable to the error. Tests of the flagship Intel 12900K processor with both types of memory confirm this.

4. And the last thing is the price. DDR5 modules of the first wave, even with all their shortcomings, are more expensive than DDR4 strips of the same size. Moreover, most often – in multiples. In the absence of benefits, paying twice as much for new memory is simply pointless.

Platform Availability: Release Date for Intel and AMD Platforms with DDR5 Support
In early November 2021, the first DDR5 processors and motherboards became available – 12th Gen Intel Core processors codenamed Alder Lake. You can use the new memory bundled with them right now. However, the range of new-generation processors and boards is still limited – there are three top-end processors with an unlocked multiplier (i9-12900K, i7-12700K and i5-12600K) and boards based on one flagship Intel Z690 chipset.

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Budget and mid-range chipsets are already presented by Intel – they are H670, B660 and H610. Together with them, we should expect the appearance of mass processors with a locked multiplier for the new platform, their line will also expand. In addition to analogs of the K-versions, there will be lower versions of the Core i5 without small cores, as well as the new i3, Pentium and Celeron. All this variety will appear on the market by the beginning of spring next year, with the exception of the youngest processors – they will have to wait a little longer.

AMD is in no hurry to implement support for a new type of memory in mainstream platforms and has no products with DDR5 support yet. According to rumors, they should not be expected soon: at the moment AMD is completing work on Zen 3+ processors with a new type of 3D V-Cache, thanks to which they will not be inferior in performance to the new Alder Lake even without the use of DDR5.

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Future Zen 4 architecture processors will support DDR5. However, the timing of their release is vague – they are unlikely to appear on the market before the end of the year. Around the same time, the successors of Intel Alder Lake will be released – Raptor Lake processors with increased number of cores and an improved DDR5 memory controller.

Prices
Prices for DDR5 RAM start at 6,500-7,000 rubles for the 8 GB bracket and 13,000-13,500 rubles for the 16 GB bracket. This is memory with an initial frequency of 4800 MHz, faster modules are even more expensive. Compared to DDR4, the price is twice as high for the same volume – for 7,000 you can take two good DDR4 strips with a frequency of 3200 or 3600 MHz, and, more importantly, low timings.

Perhaps the main brake – the entire platform will have to be updated
Unlocked Intel processors and flagship chipsets have never been known for affordable prices. But this time, the performance gain was quite large – maybe the overpayment is worth it? If only the processor and memory were expensive, then quite. However, expensive memory and extremely hot processors that require water cooling are two more items that you will have to fork out for to have the coveted DDR5 platform right now.

The minimum set of a budget board based on the Z690 chipset with DDR5 support, an Intel i5-12600K processor, 16 GB of DDR5-4800 RAM and inexpensive water cooling will cost about 70,000 rubles.

A set of a mid-range processor from the new i7-12700K line, slightly better water cooling, a mid-range motherboard and 32GB of DDR5-5200 memory will cost about 100,000 rubles.

The transition to DDR5 right now will be extremely controversial, as it entails a change of platform – processor and memory. Processors supporting DDR5, currently represented only by expensive modifications with an unlocked multiplier, are extremely hot and require good cooling. If you have a strong desire to get a computer with DDR5 memory, now you will have to buy a processor, a board, and, in most cases, cooling, in addition to memory. At the same time, your memory will be slower and more expensive than what will be available on the market in six months.

It’s about the Intel platform. As for the AMD platform, the new Alder Lake bypasses the Zen 3 processors in single-thread, but the multi-thread performance is approximately equal. In games, Zen 3 is inferior, but not much. Therefore, soon we are waiting for the updated Zen 3+ processors with 3D V-Cache – additional cache memory integrated on top of the chiplets. The manufacturing process will also be updated, which will slightly increase the clock speeds. According to the leaks, the Zen 3+ gaming performance will be 15% higher than its predecessor, which will be about the level of Alder Lake. Thus, the Ryzen 6000 family processors will be able to compete in performance with the 12th generation Intel Core – and for this they do not need the newfangled DDR5 and a socket change.

AMD will only release Zen 4 with DDR5 support in late 2022. By that time, all childhood memory ailments will most likely be cured and its potential will be revealed. But the new processors will not compete with Alder Lake, but with their successors – Raptor Lake processors, which will also become faster and acquire more cores.

If you are not interested in the Intel platform, but are sure that you need DDR5, you will have to wait another year for the release of Zen 4. If you want to upgrade to Alder Lake and DDR5, it is reasonable – wait for spring. Processors with a locked multiplier are not much inferior to their counterparts with the letter K, but they will be cheaper. The same is with motherboards based on B660 and H670 chipsets versus Z690. The range of DDR5 memory will expand, including models with lower timings, which means you can feel the performance gains better than previous generations of memory.