DDR3 vs. DDR4: An In-depth Comparison

ddr3 vs ddr4
When it comes to issues regarding RAM, there are certain common ones that people just keep running into. Maybe you find that you do not have enough RAM or you realize that some of your apps are using too much RAM (for instance, Google Chrome sometimes does this).

Newer models of the same technology can sometimes help solve these problems. The most common type of RAM used in computers is DDR. There are many models of DDR, which are all essentially the same technology revised with improvements.

This article looks, in particular, at DDR3 vs DDR4. Both are terms used to describe certain types of computer memory. Most old computers have DDR3 installed. However, in recent years, DDR4 has gained more popularity and DDR3 is beginning to disappear from the market.

At this point, many people are unsure of whether to update to DDR4 from the previous model. If you are one of those people, then read on as we analyze the differences between both of these RAMs as well as the pros and cons of each. After reading this article, you ought to be able to make a better decision.

What is RAM, and How Does it Work?

Let’s go back to basics for a minute. RAM (or Random Access Memory) generally refers to Synchronous Dynamic RAM. DDR is actually a type of SDRAM.

When it comes to a CPU’s storage, you have the hard drive which is the permanent storage, and then you have the RAM which stores the data from programs that you might be working on at the moment. Since this is only temporary, a power loss means losing all this data.

Ultimately, the RAM acts as a sort of middle man between the two streams of information inside the CPU during processing. These are the high-speed cache and the slow speed storage of the hard drive.

Think of RAM like an office workspace, where the working papers become the CPU cache. The bigger your workspace, the more things you can work on at a time and the faster your output. This is why more RAM is considered a good thing. In this analogy, wiping the workspace clean would be like a power outage, because you would lose all your data.

What Does the Term DDR Mean?

DDR stands for Double Data Rate. DDR RAMs are capable of transferring two data streams per clock cycle, which means more efficiency and bandwidth but at the same clock speed. Earlier models (DDR, DDR1, DDR2) had relatively lower clock speeds and required higher voltages. The earliest models are now practically obsolete.

Since all RAMs are attached to the motherboard, compatibility is the most important thing when it comes to upgrading. Not all motherboards will support all DDR models.

For instance, a DDR3 RAM will not work on a motherboard designed for a DDR2 RAM. It isn’t merely that this won’t work out once you install it, but that you cannot install it at all. The wrong RAM won’t even physically fit onto the motherboard. This is why older computers, in particular, might prove more difficult to change.

DDR3: A Quick Introduction

DDR3 came out around 2007 and began to replace its predecessor DDR2. While it has the same number of pins as DDR2 (around 240), it works at a lower voltage and is more efficient. DDR3 was the standard RAM in the tech world for years before DDR4 was released.

Key Features:

  • Clock speed of 400 to 1066 MHz
  • Capacity ranges from 1 to 24 GB
  • Laptop versions have 240 pins and PC versions have 204 pins
  • Data transfer rates range between 800 MT/s to 2133 MT/s
  • The required voltage is 1.5 V

DDR4: A Quick Introduction

DDR4 came out around 2011 but is just beginning to gain mass popularity. It has 288 pins and drops the running voltage even lower. While there are added benefits to using DDR4, it is also more costly than DDR3.

Key Features:

  • Maximum clock speed is 2133 MHz
  • Capacity ranges from 16 to 64 GB
  • Laptop versions have 288 pins and PC versions have 260 pins
  • Data transfer rates range between 2133MT/s and 4266MT/s
  • The required voltage is 1.2 V
  • Has 16 internal memory banks as well

Going into Detail: DDR3 vs DDR4

Now that you are well acquainted with what DDR3 and DDR4 are as well as the basic features of both, let’s take a look at how these differ in actual application. Things such as pricing and speed are what affect users the most, so we will now compare those.

Speed

The full name for a RAM includes the generation or model and the transfer speed. For example, DDR3-1600 is a DDR3 RAM with a transfer speed of 1600 MT/s. In general, DDR4 RAMs tend to offer higher transfer speeds. However, it is also possible to overclock the RAM that you have.

Hence, speed should not be the only factor considered when it comes to comparing DDR3 and DDR4. More factors follow.

Voltage Usage

DDR4 only requires 1.2V to operate as stated above, and DDR3 requires 1.5V. This seems like a small difference at first glance, but ultimately DDR4 consumes 20 percent less voltage than DDR3. This is the first thing about DDR4 that reduces heat.

Power Consumption

Sleep mode works more efficiently with DDR4. This helps reduce power consumption by 40 to 50 percent. This combined with the voltage aspect means that DDR4 will reduce the risk of your CPU overheating.

Latency

CAS Latency is also used to measure which RAM will work faster in real life. Since CAS Latency (or CL) is essentially a measure of reaction time, a lower CL is preferred.

DDR4 RAMs tend to have lower CL even with relatively low speeds. Since DDR3 actually has lower speeds than DDR4, its CL will always be higher. This means that DDR4 performs better practically.

Chip density

Chip density means, for the purpose of this article, the capacity that a RAM chip has as per its size. While DDR3 and DDR4 have mostly similar physical structures (almost the same size, the difference comes with the number of pins, etc.) DDR4 does offer higher capacity. This means that the DDR4 is the denser chip, and hence the more efficient one.

Compatibility for upgrading

We have already covered the fact that only certain motherboards are compatible with certain RAMs. A general rule of thumb is that if your PC was manufactured after 2014, it is probably compatible with DDR4. Some manufacturers still make DDR3-friendly motherboards as well.

Besides the motherboard, there can be an issue with processors as well. For instance, Intel Skylake only supports DDR4.

Price

In general, DDR4 is priced higher than DDR3, but the price difference is not huge considering the additional perks.

Conclusion

Now that you know all the aspects of the DDR3 vs DDR4 argument, you can decide which option is best for you. Some of the differences may not be noticeable to an individual user. The lower voltage usage of DDR4 will not have a significant impact on your electricity bill. But for companies that buy in bulk, 0.3V can be quite important!

Remember that if your current RAM fits your needs, then upgrading or changing it may take more effort than it is worth. But if you are buying a new PC or motherboard in any case, then it might be worthwhile to consider the more up to date options.

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