The most important components in regards to hardware performance for a PC, gaming or otherwise, are the CPU, the GPU, the motherboard and, of course, the RAM. So far, within 2020, we have received Intel’s 10th generation CPUs, AMD’s Ryzen 3 and Ryzen XT series processors, and we are soon to receive Nvidia’s RTX Ampere 3000 series GPUs. We have PCIe 4.0 SSDs and brand-new Z490 and B550 motherboards. It seems like the perfect time to build a new rig… yet, one crucial component we are yet to see is the upgraded DDR5 RAM. But is the upgrade that the DDR5 RAM will provide worth the wait? Should you skip getting a current-generation CPU and motherboard and instead save up for a massive upgrade with DDR5 RAM and a compatible CPU and motherboard arrive?
We’re going to analyze what we know so far about DDR5 in regards to specifications, performance, and a possible release time-frame, in order to help you make the best possible choice for your next premium build.
Let us start off with the most important question: When is DDR5 set to release? Currently, DDR5 RAM has already been released to a certain extent in mobile devices. Samsung LPDDR5 RAM can currently be found in the Samsung Galaxy S20, while Xiaomi’s Mi 10 makes use of Micron’s LPDDR5. In fact, laptops could probably also have GDDR5 RAM at this point, but the lack of compatible CPUs will delay the use of DDR5 RAM by laptops devices significantly.
Speaking of compatible CPUs, we know that the Intel 10th generation CPUs are not DDR5 compatible, and neither are their Z490 motherboards – while it is also is tough to tell if even Intel’s 11th generation CPUs will be DDR5 RAM compatible. On the other hand, AMD has announced that the AM4 chipset would only be supported through 2020; with the last compatible generation being the Ryzen 4000 CPUs. After that, Ryzen 5000 series CPUs, together with their new chipset (AM5?), will be DDR5 compatible. The timeframe for the release of Ryzen 5000 series CPUs seems to be near the third or fourth quarter of 2021, though with the delays that the coronavirus pandemic has caused it would be hard to tell. Given also that DDR5 was initially supposed to be released as early as quarter four of 2019, which we all know did not happen, it is safe to say that the new gen RAM is prone to delays. Even with the release of Ryzen’s 4000 series APUs, DDR5 RAM is still yet to be seen. Though it’s hard to be sure, ultimately the best guess for the release of DDR5 RAM should be around Q1 of 2022.
Alright, so a year to a year and a half is quite a long time to wait for building a new PC… Will it at least be worth the wait? Performance wise, there is a case to be made – though perhaps not at launch. DDR5 is looking to release with a max die density of 64 Gbits, a maximum UDIMM size of 128 GB, and a max data rate of 4,800 MHz (going up to 6,400 MHz, or even 8,400 MHz, down the line). In addition, the total non-ECC width of the memory will be 64-bits like the previous generation DDR4 RAM, though this time it will be split into two 32-bit channels per DIMM that will have double the banks (32, 8/4) and double the burst length: 16 bytes per each 32-bit channel – effectively meaning twice the operations of DDR4 single channel RAM. This is all done at an even lesser voltage requirement than DDR4 memory, with DDR5 RAM having a VDD of 1.1 volts, versus the VDD of 1.2 volts of the previous generation: a 9% power consumption decrease, despite the increase in performance.
Though all these specifications do seem impressive, an important element that is still missing here is the CAS latency the DDR5 RAM will launch with. The absolute latency of a RAM model is a product of the CAS latency multiplied by the reciprocal of half the clock frequency, measured in cycles. The absolute latency for DDR RAM will always hover around the 7-15 nanosecond range, as DRAM cannot be accessed any faster – and there is no word of DDR5 RAM making any significant leaps in reducing absolute latency. Therefore, the more the clock rates increase, the more the CAS latency will increase with it. Data transfer will surely double, but when it comes to latency sensitive workloads the performance may suffer in the beginning of the next generation of RAM; at least until the CAS latency is decreased to bring the absolute latency to the lower end of the 7ns-10ns spectrum.
Though prices are, of course, yet to be revealed, if we take into account the trends of previous RAM generation releases then chances are that DDR5, at launch, will be significantly more expensive than DDR4 equivalent RAM; while the performance upgrade, when all is taken into account, may not be equivalent to the increase in price. The first year or so into launch is usually a time period where the RAM manufacturing process is still improving, so the price to performance ratio is not at its peak. This was the case in the transition between DDR3 and DDR4, and even DDR2 to DDR3. In general, it is usually a good idea to hold off during the first one, or even two years, in order to later upgrade to improved RAM, CPU, and motherboard technology.
Being near the end of DDR4 RAM era means we currently have some of the best performance the generation has seen, and at excellent prices. We have brand-new CPUs, brand-new GPUs, and brand-new motherboards being released – as well as the launch of two next-generation consoles in the horizon (that will not be DDR5 compatible). If you are a fan of Intel, then their 10th (or even 11th) generation CPUs, together with a Z490 motherboard are the way to go; while if you are a fan of AMD CPUs, then their Ryzen 3000 series XT are an excellent choice. The Ryzen 3 3300X can also be an excellent placeholder for a Ryzen 4000 series desktop CPU, of which announcements should be just around the corner together with AMD’s RDNA 2 GPU reveals. Nvidia is also set to announce, and release, their 3000 series Ampere GPUs in the next few months as well.
Overall, now is the best time to upgrade to a PC that will last you three to four years down the line at the very least. After that, you can then upgrade to what would be an already improved set of DDR5 RAM, Ryzen 5000 series, or Intel 12th generation, CPUs with their respective chipset and motherboards, as well as whatever GPUs will be available at the time. For gaming especially, the next generation of consoles are set to have a lifespan of at least five years, and since the next generation of gaming can be adequately run with the PC hardware of today, there is no need to wait one or two years down the line to build a PC. A Z490 or X570/B550 motherboard, the GPU and CPU of your choice, and some good 3200 MHz CL14 or 3600 MHz CL16 DDR4 RAM will more than suffice to keep your PC relevant for several years to come. If you can make the upgrade, or build a new PC setup, within the next few months, then go for it; because there hasn’t been a better time to do so in quite a while.