DDR3 vs DDR4: Seven Must Know Facts

  • DDR3 sticks will not work on a DDR4 compatible motherboard and vice versa.
  • DDR4 can support an unlimited amount of memory provided the DRAM modules will fit on the integrated circuit board.
  • DDR3 sticks max out at 16GB.
  • DDR4 has a faster throughput speed than DDR3.
  • DDR4 is more power-efficient.
  • DDR3 has a lower cost.
  • Dedicated graphics cards use integrated DDR memory.

DDR3 vs DDR4: The Key Differences Explained

Computer components never stop getting better, especially parts integral to performance like the CPU, RAM, storage, and graphics card. DDR3 and DDR4 are shorthand names for types of RAM or Random Access Memory.

The best way to think about RAM is in relationship to the CPU and storage. The CPU, or central processing unit, is like the logical part of the brain. It makes decisions and calculates. Storage is all the memories and knowledge accumulated in the brain. For the brain to make decisions, it needs to look through the storage to find relevant information.

Like a real brain, a computer has short-term and long-term memory. Storage is long-term memory. There’s significantly more information there, but it’s harder to reach and takes time to organize and recall. RAM is short-term memory. It’s the information that’s been pulled up to use for the current task.

It’s a little more complicated than that as the CPU also requires a set of instructions for literally every single thing it does. With modern computers, that’s quite a heavy load of tasks. Graphic visualization, application memory, user interface, display information, active drivers, operating system databases, and much more are all constantly running to create the modern computing experience. All of the vital information needed to keep these applications running are kept on the RAM.

Flash memory vs RAM
RAM is volatile memory that needs a constant electrical charge.

This is often why there are arguments between which operating system is best as each one uses a different amount of resources to operate. Linux distributions are often cited to be the lightest weight, or use the least amount of processing power and RAM, to operate. However, Windows and Mac OS use more of these computer resources to provide features and functions that make computing easy, productive, and useful without the learning curve of using Linux.

Of course, there are other benefits to RAM when it comes to computing. Gaming PC rigs are often outfitted with 32GB to 128GB of DDR4 RAM. For the average PC user, this may seem a bit excessive. It’s not. Games, recording software, social platforms, web browsers, and any other application a power-user may want to run at the same time will use this RAM. Then there’s the real need for heavy RAM, gaming with mods.

On PC, the one feature that has yet to take hold on any other platform is modifications. The openness of PC software allows for users to create custom solutions and add-ons to software and games. This has extended the life of popular PC games beyond anything a console game has ever truly achieved without a definitive addition remake.

PC mods can replace textures, models, voices, scripted events, gameplay, interactions, and even fundamental gaming mechanics. Some mods exist only to enhance game performance. Regardless of what mods are chosen, one thing is certain. They will require a lot of RAM.

So why DDR4 and not DDR3? First, DDR3 is limited to smaller sizes. The largest “size” DDR3 stick is 16GB. A motherboard with four slots could ultimately achieve a 64GB total of installed RAM. That’s good. With DDR4, one stick of RAM can theoretically use as much memory as can be physically attached to the RAM stick. That means a motherboard with four slots could easily have a 64 GB DDR4 RAM stick in each slot making for 256 GB of available memory. That’s future-proofing. It’s also excellent for virtualization, creating sandbox ‘virtual computers’.

Another difference between the two is that DDR4 runs at faster rates than DDR3. On average, DDR4 memory runs at 2133MHz. DDR3 typically runs at 933MHz. There are different speed ratings for each type, but ultimately DDR4 can achieve much faster BUS speeds. This is because DDR4 uses denser and smaller parts on the stick.

This allows for extra SODIMM pins, the small strips of metal that connect the RAM to the motherboard. DDR3 modules use a 240 SODIMM pin connection and DDR4 modules use a 288 SODIMM pin connection. In short, the new technology used by DDR4 has smaller pins, but more. This allows for more bandwidth or a larger pathway for data to transfer. The bigger the path for data to pass through, the faster it works.

DDR3 vs DDR4
Installing DDR3 RAM modules in the computer motherboard. DDR3 modules use a 240 SODIMM pin connection.

DDR3 vs DDR4 Side by Side Comparison

DDR3 DDR4
What it is computer memory synchronous dynamic random-access memory
Primary Use quick access memory for CPU quick access memory for CPU
Name double data rate third generation double date rate fourth generation
Conceived 2003 2014
Initial Release 2005 Q2 2014
Technical Committee Samsung JEDEC
Influential Developers Samsung JEDEC
Open Format Yes Yes
Technologies Influenced GPU, CPU, memory GPUS, CPU, memory

What is DDR?

DDR is an acronym for Double Data Rate. It’s a type of memory that has been in heavy use since its debut around 2003. As the name suggests, it was able to double the rate of data compared to its predecessors. This is because it has two sets of data lines. One is used to transfer on the rising edge of a clock signal and the other transfers on the falling edge of the clock signal. This effectively doubled the available bandwidth of the memory.

DDR is not only commonly used for RAM modules attached to a motherboard. It is also prevalent in graphics cards. The extra bandwidth allowed graphics cards to push more information which lead to an increased pixel count, thus better graphics.

DDR3

The number after the DDR designates the generation of DDR technology. DDR3 means a third-generation double data rate. These chips have their integrated circuit board filled with DRAM modules, buffer chips, and other components to improve their performance.

DDR4

DDR4 stands for fourth-generation double data rate. It is the successor to DDR3 RAM. Most notably, DDR4 takes advantage of denser technology which allows for smaller components. Smaller components in turn equal more available space. These chips take advantage of this space by stacking DRAM modules. They also have smaller pin connections than DDR3, but more pins. This allows for faster data transfer due to a larger bandwidth.

DDR3 vs DDR4
DDR4 is installed on the motherboard of a PC. DDR4 has denser components which allow for more to be attached to a stick or for smaller RAM sticks overall.

What’s the Difference Between DDR3 and DDR4?

DDR4 is a newer technology than DDR3. Like all new technology, this gives DDR4 a higher cost than DDR3 sticks on the marketplace. The difference between the two DDR RAM sticks is physical. DDR4 has denser components which allow for more to be attached to a stick or for smaller RAM sticks overall. It’s important to note that because DDR3 has a 240-pin SODIMM connection and DDR4 has a 288-pin SODIMM connection that these memory sticks do not have cross-compatibility.

Performance

The denser and smaller components on the integrated circuit board of DDR4 RAM allow it to outperform DDR3 in every way. It can come in much greater RAM sizes with no actual limit besides circuit board space. It has more and smaller pins to connect to the motherboard which allows it to transfer data faster while using less power. There’s no performance disadvantage of DDR4 over DDR3. For gaming, it’s a definite recommendation. However, DDR4 has a much higher cost than DDR3. The market knows the value of components.

Compatibility

Though this may be an overstressed point, it is important. DDR3 memory sticks and DDR4 memory sticks do not have cross-compatibility. This means you can not upgrade a desktop PC to DDR4 from DDR3 without also replacing the motherboard. Luckily, the CPU and other components can still be compatible with a new motherboard. The reason for this is that DDR4 has a physically different connection than DDR3.

Next Up…

DDR3 vs DDR4 Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is DDR3?

DDR3 is a type of RAM or Random Access Memory. It is used to store information the CPU needs to have quick, low-latency access to efficiently perform computer operations. The 3 in DDR3 denotes that it is the third generation of double data rate technology.

What is DDR4?

DDR4 is also a type of RAM. It is a newer technology than DDR3. Thus, it has a much better performance. It is also more expensive. DDR4 RAM is recommended for those wanting to build high-performance gaming rigs.

What is the difference between DDR3 vs DDR4?

DDR4 has smaller, denser components. This allows it to have more pathways for data transfer. More pathways equal more data. This means the computer can run faster. DDR4 also uses less power than DDR3 giving making it better performing and more energy-efficient.

What is the difference in bandwidth between DDR3 vs DDR4?

DDR3 runs at speeds from 933MHz to 1600MHz, while DDR4 runs at speeds from 2133MHz to 3200MHz. The hertz is measuring the clock rate. A faster clock rate equals a faster transfer speed. On top of this, DDR4 has 48 more pins, or pathways, for data to transfer across.

Can DDR4 fit in DDR3?

No. DDR4 and DDR3 sticks are physically different. This means they can not be used in systems without specific compatibility.

Is DDR4 really faster than DDR3?

DDR4 is definitively faster than DDR3.

Is 8GB of DDR4 actually better than 16GB of DDR3?

Depending on the task, yes. For the average user, the increased speed and overall RAM performance will be noticeable. Faster RAM can load and dump memory faster as well. This means that less RAM can still be more useful as the process of changing programs takes less time to pull up in the RAM.

How much more expensive is DDR4 vs DDR3?

DDR3 memory sticks can be as cheap as $15 for 4GB and up to around $60 for a 16GB. DDR4 16GB starts around $80 and DDR4 sizes can reach prices about $300.

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