Quad vs. Dual-Channel RAM: What Are the Differences?

Quad-Channel RAM vs Dual-Channel RAM featured image

Quad vs. Dual-Channel RAM: What Are the Differences?

Upgrading your random-access memory, or RAM, is one of the easiest ways to improve your computer speed instantly. Whether adding additional RAM or changing your channel configuration, you’ll experience a boost in speed and processing power when upgrading your RAM.

We mentioned the existence of quad-channel RAM in our previous article about single and dual-channel RAM. Still, we didn’t get a chance to discuss quad-channel RAM and its merits and downfalls. So, let’s deep dive into dual channel vs. quad channel RAM.

Quick Facts

Original price

Dual-Channel vs. Quad-Channel RAM: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Dual-Channel RAMQuad-Channel RAM
Memory Bandwidth128-bit (64-bit ×2)256-bit (64-bit ×4)
Price$200–$500 (Incl. Compatible Motherboard)$800–$1200 (Incl. Compatible Motherboard)
Photo Manipulation
Artificial Intelligence
Video Manipulation
Commercial Workstation 
Augmented Reality (Playing)
Virtual Reality (Playing)

Dual-Channel vs. Quad-Channel RAM: What’s the Difference?

Dual-channel and quad-channel RAM are essentially and directly comparable to each other. Therefore, most quad-channel enabled RAM can run in a dual-channel setup. However, the dual-channel slots will bottleneck the quad-channel RAM.

The price point will be the most significant difference between quad-channel and dual-channel RAM. Thus, the applications of the units will be different. The other primary difference is the speed of the units. Quad-channel RAM is faster than dual-channel RAM as its connection to the board uses each of the four lanes on your motherboard to the fullest capacity, improving speed for users with additional power to spare.

This additional power does come at a price, though. Upgrading to a quad-channel setup typically requires a pretty hefty price increase. In addition, perhaps shockingly, the performance of quad-channel RAM isn’t typically that much better than dual-channel RAM, assuming all other factors between the two units are the same.

Is Quad-Channel RAM Better than Dual-Channel RAM?

While it may sound like a simple doubling of speed to the uninitiated, quad-channel RAM is not necessarily that much faster than your current dual-channel setup. This is because when upgrading to quad-channel RAM, you’re increasing the memory bandwidth, not the clock rate. This means you’re boosting the speed with which your RAM can transfer data between itself and the motherboard, not its actual speed.

Succinctly, your memory’s clock rate tells you how many processing cycles your memory can perform in a second. Conversely, the memory bandwidth is how much information can be sent from the CPU to the memory.

Bandwidth is generally considered a more accurate metric when measuring your RAM’s speed. However, even a higher metric won’t necessarily mean better overall performance.

But, let’s look at what PC World discovered when they tested dual and quad-channel RAM in a head-to-head comparison.

PC World’s Tests: Is Quad-Channel RAM Significantly Faster?

We’ll start by defining the methods and variables PC World used to test the two RAM units. Both units were tested in the exact same build. The only difference between the builds was the RAM sticks.

Since the testing required a full-sized X99 motherboard, a PC outfitted with an ASUS X99 Pro was used. The PC also included a GTX 970, a hexacore i7-5820K, and 16GB of DDR4 RAM. In quad-channel mode, four sticks of four gigabytes each were used. In dual-channel mode, two eight-gigabyte sticks were used.

The first test they ran was to benchmark the memory bandwidth. As expected, the quad-channel RAM performed significantly better than the dual-channel RAM, with 47 GB/s to the dual-channel RAM’s 27 GB/s. However, this category was the only category with a significant difference in metrics.

The next test PC World performed was to test how fast the system could encode a video. They used Handbrake to encode the video twice to the same profile, and the quad-channel RAM did perform better, though not too much. It took around 26.1 minutes for the quad-channel build to encode the video and approximately 26.4 minutes for the dual-channel build.

They also tested the two builds against PC Mark 8’s Creative Conventional test, which aims to simulate high-intensity processes like photo and video editing. Instead of the GPU test, they used the conventional CPU test, which was a test of the RAM, not the VRAM.

In this category, the dual-channel setup actually performs very slightly better than the quad-channel setup. The dual-channel structure scored 5,397 points on the Creative Conventional test, while the quad-channel design scored 5,389 points. Not a huge difference, but disappointing nonetheless.

There was also a slight but ultimately inconsequential difference when using PC Mark’s Home and Work tests. However, the tests were so similar that they didn’t bother publishing the charts for both tests. The quad-channel RAM scored 4461 on the PC Mark 8 Home test, while the dual-channel configuration scored 4664.

Next, PC World tested the RAM’s performance when compressing and decompressing files. Both WinRAR and 7Zip were used in the test, and there was a mild improvement in both when using quad-channel RAM compared to dual-channel. The quad-channel configuration was only a bit faster when using WinRAR, scoring 17,183 on WinRAR’s compression test to the dual-channel RAM’s 16,803. With 7Zip, there was a more noticeable boost with a score of 3,483 to the dual-channel RAM’s 3,251. Still, neither of these scores is so much higher that they would make much of a difference to someone’s daily life.

Lastly, PC World benchmarked the two systems using gaming metrics. They selected older games more aligned with the GTX 970’s benchmarks. However, the quad-channel system did not perform noticeably better than the dual-channel system on any game in terms of the frames per second.

After all of these performance tests, it’s safe to say that you won’t experience a significant performance bump when going from dual-channel to quad-channel RAM unless you’re also increasing your RAM allotment.

RAM in the motherboard
According to PC World’s tests, dual-channel RAM and quad-channel RAM performed very similarly, all other factors constant.

When Should I Choose Quad-Channel RAM?

The best way to put it is that if you have the option to install quad-channel RAM already, you might as well. But, suppose you’re looking to purchase or build a new system, particularly a very compact one. In that case, you won’t experience a significant performance decrease if you opt for a board that only runs in dual-channel.

Now, if you are going from single-channel to dual-channel, you’ll definitely want to get the dual-channel setup. Unlike dual-channel to quad-channel, single-channel to dual-channel will give you a performance boost of about 15%, assuming both sets of sticks are otherwise identical. So, upgrading from single to dual-channel RAM is highly recommended to improve your computer’s performance.

Additionally, using quad-channel RAM puts more pressure on the computer’s memory controller—the component in the motherboard that allows the computer to read and write to the RAM. As a result, it may cause additional wear-and-tear and cause the system to require replacement parts earlier in its lifespan, mainly if the computer is used often.

Can I Mix Dual-Channel and Quad-Channel RAM?

Technically, yes, you can mix dual and quad-channel RAM sticks. However, doing this will cause the motherboard to run exclusively in dual-channel mode, as a number of the sticks will be unable to support quad-channel mode. So, you won’t get the same efficiency as buying a RAM kit.

Additionally, you may find that mixing RAM sticks causes internal errors that can only be fixed by removing the offending RAM sticks. It’s possible that—for no other pertinent reason—your computer will be unable to boot if the RAM sticks don’t match.

Thus, we recommend buying a RAM kit if you want to upgrade to quad-channel RAM.

Quad-Channel vs. Dual-Channel RAM: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Quad-channel RAM has twice the memory bandwidth of dual-channel RAM.
  • Quad-channel RAM puts more pressure on the motherboard’s memory controller.
  • Dual-channel RAM performed almost the same as quad-channel RAM when stress tested in otherwise identical PCs.
  • Quad-channel RAM is significantly more expensive than dual-channel RAM.
  • Quad-channel RAM must be purchased in kits of four sticks to ensure compatibility between the RAM sticks.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading your RAM is just one way you can customize your PC to suit your exact needs. While there may not be a huge performance boost from upgrading your RAM to quad-channel, there are tons of other components you can upgrade that will give you the performance boost you’re looking for!

Quad-Channel RAM vs Dual-Channel RAM infographic

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is quad-channel RAM faster than dual-channel?

Yes. Quad-channel RAM can transfer data from the memory to the computer faster than dual-channel RAM. However, all other metrics will depend on the particular model of RAM stick you purchased.

Is quad-channel RAM more expensive?

Yes. Since quad-channel RAM has to be bought in kits to ensure compatibility between the RAM sticks, quad-channel RAM is typically 2-5× more expensive than standard dual-channel RAM.

Is quad-channel RAM better?

When tested in a head-to-head benchmark comparison, quad-channel RAM and dual-channel RAM perform very similarly. Therefore, assuming all other factors (memory size, clock rate, etc.) are the same, you will not see as significant of an increase in performance when upgrading dual-channel RAM to quad-channel RAM.

What is quad-channel RAM used for?

Quad-channel RAM is primarily used in enterprise-level workstations that will handle high-intensity tasks like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Is quad-channel RAM worth it?

It may be worth getting quad-channel RAM if you need a workstation to work from home in a software engineering position. However, most people will see little benefit to quad-channel RAM besides bragging rights.

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