What is DDR5? Learn all about the next generation of PC RAM memory

With specs defined, new DDR5 memories should start appearing in PCs by the end of the year

DDR5 is the new RAM memory standard on the market. The technology had its final technical specifications published in July 2021 and is expected to start appearing in end-user products later this year. At first, the novelty will allow combs of up to 128 GB and speeds of 4,800 MHz, promising to double the bandwidth available in the current DDR4.

Adoption is expected to be higher on PCs with the arrival of Intel’s Alder Lake and AMD’s Zen 4 architectures in the coming months. It is worth remembering that, in cell phones, technology has already started to be used. Check out more details about DDR5 below and find out when it should appear on common PCs.

What is DDR5?

DDR5 is the successor to the current DDR4 on the market. Valid for both cell phones and computers, going through a multitude of different devices, the DDR5 should combine greater performance with greater energy efficiency than current technology.

In general terms, the JEDEC consortium, responsible for creating and implementing technical standards for this type of component, defines DDR5 memory based on the promise of double the bandwidth compared to what is possible in DDR4 – this even with reduced consumption power. Adoption of the technology is expected to start in the coming months due to the general technical specifications that manufacturers must comply with when producing their DDR5 chips and memory modules.

On July 14th, JEDEC set the parameters for RAM modules for PCs and servers, following a similar measure that, in 2019, had already established the rules for the “LP” versions (of “low power”, or ” low energy” in free translation), intended for use in smartphones and laptops. It is because of this difference between dates and technical standards that you may have seen the news about the emergence of DDR5 products for some time.

What is the difference between DDR5 and DDR4?

In summary, the differences involve performance gains due to the higher speed of the memory chips and the higher bandwidth communication with the processor, in addition to the lower energy cost.

The speed, which is the rate at which RAM updates its data every second, should be at least 4,800 MHz on cheaper modules with DDR5 standard and is expected to reach up to 8,400 MHz on more expensive options in the future. To get an idea of ​​how fast this is, the official highest spec for DDR4 stops at 3200 MHz.

A practical effect of this internal RAM speed is the ability to exchange more information with the processor at every moment. While the DDR4 3200 MHz can hit 25.6 GB/s (gigabytes per second), the DDR5 4,800 MHz already has a demonstrated capacity of 38.4 GB/s in the same exercise. Furthermore, the prediction of the standard defined by JEDEC is to reach 51.2 GB/s in memories faster than 4,800 MHz in the future.

In addition to increased bandwidth, the new DDR5 offers a series of technologies that streamline the access and internal operation of the modules. The idea is for data exchange to happen at a 50% faster rate compared to DDR4.

Memories with the new pattern should also increase the typical capacities available. 128GB drives are expected to be viable and allow dual-channel to reach 256GB, for example. In DDR4, the largest sticks are limited to 32GB.

ECC: error correction

While raw performance issues are important, there are other interesting elements about the technical profile of DDR5. One is the trend for ECC technology to start reaching consumers.

Available on previous generations of DDR memory used in servers and data centers, ECC is a hardware error correction factor that promises to mitigate data inconsistencies and ensure more reliable memory operation. Error correction avoids a phenomenon known as “bit flip”, in which binary values ​​(0 and 1) end up flipping the other way inside memory or during transit between RAM and CPU, which generates inconsistent information.

On systems without ECC, the processor requests the information again to correct what went wrong, slowing down the entire system’s operation. In more severe cases, the changed bit is enough to trigger crashes. With the feature, DDR5 memories will have two forms of technology: one of them, more robust, will reside inside the chip to check data integrity, while the other will monitor the transit of information on the way between RAM and processor.

When will it hit the market?

Considering cell phones, DDR5 technology (in the “LP” variant) has been available since 2020. Devices from the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 20 line by Samsung, as well as the OnePlus 8 Pro or even the Xiaomi Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro, are examples of smartphones with DDR5. As we mentioned earlier, the standards that guide memory requirements for handheld devices are somewhat different and were established as early as 2019.

With computers, things are a little different. Memories depend on the rest of the system to function and should only become common when there is a consistent ecosystem of products that support the technology. You will need, for example, a motherboard equipped with DDR5 slots, which are different from DDR4. In addition, the processor needs to recognize this type of memory, and, at the moment, neither Intel nor AMD have products with this capability on the market.

Processors from Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake families, slated for release in 2021, and AMD’s Zen4, slated to hit the market in 2022, will support the new standard and should help drive adoption of the technology in desktops.

What is the price forecast?

Memories are especially sensitive to problems in supply chains, causing large price fluctuations over time – something easy to observe in times of pandemic.

Although it is difficult to anticipate prices, it is possible to establish some comparisons with products on the market today. To take as a base, a pair of 2800 MHz DDR4 RAM memory sticks of 16 GB capacity (totaling 32 GB) is found in the United States for 300$ at the moment. DDR5s will be much faster from the start, in addition to being denser, factors that should push prices up.

Even a simpler DDR4 has high values. A kit with two 8GB sticks (16GB in total) at the lowest speed of 2400 MHz, typical in the entry-level market, costs R$749 currently.

Another factor to consider is that there will be a necessarily high entry cost for DDR5: as the new standard depends on motherboard and processor support, you will have to invest not only in the memory itself but also in a compatible CPU and on the motherboard with the correct slots.

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