For a long time, memory was one of the most boring components of a PC: you just had to have as much of it as possible; the specific type and speed were of little importance. Now those strips of RAM are suddenly one of the most talked-about parts. It's time for a thorough test.
Although it has been the most important standard for some time now, the first DDR4 memory only came on the market in 2014, with the high-end Haswell-E platform. A year later, the Skylake processors followed with the first iteration of socket 1151, with which DDR4 also entered the mid-range segment.
Compared to ddr3, the clock speeds of the memory increased. 2133 MHz is the minimum speed for DDR4 and in practice we see modules with much higher clock frequencies. Although the performance gain is partly offset by higher latencies, the new generation is still a little faster all things considered. Especially for laptops, the lower operating voltage is also an advantage, which results in a more economical operation.
Choosing memory in 2018
Now that your memory has been refreshed, it is time to consider the current developments. In 2016, YouTube videos appeared that claimed you would gain dozens of FPS by installing faster memory. That was contrary to the consensus until then, namely that faster memory for gaming had little added value and that it was better to invest in more, than in faster memory. We researched those findings at the time and we couldn't reproduce such enormous FPS profits. Nevertheless, in scenarios where the CPU forms the bottleneck, we measured performance gains of single digits. Spending a few more euros on a somewhat faster kitty finally turned out to be no more wasted money.
The market was shaken up again last year. With the Ryzen processors, AMD made its comeback in the more expensive segment. Inherent to the Zen architecture is that the CPUs benefit from faster memory, but unfortunately the Ryzens are at the same time quite picky about their compatibility with DDR4. The integrated memory controller is significantly less powerful than Intel's, even after all the so-called AGESA updates that have been released since its launch. That's not a shame in itself, because Intel has of course been able to gain years of experience in perfecting its DDR4 controller, but it does mean that you can't blindly buy every type of memory to use with Ryzen.
All in all, there are a lot more factors to take into account nowadays when you search in online stores for an attractive memory kit. The price also plays a role here, which should not be underestimated: due to the shortage of DRAM chips, memory prices rose sharply in 2017. The expectation (and in any case our hope) is that prices will stabilize in the course of this year and may even fall again by the end of 2018, but for now we will have to live with the fact that internal memory is much more expensive than what we were used to.