Is DDR4 better than DDR3?

DDR3 vs DDR4 Performance

At CloudNinjas, we are serious about server memory upgrades and refurbished memory, which is why we came up with the following topic. The pace of advancement in computing technology continues at a breakneck speed, and most of the time, it's just a short time before the technology is outdated. There are many components and parts that make up a computer, and RAM is one of them. Thankfully, RAM has a longer shelf life in a computer or a server compared to other types of computer technologies. As we've seen with DDR, and DDR2 they've been used long past their last dates of manufacture, and we would expect the same for DDR3 and DDR4.

DDR3 vs DDR4

With the first DDR SDRAM rolling out at the turn of this millennium, it took three (long) years before it was replaced by DDR2 SDRAM in 2003. Another quartet of years passed before DDR2 SDRAM was shown the door with DDR3 SDRAM as the replacement. Everything was silent for seven years before the next revision of DDR RAM, known as DDR4 SDRAM, came into the picture as the latest champion for computer memory. In this context of server memory, we look at the big question: “Which is better: DDR3 RAM or DDR4 RAM?”

Timeline of DDR Memory Types

DDR DDR2 DDR3 DDR4
2000 2003 2007 2014

DDR3 vs. DDR4 memory

DDR3 vs DDR4

DDR4 RAM improvements

First of all, let us take a closer look at what kind of improvements have been made to DDR4 SDRAM. In terms of its physical form factor, DDR4 SDRAM shares a similar width as that of DDR3 SDRAM, although it is a wee bit taller in height by approximately 0.9mm.

The main difference between the two in their physical form factor would be the number of pins found in DDR4 SDRAM and DDR3 SDRAM. The former has 288 pins, while the latter carries 240 pins, with both of them being in a different location. Apart from that, DDR4 SDRAM carries pins which are not in a straight line but remain slightly curved where it has its middle bit stick out farther compared to the pins that are located on the end.

DDR4 Memory Stick

DDR4 Memory

We would like to cap it off by listing four main improvements made to DDR4 SDRAM that has allowed it to ascend to the top of the computer memory hierarchy at the moment. They are none other than having a lower operating voltage, better power saving enhancements, a higher frequency, as well as better chip density.

Its predecessor, DDR3 SDRAM will run at 1.5V natively where its low power modules will run at 1.35V. Of course, depending on the manufacturer, some of them might be adventurous enough to venture beyond the parameters specified in order to boost the level of performance (overclockers and hardcore gamers are also another group who are willing to push the envelope in order to gain more performance mileage). However, it is safe to assume that most DDR3 SDRAM will run at the specified voltage.

When it comes to DDR4 SDRAM, things are different. DDR4 SDRAM will run at 1.2V natively where its low power modules will run at a mere 1.05V, which is surely a vast improvement compared to its predecessor. Think also of the amount of power that you will be able to save in the long run when it comes to a server setting. Not only that, DDR4 SDRAM is also full well capable of supporting a number of power saving enhancements that will include a deep power-down mode that will further lower the amount of energy consumption even when the system remains in standby. Another advantage of having a lower operating voltage and power enhancement features would mean the DDR4 SDRAM needs less power to operate, and of course, will operate at a cooler temperature as opposed to DDR3 SDRAM.

Performance-wise, DDR4 SDRAM begins at 2133MHz and is tipped to achieve speeds of up to 3200MHz. With DDR4 SDRAM chips being manufactured to sport densities of up to 2GB per chip, this makes it boast double the density of its predecessor. In other words, ordinary consumers should be able to see 16GB DDR4 SDRAM in a single stick format and up to 64GB on a single stick when it comes to server-grade memory.

DDR4 SDRAM has its flaws, too

To put it simply, perfection has not been achieved in DDR4 SDRAM just yet. One of the main stumbling blocks when it comes to using DDR4 SDRAM would be cost, as its memory sticks are tipped to be up to 50% costlier compared to an equivalent DDR3 SDRAM memory stick. However, history has shown that over the course of time, DDR4 SDRAM will be more affordable with an accompanying uptick in its adoption.

DDR3 memory stick

DDR3 Memory

The higher frequency at which DDR4 SDRAM operates also works against it since timings would be looser. In other words, we see that DDR4 will most probably not run any faster compared to DDR3 SDRAM for the moment. We expect things to change when higher frequency DDR4 SDRAM hits the market with a tighter sense of timing though.

Some servers using DDR4 memory from Dell, HP, and Supermicro

Dell DDR4 memory

Dell is happy to note that its DDR4-based Dell PowerEdge servers with Dell DDR4 memory will often lead to a significant performance increase over their DDR3 systems.

The Dell PowerEdge systems that are current for DDR4:

Dell's claim to this is backed by test results which show how an increase in memory will automatically increase the level of system performance, productivity, as well as efficiency. This would encompass the ability for the server to be able to run additional programs at one time, especially those programs that are very graphics intensive while speeding up the computer response time which will also reduce the number of performance lags. Security software, database applications, as well as business programs, will be able to find the inclusion of such Dell memory to be a boon.

HP DDR3 vs. DDR4 memory

The DDR4 memory architecture that can be found in HP ProLiant Gen9 servers run on E5-2600 v3 or v4 series processors. Some of these improvements comprise of having additional memory channels per processor – 4 in total. There is also an increase of its maximum memory speed of 2133 MT/s, and when push comes to shove, it can support up to 3200 MT/s as new processor models are unveiled. Needless to say, it is best to use HP memory on HP’s own ProLiant servers to minimize incompatibility and performance issues.

The HP Proliant systems that are current for DDR4:

  • HP ML150
  • HP ML350
  • HP DL120
  • HP DL160
  • HP DL 180
  • HP DL360
  • HP DL380

The DDR3 memory architecture that can be found in HP ProLiant Gen8 servers runs on E5-2600 v2 series. The improvements over the older DDR2 systems comprised of having additional memory channels per processor – 4 in total. There is also an increase of its maximum memory speed of 1600 MT/s, and when push comes to shove, it can support up to 1866 MT/s as new processor models are unveiled. Needless to say, it is best to use HP memory on HP’s own ProLiant servers to minimize incompatibility and performance issues.

Supermicro DDR4 memory

Last but not least, we have Supermicro memory that has been specially designed to cater for the newest high-performance systems that are in the market. Each of their memory modules has been validated before rolling out of the factory and is also Supermicro certified as a seal of quality when it comes to performance and reliability. The hallmarks of Supermicro memory would be higher frequencies, a greater degree of bandwidth as well as improved power consumption that ought to maximize the level of performance on your server.

So, which memory should I get?

It really depends on the system your running at the end of the day. DDR4 memory isn't compatible with servers built for DDR3, just as DDR3 won't fit into servers built for DDR2. We would lean toward systems which use DDR4 memory at the moment since it is the latest iteration and will have its kinks worked out in the near future, as well as the power savings which can be when you add up the savings for each stick of memory. In the server memory world, the storage density found on DDR4 memory will definitely work in its favor. So the winner for DDR3 vs DDR4, well it really depends if you're getting a new system and if you're willing to pay for the ability to upgrade to the latest speeds as they come out.

References:

https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Tech-Primer-DDR4-RAM-589/

http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/buying_guide_memory?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~section=009

https://support.hp.com/?docId=mmr_kc-0109346-5