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DDR5 – Dual Channel or Single Channel?

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JEDEC (or Joint Electro Device Engineering Council) is a governing body that defines specifications and standards for the microelectronics industry. These include RAM, SSD, memory cards, eMMC, and more. More specifically, it includes Dual Channel DDR5 RAM.

How a Single Channel DDR5 is actually a Dual Channel DDR5?

When they released the Dual Channel DDR5 RAM standards, the specifications promised a leap of 50% in performance over the single channel DDR4. And with lower operational power, the DDR5 pledged a 10% drop in the required power compared to DDR4. But that wasn’t all; with an improved module architecture with XMP 3.0, a Power Management IC, and On-die ECC, Dual Channel DDR5 promised unmatched performance gains over the single channel form of DDR4, albeit at a higher price point.

But there is often a gap between what is promised and what is delivered. How does a DDR5 Dual Channel single stick stack up on performance benchmarks? Or is it all hype and no bite?

Dual Channel DDR5 – Is there an Improvement?

Single-channel DDR4 saw an unlikely performance gain by using two lower-capacity RAM sticks instead of one high-capacity stick. Its 64-bit architecture made it inefficient, a problem that two individual 32-bit channels (or Dual Channel) of DDR5 tackle well. And with a higher burst length of 16bytes (BL16), a DDR5 dual channel with a single stick should perform better than a DDR4. Right?

There has been plenty of chatter concerning the dual channel DDR5 and the performance it delivers.

Truth be told, the DDR5’s performance has been shockingly disappointing, considering several tests and resulting benchmark ratings. A higher capacity single-stick dual-channel DDR5 configuration consistently underperforms compared to using two sticks of Dual Channel DDR5 with lower capacity. So, the benefit of using two 8GB sticks instead of a single 16GB stick with DDR4 continues with the dual channel DDR5.

Surprisingly, overclocked DDR4 modules frequently outperform DDR5 modules with the same specifications. But one would like to wait for DDR5 modules to mature as a later release may have better power management allowing you to overclock your dual channel DDR5 module for significantly better results.

Here are a couple of test results at a glance.

On the Cinebench R23 test, a single-stick dual-channel DDR5-6000 gathered a shade under 22500 points, and the two-stick quad-channel DDR5 setup took 500 points more, to just under 23000 points.

For a graphic-heavy game like the Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a single-stick DDR5 setup clocked an average of 197fps, and a two-stick quad-channel DDR5 configuration clocked more at 217fps.

So, while the Quad Channel DDR5 setup performs better than a single-stick Dual Channel DDR5 setup, the results are shocking when you compare it to DDR4. An overclocked DDR4 RAM gathers over 23000points on the Cinebench R23 and 216fps on the Shadow of the Tomb Raider test.

Do the new AMD CPUs support DDR5 Dual Channel?

Yes, AMD Zen 4 Ryzen 7000 series processor supports DDR5. AMD claims their new “Raphael” processors are the fastest in the world, with speeds over 5GHz. And that is not all; the new processor support PCIe 5.0 and comes with a new AM5 socket.

The initial release saw the launch of four processors, with the most high-end one offering a 16-Core Ryzen 9 and the more modest Ryzen 5 offering a 6-Core configuration. These processors will support DDR5-5200 and offer clock speeds ranging from 5.3GHz to 5.7GHz.

Thus, AMD loyalists needn’t feel left out and get their hands on a Raphael-compatible motherboard; the X670 and X670-E are now available.

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Dual Channel DDR5 Vs. Single Channel DDR4

There are several parameters we have to explore to get an understanding of the ground realities of the DDR5 RAM module.

DDR5 Dual Channel Architecture

There is no DDR5 single channel, a single DDR5 stick now physically has a Dual Channel layout.

DDR5 supports two channels per DIMM slot as opposed to DDR4 RAM’s single channel. The new channel architecture improves efficiency and is instrumental in providing greater bandwidth as compared to DDR4. The Dual Channel DDR5 bandwidth starts at 4800 MT/s (DDR5-4800), 50% higher than the JEDEC specified limit of 3200 MT/s (DDR4-3200) for DDR4. So, at least you get the promised speed increase on paper.

The DDR4 standard supports one 72-bit channel that has a 64-bit data channel and an 8-bit ECC (Error Correction Code). In comparison, DDR5 Dual Channel offers two 40-bit channels with 32-bit reserved for data and 8-bit for ECC. It ensures faster memory transfer along with its 16-byte burst length.

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DDR5 Bandwidth

As far as numbers go, the DDR5-4800 baseline improves where DDR4-3200 peaked. But it is one thing to record performance levels in a lab environment and another to experience it in everyday mainstream usage. Also, the “50% faster” claim has no real meaning unless you scratch the surface and look into finer details of clock timing and burst lengths.

While DDR5 has proven to be better in most apple-to-apple comparisons with DDR4, the advantage has yet to be close to 50%. Further, varied opinions form a consensus and agree that DDR5 is unsuitable for all use cases.

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Power needs of Dual Channel DDR5

DDR5 draws an operational voltage of 1.1V in comparison to DDR4’s 1.2V. But try overclocking these modules beyond their JEDEC-specified timing, and the power consumption increases. While overclocked DDR5 does perform better than DDR4, it’ll no longer conform to the 1.1V JEDEC specification.

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XMP 3.0 and DDR5

Intel’s XMP 3.0 (or Extreme Memory Profile) helps your Dual Channel DDR5 module to overclock automatically. It detects whether the program can gain from overclocking and automatically selects an overclocking profile to ensure that you get the best performance on demand. Conversely, it even rolls back to lower speeds when needed.

XMP 3.0 provides three overclocking profiles and two programable profiles, which you can tweak, test, and save to experience customized overclocking. While XMP is an Intel-specific tradename, the AMD Zen 4 platform offers AMD EXPO (Extended Profiles for Overclocking).

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PMIC Chip on the Single Stick DDR5

The most significant change in DDR5 is the use of a Power Management IC (PMIC). Earlier the responsibility of the motherboard, the Dual Channel DDR5 RAM module now gets its power from the PMIC, located on every stick of the DDR5 module.

The PMIC acts as a step-down transformer and converts the incoming voltage (5V) to the 1.1V that every single stick of the DDR5 module requires. Thus, reducing the complexity and cost of motherboards by transferring the power management to the DDR5 RAM module. So, while you may save money on a motherboard that is no longer responsible for power management, the PMIC raises the cost of the DDR5. But you do get a power-efficient RAM in the process.

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On-die ECC (or On-die Error Correction Code)

Like the PMIC, another significant change we see with Dual Channel DDR5 RAM modules is the use of On-die ECC. For the sake of simplicity, think of it as an error correction mechanism that uses additional parity bits to control bit errors.

The “on-die” part refers to the mechanism functioning on the memory arrays of the physical RAM module. While good, critical opinions differ and are backed by sound logic that data bits are far more susceptible to errors while on a dynamic data bus and not the memory arrays.

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In Conclusion

The Dual Channel DDR5 RAM is a sure-shot way to enhance your computer’s performance, provided you have a specific role for it. Only some applications will harness the benefits that a Dual Channel DDR5 has to offer.

While gamers will experience enhanced frames-per-second (fps), the considerable price premium of the DDR5 dual channel will be a deterrent for most. And we don’t recommend upgrading your daily use PC (or laptop) to include DDR5 RAM, just yet. Allow the technology to mature as it will lead to a more cost-effective performance gain, suitable for more basic computing needs.

However, Dual Channel DDR5’s superior performance is ideal for content creators who work on resource-hungry image and video editing software.

Apart from that, only a few use cases justify an upgrade to DDR5, with only a few mainstream programs requiring the performance boost of the DDR5.

Therefore, unless you are upgrading your system to future-proof your computing needs, there is no reason to buy DDR5 RAM. In fact, with the current shortage of semiconductor chips, we are still seeing an inflated price of the DDR5. You can expect the price to stabilize reasonably once this shortage is mitigated. But, expect a moderate reduction as the cost of manufacturing these RAM modules is higher than DDR4.

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