Whether you’re building a new PC or upgrading an existing system that was once one of the best gaming PCs but now struggles to tackle today’s games, the best RAM kit for your money depends on the platform you pick and the type of workloads that you plan to run. In recent years, every modern desktop system has utilized DDR4 RAM and supports the baseline DDR4-2133 data rate. Now, that’s the easy part.
The hard part is evaluating whether faster memory has a noticeable impact on your system when choosing the best RAM. For example, if you’re running an Intel system with one of the best graphics cards, most programs won’t respond in a meaningful way to faster or slower system memory. On the other hand, some workloads will scale well with higher data rates, including some games and software. For example, file compression programs love fast memory, such as 7-Zip or WinRAR.
On the other hand, AMD’s Zen-powered processors benefit more from higher memory frequencies. The company’s “Infinity Fabric” (the internal bits that link various logic blocks inside Ryzen CPUs) matches the memory bus’s speed. You can read about this in detail here. Increased memory speeds on Ryzen-and Threadripper-based platforms often translate to real-world performance gains. In games, that means higher frame rates at mainstream resolutions like 1080p (1920 x 1080) and a smoother performance at higher resolutions. But the number of extra frames you get with faster RAM will vary significantly from one title to another. So some games are just more GPU-bound.
Lastly, memory speed makes a big difference if you’re gaming with integrated graphics, whether an Intel or AMD processor (you can see how they stack up in our CPU Benchmark Hierarchy). The graphics engine that’s baked into most best CPUs for Gaming doesn’t generally have its dedicated memory (as discrete graphics cards do). Turning up the clock rate of your system memory also generally increases performance (again, the performance uplift varies significantly from game to game). Therefore, the best RAM for those systems is faster memory if mainstream gaming is essential to you. If you have to pay top dollar for the fastest RAM to get playable frame rates, you’re better off buying slower system memory and a discrete graphics card.
In short, the best RAM for you is faster memory if you’re gaming without a dedicated graphics card, running an AMD Ryzen system, and in some isolated scenarios with Intel chips. But if you don’t care about squeezing the best performance possible out of your hardware, DDR4-2133 memory should be drop-in compatible with any modern PC platform, regardless of whether it’s Intel or AMD.
Intel’s 12th Generation Alder Lake processors are the first mainstream chips to support DDR5 memory. We already have a few kits in the lab for evaluation to see whether the new breed of memory can rival the fastest DDR4 RAM available on the market.
Quick RAM Shopping Tips
- For many users, 16GB is the current sweet spot. Programs continue to get bigger and require more memory over time, whereas 1080p and 4K video formats are more common. In addition, PC games are getting more demanding, and websites have become complex by the day. While heavy multitaskers and prosumers may need 32GB to avoid tapping into much slower disk-based virtual memory, 16GB is far more affordable and sufficient for gaming and mainstream productivity tasks.
- Memory speeds advertised as part of an XMP profile might not be achievable on AMD-based motherboards. XMP is a sort of automatic memory overclocking setting designed for Intel motherboards. Some motherboard makers offer BIOS settings to help you achieve these faster speeds on AMD motherboards. But these settings aren’t present on all motherboards, and they don’t always work when they are present.
- Want the fastest RAM speed on an Intel platform? Get a K-series CPU. Non-K-series Core i9, Core i7, and Core i5 processors have the same DDR4-2933 limit imposed by Intel’s lesser H470 and B460 chipsets. Core i3 processors have a lower limit of DDR4-2666. While most motherboards lack XMP, those with it will more easily configure XMP memory with enhanced timings. Note, though, that these rules have changed with Intel’s latest Rocket Lake platform. Memory overclocking is now available on motherboards with non-Z chipsets.
- Dual-rank memory is faster than single-rank memory. In addition, tests show that dual-rank memory kits offer better performance than a single-rank memory kit, regardless of whether it's an AMD or Intel platform.
- Always buy a single memory kit for your desired capacity. Never combine two memory modules or memory kits, even if they're from the same vendor and product line. Mixing and matching may not always produce a desirable result, and sometimes manual tweaking is required to achieve stability.
- Want the best plug-n-play experience? First, pick a memory kit that coincides with the official memory frequency supported by your processor if you want to avoid minimum to zero manual intervention. For example, DDR4-3200 is the baseline for AMD's Ryzen 5000 and Intel's 11th Generation Rocket Lake processors.
- Got an 11th Generation Rocket Lake CPU? Remember that only the Core i9 processors support DDR4-3200 on Gear 1. The remaining Rocket Lake chips do DDR4-2933 on Gear 1 and DDR4-3200 on Gear 2.
Best RAM For Gaming You Can Buy Today
The numbers speak for themselves. The G.Skill Trident Z5 RGB DDR5-6000 C36 is one of the fastest DDR5 memory kits that money can buy. It also has the best timings that you can find on a DDR5-6000 memory kit. The usage of Samsung's B-die integrated circuits means that the Trident Z5 RGB memory can run at tight timings even beyond the proclaimed DDR5-6000. As always, your ceiling will depend on the silicon lottery and how much voltage you're willing to pump into the memory.
While the Trident Z5 RGB DDR5-6000 C36 looks good and performs even better, it has an eye-watering price tag that could scare even enthusiasts with the deepest of pockets. At $489.99, the memory kit certainly merits extra meditation before pulling the trigger. But if you've already decided on picking a high-speed DDR5 memory kit for your Alder Lake system, the Trident Z5 RGB DDR5-6000 C36 will serve you well.
The Samsung DDR5-4800 C40 memory modules deliver on the performance front for consumers looking for baseline performance, which you can install and forget. While lacking in looks, the Samsung DDR5-4800 memory has unstinted overclocking headroom. That's the memory's most vital attribute. You can hit high frequency with tight timings. The Samsung DDR5-4800 memory will not leave a sour taste in your mouth if you want to try your hand at B-die overclocking. Our sample got to DDR5-5800 C36, one of the better configurations by DDR5's standards. Of course, your overclocking mileage will vary, making the Samsung DDR5-4800 memory one of those high-risk, high-reward products.
Samsung's DDR5-4800 C40 memory module retails for $153.26 at Newegg. It's important to highlight that this is consumer pricing, not IT pricing. A dual-channel setup will set you back $306.52. DDR5 pricing is still fluctuating, but DDR5-4800 32GB (2x16GB) memory kits currently start at $273.99, so the Samsung memory kit is moderately more expensive. But if you want to get your hand on some 'cheap' B-die for overclocking, these memory modules are the way to go.
TeamGroup did a great job with the Xtreem ARGB DDR4-3600 C14 memory kit -- It certainly ticks all the right boxes. The memory kit looks fantastic when lit up or powered down and performs equally well. The Xtreem ARGB is the fastest DDR4-3600 C14 memory kit that we've tested so far.
The memory market only has a handful of DDR4-3600 C14 memory kits at the 16GB (2x8GB) capacity. And with a price tag of $169.99, the Xtreem ARGB is the least expensive of them all. So the only gripe we have with is with its availability. Unfortunately, Newegg is currently the only retailer that lists the memory kit, so it could be challenging to find.
For those with a board that can handle its top speed and games or workloads that can take advantage of it, Patriot’s Viper Steel DDR4-4400 16GB kit is an excellent high-performance option that also skips RGB.
Keeping the kit simple has allowed Patriot to equip the Viper Steel with enhanced timings that dramatically boost the performance of specific programs, including some games. Since the market for pure gaming rigs and focused builds designed for singular tasks is still competitive, the Viper Steel DDR4-4400 sits comfortably in this niche.
Patriot bucks the trend of pairing cosmetic features with mainstream DRAM ICs, instead of pushing data rates up to 4,133 megahertz (MHz) on its Viper RGB. As a result, this DDR4-3600 kit is only $10 more than the white-LED version and several dollars cheaper than competing products with similar latency. That makes it a great value at this speed, though slower kits have more significant pricing advantages.
The fastest DDR4-3600 kit we’ve tested, Patriot’s Viper RGB DDR4-3600 kit, provides excellent value to buyers who want to go (overclocking capability) and show (RGB LEDs).
It may not have fancy software-controlled RGB lights, and there are faster kits on offer for higher prices, as well as budget-priced kits that cost less. But for many who don’t want or need their memory to glow like a rainbow, Patriot’s Viper 4 DDR4-3400 C16 16GB (PV416G340C6K) sits in a sweet spot of price and performance.
The kit includes two 8GB modules rated with XMP values of DDR4-3400 CAS 16-18-18-36. Those last three numbers aren’t great, but DDR3 lovers must remember that 16 cycles at 3400 MHz data rate have the same latency time as eight cycles at 1700 MHz data rate. So this kit is an excellent DRAM overclocking value while also providing some stylish red heatsinks to make sure your memory looks good enough to show off in your windowed case.
Builders who put a premium on aesthetics face a tough choice between the best-looking and best-performance parts. Corsair brings a bit of both in its Vengeance RGB DDR4-3200 kit, providing four 8GB DIMMs (32GB total) at CAS 16 timings for a price that’s reasonably moderate given the recent market trends. And this kit isn’t all about looks; it has the goods where benchmarks are concerned, too.
Superb performance and moderate pricing earn the Vengeance RGB Pro DDR4-3200 our Editor’s Choice Award for RGB-equipped memory, though its pastel colors might be off-putting to a few builders.
Corsair’s kit beat our previous favorite, the HyperX Predator RGB, in overall performance at every speed, barring the DDR4-4000 setting that it didn’t reach. Corsair also provides a better-performing XMP value and a lower price than the competition, making the Vengeance RGB Pro the uncompromised winner here and an excellent addition to your next RGB build.
Buyers within the performance PC market have only two excuses to stop at DDR4-3200: Either they’re trying to save money or trying to coax a good performance from a system that really can’t go much farther.
For those in either camp, but the former in particular, Patriot Patriot’s 32GB Viper Steel 3200 kit slams the competition on price, undercutting its closest rival in our analysis by nearly 18%. And that’s without any performance penalties, beyond those of having the exact mid-market timings as its competitors.
Even though the Patriot Viper Steel’s performance victories are less than 1% overall, its low price puts it well ahead of even the least-expensive competitor in our basic performance-to-price comparison. As a result, value seekers within the performance PC market have just found their new champion.
The Viper Steel DDR4-3600 C18 is a terrific memory kit for content creators or professionals that don't have the luxury of many DDR4 memory slots. Performance isn't a problem because the memory kit excels at everything you throw at it.
Patriot practically binned these modules to the max, so overclocking headroom is almost non-existent, even if you're willing to go crazy on the voltage. But running the Viper Steel at the advertised frequency should be more than sufficient in most scenarios.
Patriot prices the Viper Steel DDR4-3600 C18 64GB memory kit very attractively. At $239.99, the memory kit is neither cheap nor expensive. Viper Steel finds itself right in the middle of the competition. Given it stands tall in terms of performance, that makes this kit easy to recommend for those who need speed and density in a dual-DIMM scenario.
It's easy to write G.Skill's Trident Z Neo DDR4-3600 C16 kit off if you don't look beyond the published specifications. But the RAM kit proved its performance and value in different workloads during our review.
And the real value is hidden below the heat spreader – the memory modules use Samsung B-die ICs. With patience and time, you can optimize the timings for better performance. As always, your overclocking mileage will vary, but we got our sample down to CL13.
The Trident Z Neo memory modules come with XMP timings of 16-16-16-36, which aren't the worst in the memory world. However, with the DRAM voltage set to 1.45V, we tightened the timings down to 13-14-14-35 before the kit became unstable.
Intel’s H370 and B360 chipsets instruct its Core i5 (and above) processors to lock out any memory settings above DDR4-2666, which is particularly unfortunate in a market that’s moved way past that setting. DDR4-3200 is now mainstream within the enthusiast PC market and is often treated as such by the memory sellers that cater to enthusiasts and gamers. Thus, the best way to get a top-performing brand new DDR4-2666 kit would be to dial the way-back machine to 2016 and get the high-performing equipment from that time. Barring that, Corsair has a workaround.
Corsair’s easy workaround for the performance problem of Intel’s DDR4-2666 limit was to use older, low-density chips to populate its 8GB DIMMs with two ranks, rather than the single rank of its competitors. The best part is that they did this without a significant price increase. We recommend it for anyone whose XMP-compatible platform has a maximum DDR4-2666 data rate, including most retail boxed H370 and B360 motherboards.