Best Memory 2018: Fast, Cheap & RGB



Whether you’re building a new PC or upgrading an older system, the best RAM kit for your money depends on the platform you pick and the software you plan to run. The easy part comes from nearly universal adoption of DDR4 a few years ago. DDR3’s last gasp in the desktop world was Intel’s 6th-generation Core (Skylake) series and AMD’s CPU socket AM3+ and FM2+ interfaces. The move to AMD’s AM4 and Intel’s Kaby Lake platforms made DDR4-2133 compatible with nearly every recent motherboard (though you may occasionally find a DDR3 board hanging around in a bargain bin).

The hard part is understanding when faster RAM matters. If you’re running an Intel-based PC with an add-in graphics card, most programs won’t respond in a meaningful way to faster or slower system memory. A few will scale upward with data rate to the highest possible speeds, including some games and programs like the file compression program 7-Zip.

On the other hand, AMD’s current architecture is affected much more by memory speeds. The company’s “Infinity Fabric” (the internal bits that link various blocks of logic inside of Ryzen CPUs) is tied to the speed of the memory bus. You can read about this in detail here. So, increased memory speeds on Ryzen- and Threadripper-based platforms often translate to real-world performance gains. In games, that means faster frame rates at mainstream resolutions like 1080p, as well as smoother performance at higher resolutions.

Lastly, memory speed makes a big difference if you’re gaming on an integrated graphics engine using either Intel or AMD processors.  Since the graphics silicon baked into CPUs doesn’t generally have its own dedicated memory (as discrete graphics cards do), upping the clock rate of your system memory also generally increases performance (though the ultimate speed-up varies greatly from game to game). So, you want faster RAM for those kinds of systems if mainstream gaming is important. Keep in mind, however, that if you have to pay top dollar for the fastest RAM to get playable framerates, you’re better off buying slower system memory and an add-in graphics card.

Confused yet? In short, you want faster RAM if you’re gaming without a dedicated graphics card, if you’re running an AMD Ryzen system, and in some edge cases with Intel chips. But if you don’t care so much about squeezing the best performance possible from your hardware, DDR4-2133 memory should be drop-in compatible with any modern PC platform.

News and Product Updates

Computing enthusiasts won’t shoot the messenger, but a few readers certainly had choice things to say when we gave value awards to the best-priced kits of their class…at the height of a recent run-up. Yet if the even more-recent downward trend continues, we may no longer have to qualify our value statements by saying the everything else is at least equally overpriced:  At least that’s what we’re hearing from DRAMeXchange.

Why Trust Us

Tom's Hardware has been reviewing PC hardware for more than two decades. We put each memory kit through a battery of tests, including games and bandwidth benchmarks at rated and overclocked settings. We've tested hundreds of kits, from basic-green budget sticks to lightning-quick premium RAM with pulsing RGB lights. So we can separate the best from the disappointing performers hiding behind fancy, unnecessary heat spreaders.

Quick Shopping Tips

  • For many people, 16GB is the current sweet spot. Programs get bigger and messier over time, 1080p and 4K video are now common, PC game files are always expanding, and websites get more complex by the day. While heavy multitaskers and power users may need 32GB to keep from tapping into slower disk-based virtual memory, 16GB is far more affordable, and sufficient for gaming and mainstream productivity tasks.
  • Heat spreaders look nice, but often aren’t necessary. Unless you’re running RAM at high overclocked data rates, RAM generally doesn’t generate enough heat to require serious cooling. At most speeds and settings, so long as there’s airflow in your case, bare RAM sticks should be fine. With that said, if your case has a window, you may want to pay a few dollars extra for a metal-clad kit for aesthetics alone.
  • 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 that was 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 boards, 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 i7 and Core i5 processors have the same DDR4-2666 limit as that imposed by Intel’s lesser H370 and B360 chipsets. Core i3 processors have a lower limit of DDR4-2400. While most boards lack XMP, those that have it will more easily configure XMP memory with enhanced timings. Note: some earlier DDR4-2666 kits required XMP to reach rated settings, and some later DDR4-2666 modules had both non-XMP and XMP configurations.

DDR4-3600 16GB (2x8GB)

DDR4-3400 16GB (2x8GB)

DDR4-3200 32GB (4x8GB)

DDR4-3000 32GB (2x16GB)

DDR4-3000 16GB (2x8GB)

DDR4-2933 32GB (4x8GB)

DDR4-2666 64GB (8x8GB)

MORE: Best DDR3 Memory

MORE: All Memory Content


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  • CRO5513Y
    Completely agree with the first choice, i found the same kit a few weeks ago on Newegg, Viper RGB 3600 Mhz that was cheaper than Corsair Vengeance RGB, G.Skill Trident Z RGB & GeIL RGB kits and they were all only 3200 MHz! I'd argue the Viper looks the best of the RGB sets too, didn't know it existed until i came across it on Newegg. Strongly recommend for the price + speed + aesthetic combination.
  • rantoc
    Most above need Con: RGB =P
  • TONSCHUH
    I have 2x 8gb G.Skill TridentZ RGB @4266MHz and they are really great.
  • nyhcbri
    Thought i would see gskill trident z F4-3200C14D-16GTZR
  • gone_skye_diving
    This backs up what I've seen on other sites in that 2x8GB DDR4 memory is the best for stability and overclockability and performance, 2x16GB DDR4 memory cannot be overclocked as high.
  • david90009
    You don't need a K CPU to overclock ram on an Intel platform. You just need the Z chipset. Yeah kind of confusing when the memory controller is on the CPU. But that's what happens when everything is artificially limited.
  • Karadjgne
    Memory controller might be part of the cpu, but the cpu parameters are set by the bios, which is part of the mobo. Cpu jumps, bios tells it 'how high'.

    Umm why is this posted as Best Memory: March 2015? Musta missed sumptin...
  • dorsai
    Not rocking low latency fast memory like FlareX C14 3200mhz memory on Ryzen 2 is leaving performance on the floor...