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. Pretty much every desktop sold in recent years uses DDR4 RAM and supports at least DDR4-2133 speeds. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is understanding when faster memory matters when choosing the best RAM. 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 recent (Zen-based) architectures are 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, the best RAM for those kinds of systems is faster RAM if mainstream gaming is important to you. 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.
In short, the best RAM for you is faster memory 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.
7/13/2020 Update: We're currently in the process of revamping our RAM testing process so that we can deliver more memory reviews. In the meantime, if you're looking for fast memory that looks as good as it performs, Corsair recently launched its Dominator Platinum RGB memory with white heat spreaders and copper accents. You can check out our hands on at the link above.
And if you're in the market for a massive (and massively fast) memory kit, HyperX have announced a new Predator Fury DDR4 RGB kit that hits 4,800 MHz at capacities up to 256GB. Just don't ask about the price.
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 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 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.
Best RAM You Can Buy Today
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 certain 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 pushing data rates up to 4,133 megahertz (MHz) on its Viper RGB. 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 greater pricing advantages.
The fastest DDR4-3600 kit we’ve tested, Patriot’s Viper RGB DDR4-3600 kit provides great value to buyers who want both 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 number aren't great, but it's important for DDR3 lovers to remember that 16 cycles at 3400 MHz data rate have the same latency time as 8 cycles at 1700 MHz data rate. 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 often 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 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 earns 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 really have only two excuses to stop at DDR4-3200: Either they’re trying to save money, or they’re trying to coax good performance from a system that really can’t be pushed 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 same 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. Value seekers within the performance PC market have just found their new champion.
Incredible overclocking capability in our testing drives our recommendation of HyperX Gaming’s HX429C15PB3AK4/32 kit to our most-enthusiastic enthusiast readers. But we'd need to see a higher XMP rating to expend our recommendation to those who don’t overclock manually. And it’s possible of course that you won’t see the same level of manual overclocking we achieved on other motherboards or with a kit that isn’t as overclocking-capable.
So those who are looking for guaranteed speeds above this kit’s DDR4-2933 spec should pay more for one that’s rated higher using standard XMP profiles. But even without guaranteed manually tuned speeds, there’s a lot to like about this colorful kit from Kingston.
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 kit from that time. Barring that, Corsair has a workaround.
Corsair's easy workaround for the performance problem that is Intel's DDR4-2666 limit was to use older, low-density chips to populate its 8GB DIMMs with two rank, rather than the single rank of its competitors. The best part is that they did this without a significant increase in price. We recommend it for anyone whose XMP-compatible platform has a maximum DDR4-2666 data rate, which includes most retail boxed H370 and B360 motherboards.