Whether you’re building a new PC or upgrading an existing system that once was one of the best gaming PCs but now struggles to compete with 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. Every desktop system sold in recent years utilizes DDR4 RAM and supports the baseline DDR4-2133 specification by default. Now, that’s the easy part.
The hard part is understanding whether faster memory has any impact on your system when choosing the best RAM. If you’re running an Intel-based PC with one of the best graphics cards, most programs won’t respond in a meaningful way to faster or slower system memory. Some workloads will scale upward with data rate to the highest possible speeds, including some games and software like file compression programs, such as 7-Zip or WinRAR.
AMD’s Zen-powered processors, on the other hand, benefit a lot more from higher memory frequencies. 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. 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), as well as smoother performance at higher resolutions. But the number of extra frames you get with faster RAM will vary greatly from one title to another.
Lastly, memory speed makes a big difference if you’re gaming with integrated graphics, whether it be an Intel or AMD processor (you can see how they stack up in our CPU Benchmark Hierarchy). Since the graphics engine that's baked into most CPUs doesn’t generally have its own 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 greatly from game to game). Therefore, the best RAM for those kinds of systems is faster memory if mainstream gaming is important to you. Keep in mind though that 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, if you’re running an AMD Ryzen system, and in some isolated scenarios with Intel chips. But if you don’t care so much about squeezing the best performance possible out of your hardware, DDR4-2133 memory should be drop-in compatible with any modern PC platform regardless if it's Intel or AMD.
Quick RAM Shopping Tips
- For many people, 16GB is the current sweet spot. Programs get bigger and require more memory 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 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 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 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 as that 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 that have 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 possible on H570 and B550 motherboards.
- 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? 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 a 11th Generation Rocket Lake CPU? Remember that only the Core i9 processors support DDR4-3200 on Gear 1. Remaining Rocket Lake chips do DDR4-2933 on Gear 1 and DDR4-3200 on Gear 2.
Best RAM You Can Buy Today
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 awesome when lit up or powered down, and performs equally well. In fact, 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. The only gripe we have with is with its availability. Newegg is currently the only retailer that lists the memory kit, so it could be a challenge 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 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.
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 that 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 the majority of scenarios.
Patriot prices the Viper Steel DDR4-3600 C18 64GB memory kit very attractively, too. At $239.99, the memory kit is neither cheap nor expensive. The 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 a bit of 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 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 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.