If you’re in the market for DDR4, it’s an excellent time to buy — and it’s probably going to stay that way for a few months. We’ve been charting the slide of RAM prices, and they’re only headed one direction: Down. In fact, this might be the best time to purchase high-speed DDR4 that I’ve ever seen.
We’ll discuss the utility of that option, but before we do, let’s look at pricing. We’ve pulled data from as far back as 2018 and included RAM prices where we’ve tracked them since. Unfortunately I wasn’t as concerned with the stratospheric pricing on higher-end modules over a year ago, but you can still see exactly how large the decline has been. One thing to know that isn’t on the chart is that in 2018, the major price increases started immediately after DDR4-3200. Today, the break point has moved upwards. All prices taken from the lowest-cost for 16GB of RAM in either a 16×1 or 8×2 configuration, whichever was cheaper, from Newegg as of 5/29/2019.
DDR4-2133 and DDR4-3200 are now just $10 apart, and the gap between DDR4-3200 and DDR4-3600 has shrunk to just $5 more. At these kind of prices, it’s worth investing in high-speed RAM. It may even be worth making the jump if you are using an APU. The slideshow below shows our results when testing the Ryzen 5 2400G with both DDR4-2133 and DDR4-3200.
Moving from DDR4-2133 to DDR4-3200 boosts APU performance by 1.2x in aggregate (average frame rate) and improves minimum frame rates by 1.37x. Statistically, assuming these improvement rates hold true, the DDR4-3200 to DDR4-3600 shift should be worth a few percent of additional improvement in both categories — conservatively, we’d expect a jump of 1.25x and 1.42x respectively. These gains are particularly useful when it comes to minimum frame rates. A game that runs at a minimum frame rate of ~30 fps is vastly more playable than one that hits 15-20 fps, and minimum frame rates have historically responded more strongly to RAM upgrades.
Beyond APUs and bragging rights, most desktop applications don’t push RAM speed very hard. It can also be difficult to find CPUs that are compatible with high-speed RAM overclocking, which does complicate things a bit. But if you do happen to have an application that you know depends on RAM bandwidth, even DDR4-4133 kits have come down substantially in price. It may not be worth paying ~2x the cost per GB for this RAM under any circumstances, but in the rare cases where the bandwidth is useful, it’s far cheaper to purchase than we’ve seen before.
One last thing to be aware of: Don’t assume that every increase in RAM clock automatically results in a higher price in every case. It is not unusual for RAM prices for high-end DIMMs to vary sharply, especially if some clock speeds are more popular than others. It is not impossible for faster RAM to actually be cheaper than slower RAM, especially if a new higher-speed frequency has become the go-to target for enthusiasts.
Down, Down, Down
If you can’t afford to buy right this minute, don’t worry — there’s no sign of a near-term market recovery. According to DRAM Exchange, overall RAM revenue fell by 26.8 percent in Q1 2019 compared to Q4 2018. TrendForce expects RAM prices to fall by nearly 25 percent for Q2, with server RAM under even heavier pressures. RAM prices are good enough now to justify buying — but if you end up waiting a month, you may be rewarded with slightly better deals.
Either way, however, keep an eye on price movement. The DRAM market is cyclical, and these prices will not last. Based on historical trends, in fact, this next 2-4 months will probably be the cheapest DDR4 will ever be. RAM production tends to move in boom-and-bust cycles as capacity grows and contracts.
We’re in a sharp contraction phase at the moment, but that will inevitably change as DDR5 comes online and the next RAM transition begins. DDR4 prices haven’t bottomed out yet, but they will. They may bump along near the bottom or slowly rise again, but eventually DDR5 will start to ramp, the overall amount of DDR4 being built will contract, and the price of DDR4 will grow. DDR5 will trend downwards at the same time, the two will inevitably cross in terms of price-per-GB, and the cycle will repeat again.
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