Looking to make an easy upgrade to your gaming PC? A new stick of DDR4 RAM can sometimes go a long way toward a better performing system. Higher speeds aren't always necessary, but running out of RAM can cause a serious drop in system responsiveness and performance.
If you've shopped for DDR4 RAM in the past, you've probably noticed that the prices have skyrocketed in the last year. Memory kits have nearly doubled in price due to a perfect storm of rising chip demand and manufacturing shortfalls. With more phones, graphics cards and even vehicles requiring more RAM, 2018 isn't looking much better.
With so many options to choose from, choosing between memory kits can be daunting. Beyond simple capacity, users have to worry about cooling, RAM channels, CAS latency, and clock speeds. We've spent a great deal of time testing RAM kits to find the best options for PC gaming. If you're looking to upgrade and reap all of the benefits of a newer platform like the Z370, X470/X370, or X299, here are our top choices for the best DDR4 memory kits.
G.Skill Trident Z RGB 16GB DDR4-2400MHz
Glorious RGB lighting with excellent performance
Speed: DDR4-2400MHz | Timing: 15-15-15-35 | Cas Latency: 15 | Voltage: 1.2V | Dimms: 2x8GB
Light up RAM modules have been around for a while, and RGB enabled options are now commonplace. G.Skill's Trident Z RGB is one of the most tasteful implementations of RGB lighting we’ve come across. The kit illuminates itself with five individually addressable RGB LEDs and a frosted diffuser that produces a soft glow that looks fantastic in just about any PC build.
The memory performance is just as good as the looks, with the Trident Z line available in speeds ranging from 2400 to 3600, and more. Overclocking performance is in line with other Trident memory, and with tuning and tweaking you can usually squeeze a couple hundred more MHz out of the kit. The Trident Z RGB line is well worth consideration for any build.
Corsair Dominator Platinum 32GB DDR4-3333MHz
High capacity, high performance memory for content creators
Speed: DDR4-3333MHz | Timing: 16-18-18-36 | Cas Latency: 16 | Voltage: 1.35V | Dimms: 4x8GB
Corsair is one of the leading brands in PC components and peripherals for both enthusiasts and gamers alike. The company has expanded from its DRAM roots, yet it still manages to impress with memory innovations. Corsair's Dominator Platinum has been a long-time favorite for premium memory, first introduced in 2012. With patented DHX cooling, unmatched reliability, and head-turning looks, the 32GB Dominator Platinum DDR4-3333 is our top choice for high-end memory kits.
We couldn't get beyond a 3400MHz overclock limit on our test motherboard, but we were easily able to run with tighter C15 timings and 100% reliability at every level. The increased cooling capabilities offered by the Airflow fans even allowed the Dominator Platinum to run at 1.45v while still remaining cool. If you’re in the market for a reliable memory kit that has all of the bells and whistles expected of a premium product, look no further than the Dominator Platinum series.
Ballistix Tactical Tracer RGB 32GB DDR4-2666 MHz
Customizable RGB without the premium
Speed: DDR4-2666MHz | Timing: 16-18-18-36 | Cas Latency: 16 | Voltage: 1.2V | Dimms: 4x8GB
If you're into personalizing and modding your PC, Crucial's Ballistix Tactical Tracer RGB series is another worthy option. Available in 16GB-64GB configurations at 2666MHz and 3000Mhz, the latest Ballistix DDR4 memory is suitable for a wide range of builds without much of a premium. The main selling point here is the kit's 16 addressable RGB LEDs with eight controllable zones and an easily removable light bar that diffuses and enhances the RGB effects.
Crucial provides free 3D files that allow you to print different light bars to produce a wide range of aesthetics for any build. Power users can modify existing files to print their own gamer tag or custom designs. Alternatively, you can remove the light bar altogether for a blindingly bright effect. The Ballistix Tactical Tracer RGB provides the customization G.Skill's Trident Z RGB series lacks, and when you look at the advanced software and possibilities that come with the Ballistix kit, it's easy to see how this is a top choice for PC modders.
G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB DDR4-2400MHz
Solid and affordable DDR4 RAM for the average user
Speed: DDR4-2400MHz | Timing: 15-15-15-35 | Cas Latency: 15 | Voltage: 1.2V | Dimms: 2x8GB
The G.Skill Ripjaws V is the second generation of DDR4 memory from G.Skill, and it's clear the company listened to the feedback and criticisms from the customers. The new series is more affordable, faster, and has a less tacky heatsink. We found the 16GB Ripjaws V kit to be the best option for a decent capacity kit that features great performance right out of the box.
Immediately without any overclocking the Ripjaws V did exceptionally well in our benchmarks, beating several kits in the 2400 MHz range. Despite this, you can still achieve an overclock to 2800-3000MHz with a simple bump in voltage. You might even reach 3200MHz or higher, though you're likely to hit some stability issues. With a reasonable price, whether running stock or overclocked, G.Skill Ripjaws V is hard to beat.
Patriot Viper Elite 8GB DDR4-2400MHz
A budget-friendly kit for those that don't need tons of memory
Speed: DDR4-2400MHz | Timing: 15-15-15-35 | Cas Latency: 15 | Voltage: 1.2V | Dimms: 2x4GB
The Patriot Viper Elite 8GB may not be the cheapest DDR4 memory bundle you can find, but in our opinion it holds the best value when you're on a budget. This dual-channel kit is priced lower than competitors like the HyperX Fury and Corsair Vengeance LPX while also offering similar levels of performance. And unlike cheaper kits, the Viper Elite features decent heatsinks and overclockability.
For those looking to take full advantage of what the Viper Elite has to offer, simple overclocking pushes its performance to match that of much more expensive options. One of the awesome things about DDR4 is that it generally operates at 1.2V, and even the slightest voltage increases can give you quite a bit more clockspeed while still remaining cooler than DDR3. We hit 2800MHz and 3000MHz speeds with ease, and 3200MHz is possible.
Corsair Vengeance LPX 128GB DDR4-3200MHz
When you just have to fill every DIMM slot available
Speed: DDR4-3200MHz | Timing: 16-18-18-36 | Cas Latency: 16 | Voltage: 1.35V | Dimms: 8x16GB
There aren't many people interested in spending $1,600 on a DDR4 RAM kit, and even fewer that actually need to. With the current absurdity of DRAM pricing, this kit is an even crazier purchase than it would've been at launch (then priced around the $1,100 mark), yet there's always someone looking to max out those eight slots on a X299 or X399 build, and for that we recommend the Corsair Vengeance LPX 128GB kit.
It isn't the most expensive 128GB kit, but the Vengeance LPX 128GB blew the competition out of the water. If you actually need an ultra high capacity kit, like for server virtualization, intense video/photo editing, extreme multitasking, or opening more than a couple of tabs in Chrome (we're kidding on that one), Corsair's Vengeance LPX is reliable and very easily overclocked. Running a 64-100GB RAM disk still leaves plenty of RAM for other use, and we saw read/write speeds of 7000MB/s in our tests. You can use DimmDrive for such purposes, which made our load times for games and editing programs nearly instantaneous.
Since manufacturers like Corsair test and hand-pick each individual unit in a kit to ensure they all work well together in the binning process, you can safely assume the manufacturing of a 128GB kit is exhausting—which explains the price but also provides some peace of mind in regards to performance. If you happen to be the 1 percent that could use and purchase a 128GB kit, the Vengeance LPX 128GB is your best bet. If you prefer something flashy without the fans, you can get the Vengeance RGB 128GB kit instead.
How we test RAM
Contrary to what you might expect, RAM speed actually has very little effect on gaming performance. As many studies and tests such as this one conducted by The Tech Buyer’s Guru will show, there is virtually no noticeable FPS improvement from a 2133MHz kit to a 3200MHz one. While there are certain situations where this information has been proven wrong, the general consensus is that the price difference between a high speed kit and an entry-level kit isn't really worthwhile considering how easy it is to overclock DDR4.
Additionally, CAS latency (CL), which refers to the delay time a memory controller experiences when accessing RAM, can also be tricky for gamers. Measured in nanoseconds, lower memory latency is not something you’d even notice while gaming. As Crucial simply recommends, “Optimize your system by installing as much memory as possible, using the latest memory technology, and choosing modules with as much speed as is cost-effective and/or relevant for the applications you're using.”
Since this guide is focused on PC gaming, we didn’t want to bombard you with largely meaningless benchmark results and instead judged our winners on a blend of performance, overclocking stability, features, and overall value. (But if you're wondering, the benchmarks we used included AIDA64, MaxxMEM, and RealBench.) Since most of the kits we tested scored fairly similar benchmark results, we’ve omitted the charts to keep focus on the important stuff. Of course, we also stress tested each build with hours of Battlefield 1, Overwatch, and other games in true PC Gamer fashion.
We completed all of our testing using quad-channel configurations on our top ranked mid-range X299 motherboard (MSI's X299 Gaming Pro Carbon), but our recommendations still stand for dual-channel and even single-channel configurations. If you’re unfamiliar, memory channels refer to the number of communication paths between the CPU and the RAM. Like roads on a highway, the more channels there are the higher bandwidth is available for the CPU and RAM to work together.
Dual-channel requires two or more RAM modules while quad-channel requires four or more. Most modern CPUs support dual-channel memory while X99 models support quad-channel. But when it comes down to gaming, the differences between dual and quad channel memory are basically nonexistent. Here’s a great piece on the (lack of) performance differences from our friends at PCWorld.
A final note when purchasing RAM, keep in mind that mixing modules can work, but all pieces will perform at the same speed as the lowest module. Because of this, we highly recommend purchasing identical modules or a full kit for better reliability and stability.
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