A widespread generalization when picking RAM configurations for a gaming PC is to fill all the slots on a motherboard. While computers generally perform better the more RAM there is, a world of optimizations and timings has become possible as DDR4 slowly fades out with new DDR5 technology being developed.
Single channel and dual channel are terms by motherboard manufacturers that determine the layout of how RAM is utilized. Essentially, the difference lies in how a stick of RAM is utilized by the CPU. In single-channel, only one channel gets used. Conversely, dual-channel means two channels are used, effectively doubling the bandwidth.
As DDR5 gains a foothold in the market, the role of single and dual channels will morph our current understanding of efficiency. With the hardware coming out this year, a single channel single stick of DDR5 has the potential to operate at or above two sticks of DDR4. This is done through significant iterative design changes and how we understand speed and latency between RAM and the system.
This article will cover the differences between single vs. dual channel RAM and what new timings we can expect in future DDR5 kits.
Single-Channel vs. Dual-Channel
As stated above, single-channel and dual-channel designs differ due to how they utilize memory, bandwidth, and storage. Here is an entire graph outlining how most RAM is utilized.
Run Down of Single-Channel RAM
Only one channel functions in a single-channel configuration, as the others have no RAM sticks to utilize. This configuration limits memory throughput to the rated speed of the RAM module installed.
Pay attention to the DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) B2 and A2 number designations and the recommended placement for each. The letter and number correspond to the “channel” that the CPU follows to utilize the system's memory.
What is Dual-Channel RAM?
In dual-channel memory configurations, the memory controller uses both channels to communicate with the CPU, doubling the bandwidth. The last figure shows DIMM B1 and A1 being used with DIMM B2 and A2. With RAM in all for DIMM slots, this is considered a dual channel as there are two separate channels of two sticks each.
This also extends to two DIMM slot motherboards, where each slot is a direct channel for the CPU to utilize.
Memory Speed and Performance:
Performance varies depending on your RAM latency and bandwidth between single and dual-channel memory.
Those two significant factors influence each other heavily as more data being transferred slower vs. the smaller amounts being transferred faster could go a long way, depending on the application.
In gaming, doubling the speed and halving the bandwidth vs. doubling the bandwidth and halving the speed functionally offer the same advantages. However, DDR4 will always fall behind in terms of overall memory throughput due to running marginally lower, like 3200 or 3600Mhz compared to 4800 or 5400Mhz with slightly lower latency for DDR5.
DDR5 is an excellent choice if you can spare the budget for a motherboard, the kits themselves, and a new CPU depending on whether you have an AMD or Intel processor.
What About Quad-Channel RAM?
Quad-channel utilizes two dual-channel configurations on a motherboard. While entirely overkill and unoptimized for gaming, you'd likely see this option on a PC for server or workstation applications with Ryzen’s Threadripper or Intel’s Xeon series of CPUs, capable of handling 256GB+ of memory utilization. Here is what that looks like.
Like dual-channel RAM configurations, Quad-Channel is just two dual-channels on either side of the CPU. In addition to having more RAM, this memory is utilized differently as the bandwidth and latency are longer than a system for gaming or other productivity work, requiring a somewhat lengthy internal memory test every time the system is booted on.
So, Which is Better for Gaming: Dual-Channel or Single-Channel?
Using single-channel memory increases CPU utilization because memory bandwidth and overall throughput are smaller than dual-channel. Dual-channel by itself decreases CPU load due to having a second channel for the CPU to access, which reduces system latency.
Don't be too hung up on getting dual-channel memory over a single-channel; RAM is one of the most accessible parts in a PC to upgrade or buy more of, and purchasing an accommodating motherboard and RAM kit has never been easier for DDR4. When getting DDR5, the same method applies as an increased cost basis due to being relatively newer.
Whichever the case, ensure your XMP profile is enabled to get the most out of your system!
Summary of Single vs. Dual-Channel RAM
No matter your budget, single and dual-channel both necessitate needs within the PC gaming community depending on the ability of hardware and pricing. Starting with single-channel capabilities and getting a new motherboard or additional RAM increases your CPU efficiency and overall game utilization.
At Apex Gaming PCs, we offer single, dual, and quad-channel options depending on the system you configure with us. PCs from our 50% PC lineup to our custom builder can be outfitted for gaming and productivity at 128GB or 256GB capacities. Whatever your single or dual-channel needs, we hope to be of service at Apex!
Written By William Wilson
Header Photo By Pavan Bhakta