Memory, or RAM, will hold data that is able to be accessed quickly. When playing games or running applications, everything from textures to data changes rapidly. But memory is also volatile, and this means that when the power is off, the memory is lost.
If you want to run high-end games or applications, or you want to multi-task with numerous apps open at one time, you can do so if you have enough RAM.
When you don’t have sufficient RAM, programs will slow down or crash. Data may be stored in a page file on the hard drive, and due to the slow access of the page file, this can slow your applications down dramatically.
But when choosing RAM and start looking at different types of memory setups, you’ll come across three main types:
- Single channel
- Dual channel
- Quad channel
What is the Difference Between Single, Dual and Quad Channel?
Is there a difference?
No, not really.
You see, there are channel configurations on your motherboard, so you can insert:
- 1 RAM stick
- 2 RAM stick
- 4 RAM stick
Triple channel support is not available on most motherboards, so you won’t find many people talking about triple channel.
You can install just three sticks of RAM. When you do, two of the sticks will run in dual mode and the remaining will run in single channel.
It’s all about configuration.
For example, you may be able to install four 8 GB sticks for a total of 32 GB, or you can opt to install two 16 GB sticks. In the initial setup, you’ll be running a quad channel setup, while in the second setup, you’ll be running a dual channel configuration.
Is there a difference between running two or four sticks and a single large stick in single channel?
Let’s assume that you installed just one large 32 GB RAM stick. You would be running in single channels.
Using the other two setups, you would have an equal amount of RAM, but you’ll be doubling or quadrupling the memory bandwidth that is available.
The computer will use each stick individually, allowing for a much higher level of bandwidth.
In theory, the higher level of bandwidth that dual or quad channel setups offer will make a dramatic difference in your overall performance.
Single vs Dual Channel Memory
When you have a single 16 GB stick or two 8 GB sticks, you’ll have the same amount of RAM, but you’ll have a higher level of bandwidth with the dual channel configuration.
Testing the performance between an array of games, including PUBG and GTA V, you’ll see that there’s not much of a difference in performance.
For example, GTA V running on a single or dual channel setup with just 8 GB of total memory produced framerates of 92.9 FPS in dual channel and 92.40 in single channel.
Similar results occurred with dual and quad channel setups, with the quad channel producing 92.93 FPS versus 92.80 FPS.
You’re going to see less than a 1 FPS difference, and this is too small to sit around and debate about.
Based off of these statistics, it’s better to choose whichever has the better deal. Buy a four pack of 4 GB sticks if it’s cheaper than a two pack of 8 GB sticks.
But there’s more.
Let’s assume that you engage in high-end rendering. Perhaps you create 3D models, and you need to be able to render these animations on your rig.
You’re not concerned about framerate in this case, but your CPU performance will be a concern.
Single channel setups will have less bandwidth, and the lower bandwidth will cause the CPU usage to spike at a rate of 10% to 25%.
Since the single stick has a lower level of available bandwidth, the CPU will work harder than it does in a dual or quad channel setup.
If you plan on purchasing a weaker processor, it may be better to use a dual or quad channel setup so that the processor doesn’t have to deal with the excess load.
There’s also the consideration that the CPU will heat up more, demanding a better cooling solution. Higher temperatures will cause hardware to degrade at a faster rate.
In the overall performance of your computer, even a spike of 10% – 25% in CPU usage should not be a big deal.
But if your CPU is already causing a bottleneck with your GPU, the decline in performance can cause lower frames per second and may impact some of your applications.
It’s a minimal difference in performance at best, and a noticeable difference should only be experienced in CPU intensive processes.
The tangible difference between dual and quad channel setups is very minimal, and it’s so small that it really doesn’t matter for most uses.
I would recommend going with a dual or quad channel setup just for the minor difference in bandwidth availability. But if it means the difference between choosing quad channel over a higher-end CPU or GPU, you’ll always want to spend the extra money on the CPU or GPU.
Whether gaming or 3D rendering, a higher-end CPU or GPU will provide a much higher increase in performance than the setup of your RAM.
Pay Attention to Motherboard Limitations
Motherboards may or may not be compatible with quad channel configurations.
Some CPUs are not compatible with quad channel configurations, and instead, these motherboards will view a quad channel setup as two dual channels.
If the motherboard or CPU is limiting you in this way, you may gain minimal performance with a dual channel setup versus a single channel.
Real Reasons to Go with a Dual or Quad Channel Setup
Manufacturers charge more for a large RAM stick than they do for a smaller stick.
For example, Balistix is selling a 16 GB, 2666 MHz DRR4 kit for $84.99, but you can purchase a dual kit of 8 GB, 2666 MHz for $69. See more in our best DDR4 RAM for gaming guide.
A lot of manufacturers are starting to adjust their prices to charge more for dual and quad kits, so be careful with your purchases.
Kingston has started to do this, but the idea is that when a new higher-level RAM stick is made available, a single high capacity stick will cost more than four or two sticks of a lower capacity.
Pay close attention to the price differences and go with the better deal if you’re on a tighter budget.
If you want to push your computer’s performance to its limits, the quad channel setup will perform best, albeit it’s a marginal difference.
You shouldn’t notice much of a difference when gaming, and if you do, it’s more likely that you need an upgrade of your CPU or GPU rather than a change in your memory configuration.
There is some aesthetic benefit to you having a four-channel configuration.
In terms of pure performance, when every little bit of an increase matters, then splurge and go with a four channel setup. The setup is slightly better, and even if it’s less than a 1% difference, it is still an increase in performance.
If you’re planning on seeing a drastic increase in game performance, you won’t be able to achieve much of an increase – there’s little difference between 39 FPS and 39.5 FPS.