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Single Channel vs. Dual Channel vs. Quad Channel Memory

When it comes to building your PC for the first time, you need to decide whether you are opting for a single stick of RAM or two sticks of RAM with the same capacity as one stick.

It’s a choice that leaves many first-time builders and gamers scratching their heads, unsure what they should do and which is the better option. 

And there’s much debate about this. Most users will say two sticks of RAM is best, allowing you to utilize the benefits of dual channel memory, but are they right? And how does it relate to gaming? Are you going to notice a big difference in performance? And what on earth is quad channel configurations?

Are these just some of the questions that keep you up at night, wondering how you should approach your PC build?

Well, you aren’t alone! And we know just how hard these questions can be to answer, which is why we are here today to lend a helping hand! 

We took to the games, ran some tests, and here with results that can help you make your decision! Keep reading to find out all you need to know about single and dual channel memory to help make your decision today!

What does Single, Dual, and Quad Channel Mean?

For those new to the PC world or just a little unsure, let’s have a quick recap! If your PC has one stick of RAM, then it’s a single channel configuration.

Two stocks of RAM are dual-channel configurations, allowing you to double your RAM in some cases or split the capacity over two spaces.

Four sticks of memory is a quad channel configuration, depending on if your CPU and motherboard can support quad channel memory (you can check the product specification of your CPU and motherboard for this information). 

You can also run three sticks of memory, but it’s hard to come by a motherboard with a triple channel configuration.

In most cases, installing three RAM sticks allows you to utilize two of the sticks as a dual channel and the remaining stick as a single channel configuration. 

So what should you choose? Running two or four lower capacity memory sticks as dual or quad channel configurations (if your computer build supports this) offers the same capacity as a larger stick of RAM but doubles or quadruples the amount of memory bandwidth available. 

Adding a second or fourth stick of RAM provides you with a parallel channel that can be accessed simultaneously as the first stick of RAM.

Commonly, people think adding this and increasing the available memory bandwidth; your system will perform better. 

But is that true? Let’s find out! 

Single Channel vs. Dual Channel Memory 

To find out which configuration offered the best performance, we took two kits of DDR4 3200MHz RAM and tested them on a range of common memory configurations available.

One kit was a 4x4GB kit and the other 4x8GB, which we were able to test in the following configurations: 

  1. 8GB Single Channel configuration
  2. 8GB Dual Channel configuration
  3. 16GB Dual Channel (two sticks) 
  4. 16GB Dual Channel (four sticks)

We ran some of the most popular games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, Dirt 4, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and Battlefront II. We used an i7 processor, a GTX 1060, and a 1920 x1200 monitor to run our tests too. Check out our results below! 

It’s worth noting that the i7 processor we used does not support quad-channel memory; instead, it only allows for dual channel configurations.

The slight error we made here means our results aren’t entirely accurate when comparing dual channel and quad channel memory. We know, we are just as annoyed as you are! 

But that doesn’t mean our results aren’t helpful. Instead, use them to look at single channel vs. dual channels performance and the differences between running four sticks of RAM as dual channel and two sticks of the same capacity as dual channel. 

The Test Results and Analysis 

So, what did we find? Well, across all games tested, there was no significant difference between single and dual channel memory and how they performed.

As we mentioned earlier, we made a slight boo-boo, meaning that the 16GB quad and 16GB dual results should make no difference.

There didn’t appear to be a performance boost when running four sticks of 4GB RAM compared to two sticks of 8GB of RAM. 

We saw that single channel memory configuration had a far higher CPU usage than dual channel configurations. In some tests, it was between 10-25% higher than dual channel configurations! Why does this happen?

We concluded that the extra memory bus available in dual and quad channel configurations takes some of the workloads and pressure from the CPU.

We might not be right, but from our results and assessing our PC, it’s the conclusion that we have come to. 

So if there is a little difference in performance, what does it mean for the budget-friendly PCs? There could be a noticeable performance drop when running a single channel compared to dual or quad channel configurations.

But we assume that the performance difference would be minimal, especially for first-time builders and gamers. 

What can we take from these results, then? It’s clear that there is little difference between single channel and dual channel configurations in terms of gaming performance.

There was a difference in CPU usage, which could put your PC under some pressure if you were to run high-performance games frequently.

When your CPU is under this kind of pressure, and its usage is upped, you might notice more noise or heat, and you should consider your cooling system and upgrading this where necessary to combat it. 

However, we would say that’s only essential for high-performance games or noticing that your PC is running louder and hotter than normal.

While there is slightly more performance from the dual channel and quad channel setups, it’s not entirely necessary; from our results and what others seem to say online, there’s little gaming performance difference between these RAM configurations. 

Should I stick with Single Channel Memory?

After those results, you might be wondering, should I not just stick with single channel memory? After all, if there is little performance difference, will you feel the benefits of dual or quad channel memory?

Well, in terms of gaming, you don’t necessarily need a dual or quad channel configuration. You can use a single stick of RAM and enjoy your games without any noticeable performance difference. 

But that doesn’t mean you should rule out dual channel configurations! There are some instances where it makes sense to opt for a dual channel configuration. Let’s look at some of those cases now to help you decide if a dual channel configuration is the best option for you. 

Dual kits can be cheaper. 

Sometimes, especially when shopping in the sales. Dual kits of RAM can be cheaper than a single stick! In these cases, it’s best to save yourself some money and have the dual kit of RAM!

It’s not often that we see dual kits cheaper than single kits, but when there are so many sales that run across the year, you never know when you are going to pick up a bargain. If you’re on a tight budget and still want to acquire monitors under $100, then go for dual kits.

It’s best to keep your eye out for any sales or offers and check them frequently to see if there’s an offer that interests you, especially if you are building your first PC or updating one.

When looking for RAM (or any PC component), always consider your budget, and remember to stick to it as best as possible. Different PC cases can also affect your decision on how big your RAM kits can be.

Along with your budget, consider how many slots your motherboard has to accommodate the RAM. You should also consider the size of the RAM when looking at your budget.

If you can only afford 8GB of RAM, for example, and your motherboard only has two memory slots, it might be best to opt for a single 8GB stick of RAm compared to two 4GB sticks of RAM.

Why? Well, when the time comes for you to upgrade your system to 16GB of RAM, all you need to do is grab another 8GB stick of RAM.

Had you opted for two 4GB sticks, then you would need to buy an entirely new set of RAM, costing you more money later down the line!

If you’re going to choose 4 sticks of RAM vs 2 sticks, then be ready to shell out a lot of money to upgrade.

What about aesthetic purposes? 

If the aesthetics and appearance of your PC are important to you, then you might want to grab a dual or quad kit instead of a single stick of RAM. A single stick of RAM on a motherboard with four DIMM slots won’t look as clean as two or four sticks of RAM. 

How your PC looks isn’t important to everyone, but if you can see your ports or have a PC case with a glass panel, then you might want a cleaner and more appealing look than you currently have. In these cases, if the price is right, a dual or quad kit could be a good option to consider. 

If the price is right or the difference between kits is minimal and offers the same capacity of RAM, then filling up your DIMM slots with RAM could be a good idea.

Remember, not everyone considers the appearance of their PC to be of importance, so don’t feel like you need to do this if it doesn’t matter to you. 

What about in professional settings? 

While we didn’t run those tests today, they are certain factors that should be considered! Other tests we have seen show a larger performance difference between single channel and dual channel memory when used in professional applications.

Design, editing, and tasks that use a great deal of CPU power will benefit from more RAM or dual channel configurations where possible. 

If your gaming PC is also using similar programs, you might want to consider a multi-channel memory configuration. It should give you the boost in performance that you need, without causing too much trouble for your CPU and its performance! 

Final Thoughts 

And just like that, we have come to the end of our memory journey today! As you can see, there is little difference between single channel and dual channel RAM configurations.

While a dual channel configuration can boost your performance, the slight boost doesn’t always mean that it’s worth the higher cost or taking up additional slots on your PC. 

If your PC is just for gaming, then you are unlikely to notice a difference between a single and dual channel configuration, and we recommend that you go for the one that’s best for your budget.

Remember that your CPU usage might be a little higher, and you should consider any implications of this before making your decision. 

There are, of course, other reasons to choose dual or quad channel RAM, as we mentioned earlier, and it’s worth considering these too before making your final decision.

Weigh up all your options and the factors we have mentioned today before making your final decision. 

Remember to set your budget and stick to it where possible to find the best RAM configuration for you! Before you go today, be sure to check our FAQ section out below to get any remaining questions answered! 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Get your last-minute queries answered here!

Are there more memory channels than 4? 

Yes! You can have six or eight memory channels available, depending on the PC build, offering you plenty of space to add as much RAM as you need!

However, these setups aren’t very common.You usually can’t just purchase them, and they need to be specifically ordered for use. In most cases, you won’t need the extra memory channels unless you need a lot of RAM to run certain programs. 

It’s best to strongly consider all your options before specially ordering these extra memory channels, as they can be expensive! 

What does RAM do? 

RAM refers to memory and the amount of data that can be quickly accessed when your PC is being used. It’s different from the storage space on your computer, where files, photos, and programs are stored. So what’s the difference? 

Your RAM’s job is to take care of data that needs to be accessed quickly. Think about playing an online game like World of Warcraft.

There’s a rapid interchange of data when you play between your computer and the game’s server. Your RAM takes care of this, storing the data that needs to be accessed quickly and allows you to play the game with no hiccups. 

RAM also aids your computer outside of gaming too. It helps keep several programs running at the same time and multiple applications!

A bigger RAM will allow you to do this with ease, making your PC run smoothly and should prevent any lagging or crashes.

If your PC is struggling to run multiple programs, or you find that it crashes a lot, you might not have enough RAM to support your PC and its needs. 

How much RAM do I need?

The short answer is: it depends. In most cases, 8GB of RAM will suffice and offer plenty of space and power for gaming.

However, light gamers or first-time PC builders might be able to get away with 4GB of RAM. You might find that 4GB is more than enough initially, especially if you are on a budget and it’s all you can afford. 

Remember that RAM isn’t responsible for everything, and the power of your CPU and motherboard will also determine the performance of your PC.

For more serious gamers or those looking to run more powerful programs and applications, you might want to consider 16GB of RAM. This doesn’t need to be done initially if your budget doesn’t allow it. 

We recommend starting with a single stick of 8GB of RAM, leaving you with space to double your RAM easily if need be, or your budget allows for an upgrade! 

James Stephenson

james stephenson profile picJames is a gaming and tech enthusiast. He has been playing computer games since the Commodore 64 days in the 80s. He has worked as a Broadcast Engineer with BBC News and knows a thing or two about building, fixing, and playing with PCs.