DDR3 vs DDR3L | Everything You Need to Know

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Computer memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) comes in many different versions. These are custom-built for different processor types, and their performance and specifications vary greatly among them. The DDR version is primarily used for RAM selection. But there are different segmentations within these versions. In this article, we’re going to discuss two such semi-groups, DDR3 vs DDR3L memory.

DDR3 vs DDR3LFi

What is DDR Version?

There are various types of memories used in modern devices. In computers, we generally use SDRAMs (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory) in DIMM and SODIMM modules for computers and laptops respectively. You can check your RAM through built-in Windows commands. The SDRAMs are of mainly two categories:

  • SDR (Single Data Rate)

These are older types of memory that can read/write data once per one clock cycle. As a result, their internal clock speed and bus speed are the same.

  • DDR (Double Data Rate)

As the name implies, DDR memories can transfer data twice per cycle, hence achieves more bandwidth than SDR. SO, it can double the data rate while keeping the clock speed the same. To learn more about all the types of RAM, click here.

What is DDR Version

In modern computers, SDR SDRAMs have been replaced with DDR memories. These DDR memories come with different versions, such as DDR, DDR2, DDR3, and, DDR4 SDRAMs. In each newer version, the bandwidth, clock speed, and transfer rate have been greatly increased, while decreasing voltage level and therefore, power consumption. Nowadays, almost all the computers come with either DDR3 or DDR4 memories.

What is DDR Version 2

DDR3 vs DDR3L

Overview

The DDR3L is a newer version of DDR3 RAMs, where “L” stands for “Low-voltage level”. Its because DDR3L requires less voltage than DDR3 memories. DDR3 memory operates at 1.5V in general, whereas DDR3L operates at 1.35V, and reduces power consumption by 15% compared to DDR3 RAMs. These voltage values determine power consumption and play vital roles in overclocking RAM. DDR3L memory operates with PC3L modules, where DDR3 ones operate with PC3 modules.

Overview

The Difference in Voltage Level

Here is the list of voltage consumption for different memory types:

SDRAM: 3.3V

DDR: 2.5-2.6V

DDR2: 1.8V

DDR3: 1.5V

DDR3L: 1.35V

DDR3U: 1.25V

DDR4: 1.2-1.4V

DDR4L: 1.05V

As we can see, newer memory versions operate at lower voltage levels to reduce power consumption. In laptops or notebooks, this can greatly affect battery life. DDR3U is an “Ultra-low voltage level” DDR3 memory, which operates at 1.25V, much less than DDR3 and DDR3L memories. The transfer rates of these are the same.

The Difference in Processor Support

DDR version compatibility also affects processor type. The DDR3 memory is compatible in the previous generation of Intel processors, but DDR3L is only supported from 3rd generation processors. After the 5th gen, there are no processors compatible with DDR3 memory. Only DDR3L and DDR4 support can be found at these ranges. Here is the list of Intel processor generations:

1st gen: Nehalem, 45nm

2nd gen: Sandy Bridge, 32nm

3rd gen: Ivy Bridge, 22nm. DDR3L and DDR3U support start from this gen processor.

4th gen: Haswell, 22nm

5th gen: Broadwell, 14nm. DDR3 memory compatibility ends here.

6th gen: Skylake, 14nm. Only DDR3L and DDR4 are supported by this generation.

7th gen: Kaby Lake, 14nm

8th gen: Kaby Lake R.

9th gen: Coffee Lake, which is exclusive for Intel Core i9 processors.

To get an overview on the best Intel processors, click here.

The Difference in Processor Support

Backward Compatibility of DDR3 vs DDR3L

Backward compatibility means compatibility with any previous versions or legacy systems. It is also known as “Downward compatibility”. DDR3 memory isn’t backward compatible, but DDR3L memory is. This means you can’t use DDR3 memory with another DDR2 memory. But you can use DDR3L memory with another DDR3 memory. They are interoperable, and therefore DDR3L is a backward compatible memory.

However, using a DDR3L memory with another DDR3 memory will cause both of these memories to run at 1.5V instead of 1.35V of DDR3L.

Pros of DDR3L SDRAM

DDR3L is an advanced version of memory. So, it comes with certain pros or advantages. Both DDR3 and DDR3L memory runs at the same clock speed. But the advantages are significant:

  1. DDR3L operates at a lower voltage (1.35V). So, they consume 10% less power to operate than DDR3 ones.
  2. For less power consumption, DDR3L memory gives better battery life for laptops than DDR3.
  3. DDR3L is backward compatible, making it easier to use with other versions.
  4. Here, less voltage shift is needed in transition from 0 to 1, making the performance better than DDR3 within the same clock speed.

Pros of DDR3 SDRAM

  1. As an older model, DDR3 memory is much cheaper than DDR3L ones.
  2. DDR3 memory is compatible with a wider and older generation of processors.
  3. These memories are largely available in the market, as opposed to the DDR3L models which are rare.
  4. The data transfer rate of DDR3 and DDR3L memory is quite the same.
Pros of DDR3 SDRAM

DDR3 vs DDR3L | Which to Choose While Buying

At first, you should consider if the processor is compatible or not. Processor manufacturers publish their compatibility range on their website. Choose accordingly by checking the RAM speed beforehand. If you already have DDR3 memory, buying a DDR3L one will not take any additional effect, and both will run at the same 1.5V range. Also, stay out from hoaxes like downloading RAM from the internet.

But if you are looking to replace all your old memories, and your system is compatible, you should go with the DDR3L RAMs. Not only it will save power, but you can still use them even if you want to upgrade your processor to a newer version. It will much likely be compatible with DDR3L memories, but may not be such for DDR3 ones.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve briefly discussed some differences between DDR3 vs DDR3L memory. Although they are almost identical in architecture, the slight change in voltage level can cause serious performance improvements and other advantages. For power users, DDR3L can be a great choice, but on average, the DDR3 memory should be sufficient and better value.

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