When people talk about overclocking, they are usually referring to the CPU and GPU. However, it is also possible to overclock the RAM as well, and in some cases, it can lead to greater performance enhancements than any other tweaks you make. It’s not too hard to do, either.
What are the benefits of overclocking RAM?
Overclocking RAM improves the data transfer rate, which refers to how quickly the RAM delivers data to the CPU to complete a process. If your RAM is too slow, it can create a bottleneck that doesn’t fully utilize the potential of your CPU.
The easiest solution to this is to just buy newer, faster RAM. However, you can actually bump up the speeds on your RAM manually as long as you don’t exceed the recommended voltage, and in some cases, you can only get the most from your faster memory kits by performing some system tweaks of your own.
Establish a baseline
The most important thing to do when you start overclocking RAM (or any component) is to establish a baseline. Take note of your memory’s default speed and timings with a utility like CPUz, and then use some benchmarks to gauge its performance. You’ll also want to have a tool like HWInfo running in the background to keep an eye on memory temperatures and for finer frequency tracking.
PassMark and AIDA64 are great synthetic benchmarks that will give you some raw bandwidth numbers to help figure out how much of an effect your overclocking has had. Cinebench is a CPU-intensive application that can show how much your RAM’s overclock has improved CPU performance.
For more real-world testing, CPU-intensive games, like Civilization VI and GTA V, can give you a good idea of what game performance improvements you have managed to achieve.
XMP and advanced memory profiles
Most modern AMD and Intel CPUs support anywhere between 2,666MHz and 3,600MHz memory right out of the box, which means your motherboard and processor will default to running memory at those speeds. If you’ve purchased a kit that’s rated to go faster than that, though, it will have shipped with an XMP, or extreme memory profile. These automatically “overclock” the memory by setting it to its rated speed and timings, providing a quick and easy way to boost performance.
To do so, head into your UEFI/BIOS by hitting your motherboard’s respective key on startup. It’s typically one of the F1-10 keys, or Delete. Every motherboard is different, but you want to look for overclocking settings. In our ASUS example above, it’s in the Extreme Tweaker menu. Look in the memory tuning section, and when you find your memory’s XMP settings, choose the one that you want to use.
Save the settings and restart, and you should be able to see your new memory settings.
Many of these kits can go further than the XMP profiles allow, however. To do so, you’ll need to dive into the more time-consuming and complicated world of manual overclocking.
This is the most time-consuming option, but it can also have the biggest payoff if you know what you’re doing.
As with the XMP settings, find the memory-tweaking menu in your UEFI/BIOS and begin raising the frequency slowly, a step at a time. The lower the better, typically. Then boot to Windows and run some benchmarks. If they all complete without crashes or errors, raise the frequency again. If you run into crashes, you can scale back your overclock and consider the job complete, or raise the voltage to see if that improves stability.
Warning: Don’t raise your DDR4 memory’s voltage above 1.5v, as that can damage your RAM over the long term. You also want to keep the temperature of your memory under 50 degrees C (122 degrees F) at all times to help avoid crashes and instability.
If you’re running an AMD CPU, it’s also important you consider the Infinity Fabric clock and its synchronization with your memory. Read more in the section below.
Remember to take it slow and do your due diligence with testing. If you raise the frequency too high in one go, you’ll not know what frequency is unstable and what isn’t, forcing you to go further back down to find a point of stability.
Keep an eye on the performance numbers in your benchmarking too. Raising the frequency can sometimes cause an automatic loosening of your RAM’s timings, which can affect its latency, and therefore performance. Sometimes it’s better to have a lower frequency with tighter timings.
When you find a frequency you’re happy with, perform additional, longer-term benchmarking and stability testing to confirm that even under repeated load, your memory won’t cause any system crashes. If it does, lower the frequency or raise the voltage as necessary, and perform another round of heavy stability testing.
Memory timing tweaking
You can further tweak timings yourself too, though. Once you have a frequency you’re happy with, you can get a little added benefit from tightening the timings. You can typically do so in the UEFI/BIOS in the same section as adjusting frequency, but know that timing tweaking is much more complex than adjusting frequency and is well worth reading a more in-depth source before attempting.
If you want a quick cheat sheet for your AMD system, the DRAM calculator by 1usmus can be a great place to start, offering recommendations for your memory timings that can let you jump to the best performance possible right out of the gate.
Ryzen infinity fabric and de-syncing
Overclocking RAM with an AMD Ryzen processor is very similar to Intel CPUs, but you do need Infinity Fabric. It’s a proprietary system interconnect architecture within AMD CPUs that has its clock speed synchronized with your memory’s. When it goes up, so does the Infinity Fabric’s, up to a point. That 1:1 ratio changes after 3,600MHz, and while that can mean greater overall performance, the latency loss isn’t always worth it.
Infinity Fabric overclocking is also a possibility for those who want to play with frequencies after de-syncing it from the memory, but that is more advanced overclocking and requires time and energy of its own.
Just know that if you want to raise the memory frequency over 3,600MHz on an AMD Ryzen system, you’re going to need to adjust the Infinity Fabric as well to get the best performance.
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