The word “overclocking” has been a familiar one for well over a decade now for PC gamers. Overclocking has been more common for GPUs and CPUs, however. Memory overclocking has been getting more and more popular over the last few years and can actually provide a significant boost in gaming and overall performance. Today, we look at different ways to overclock memory and answer the question: how do you overclock RAM?
- Just like GPUs and CPUs, RAM can also be overclocked to make it more powerful.
- The process of overclocking a RAM is pretty different from overclocking a GPU or CPU.
- There are a total of three methods through which you can overclock your RAM.
As usual, let’s start with the basics.
Things To Be Familiar With Before Overclocking Memory
Memory overclocking is generally more complex than CPU or GPU overclocking, especially if you’re talking manual overclocking. You need to be familiar with a few terms that you’ll be seeing a lot while overclocking memory. Let’s dive into them:
- Frequency: Chances are high that you’re already familiar with this one. Frequency refers to the amount of data the RAM can transfer or receive per second. Higher frequency means better performance. Frequency is also the most important factor in determining memory performance. Memory frequency is measured in MHz.
- Timings: Memory timings refer to the time delay between two operations. Memory timings go deep, however, and we’ll keep it simple. There are four terms in memory timings, and their values are represented as a whole, separated by hyphens. These numbers typically start with the prefix CL, referring to CAS latency. Now, this is what memory timing figures look like: CL16-16-16-35. Generally speaking, lower memory timings also mean better performance. These are measured in clock cycles.
- Voltage: Again, you’re definitely familiar with this term. It refers to the amount of power delivered to the memory. For DDR4 memory, the standard voltage is set to 1.1 volts.
How Does Overclocking Work?
Before we talk about how to overclock RAM, let’s first discuss what it actually is. Overclocking literally means “increasing clocks,” and it refers to increasing clock speeds or frequencies. In CPUs, these are typically measured in Gigahertz. In GPUs and memory, they are measured in Megahertz, a smaller unit.
DDR4 memory typically comes in frequencies ranging from 2133 MHz to 3600 MHz in terms of mainstream options. Here, higher frequency means better performance. Although these are the base speeds, your memory will likely be running at a lower frequency than advertised by default (unless you’re running 2133 MHz or 2400 MHz).This is not the memory manufacturers’ fault but is a limitation set by motherboard manufacturers to comply with JEDEC‘s (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) standards. Intel’s XMP profiles help you bypass these limitations and allow you to run your memory at the advertised speeds.
So increasing the frequency leads to improved performance. Easy peasy, right? Unfortunately, it gets a little bit more complicated, at least in terms of manual overclocking. When you increase the frequencies, your memory does more work to receive and transmit data. This may cause instability unless you increase (tighten) the memory’s timings. In fact, your memory timings will be automatically tightened by the motherboard if the applied frequency is causing instability.
If the applied frequency works successfully, then you can reduce the memory timings. For this, you should provide the memory with more voltage. These are the three main settings that you need to play around with in memory overclocking. So as a general rule of thumb, higher frequency requires increased memory timings (latency) which in turn will require more voltage.
Automatic memory profiles like Intel’s XMP will show you that these three values will vary with each particular profile.
Stress Testing: Memory Stability And Performance Improvements
Stress testing is a very important part of overclocking because it clarifies whether your system will actually be able to handle your overclocks long-term. At the same time, certain software can help us set a baseline for performance. You can use the software mentioned below to test the performance of your memory, or your CPU, on default settings. Later on, when you’ve made sure that your memory is completely stable on overclocked settings, you can come back to these tests and see how much better your memory is performing in these tasks.
Before you get into stress testing, HWMonitor is a good little piece of software to have. This will give you the live details of your memory’s temperatures, voltages, and frequencies during the stress test.
For stability, MemTest64 is a good all-around option that measures a variety of factors to check your RAM for stability. AIDA64 64 Extreme (30-day trial) is the best test for measuring raw memory performance and offers tests for read and write speeds, as well as a test for latency. You can also use Cinebench R23‘s CPU benchmark to see how your faster RAM benefits your CPU. Finally, you may benchmark your favorite game(s) before and after overclocking to see the performance difference.
How To Overclock RAM
In terms of memory overclocking, there are a few options:
- Intel XMP
- Motherboard Specific profiles
- Manual Overclocking
Let’s discuss these, one by one:
Intel XMP (DOCP/EOCP for AMD Users)
If you’ve never overclocked memory before, it’s better to try more conventional options rather than manual overclocking. Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple method out there developed by Intel called “XMP,” or Extreme Memory Profile. Depending upon the model of your particular memory, you might be able to utilize it. If you have a DDR4 kit from any of the popular brands such as Corsair, Kingston, or G. Skill, chances are high that your memory supports XMP.How do you find out whether your memory supports XMP? You can either check the specifications for your particular memory on the manufacturer’s website, or you can simply search for “Intel XMP” in your motherboard BIOS. You can also find out by using the popular tool “CPU-Z.” Using this tool, open the “SPD” column. Here, next to SPD Ext, if it mentions XMP 1.0 (for DDR3), 2.0 (for DDR4), and 3.0 (for DDR5), then your memory stick(s) support XMP, and you can enable it from your BIOS settings.
The next step is visiting the memory section of your BIOS and looking for the XMP setting. Depending upon your motherboard and memory, you might have a single or more profiles. Generally, it is better to pick the first profile because it is aimed toward a balance of stability and performance. Other profiles, if available, are geared more intensively toward performance. There is no harm in trying these profiles, though, as you can easily revert back to default settings through the BIOS if your system doesn’t boot.
Also Read: Can you mix RAM brands?
Motherboard Specific Profiles
Some motherboard manufacturers will provide you with memory overclocking profiles. The availability of these profiles will vary for different manufacturers. Memory overclocking profiles provided by the motherboards are almost exclusively aimed at the high-end market, though. You likely won’t find these in low-end and mid-range motherboards.
MSI’s Try It! and ASUS’ Enhanced Memory Profiles (for DDR5 memories) are examples of memory profiles that are preloaded and can be found on specific motherboard models.
Here, the same principle applies as discussed for Intel XMP. If there are multiple profiles, start with the most intermediate option. Work your way up from there.
Manual overclocking is the optimal way to go if you want to squeeze every last juice of performance out of your memory. This method requires more knowledge, excessive trial, and testing. Generally, it will take a while before you get the hang of it. However, if you want to learn how to overclock RAM properly, then you need to learn this method.The process of manual overclocking is about manually finding the best possible configuration for your memory. Keep in mind that it’s a good practice to increase/decrease values by the lowest possible factor to be in the safe zone.
How To Do It
- Step 1, Increasing the Frequency
The most fundamental step in memory overclocking is increasing the frequency. If your frequency is currently at 2133 MHz, then you should increase it to 2400 MHz. If it’s already at 2400 MHz, then proceed to increase it to 2666 MHz, and so on. Applying increasing the frequency, the first step is to see if your system boots into Windows. If successful, the next step is to run a memory stress test. MemTest64 and AIDA64 Extreme (30-day free trial) are good options.
- Step 2, Reducing the Memory Timings
If your system successfully runs at the increased frequency, then you can go one step further and reduce the memory timings to get an additional boost. For this, you want to decrease the first four values of the memory timings by 1.
- Step 3, Increasing the DRAM Voltage
The reduced memory timings will likely require you to increase the voltage being provided to the RAM (DRAM voltage). Apply the same principle and increase the voltage by the lowest possible factor. (Note: Generally, you want to keep the DRAM voltage under 1.5 volts, anything more can damage your RAM)
If the tests successfully complete without any errors, then you can go one level higher and again turn each setting up by a factor of one.
Other Settings You Can Adjust
Other than the base settings, you can adjust some other settings during manual overclocking.
- Memory Command Rate
You can reduce the memory command rate from 2T to 1T, which halves the number of cycles required to receive and execute commands. This can lead to a considerable bump in performance. This step will be more favorable if you’re running two modules instead of four. Trying this setting on four modules will put the load on all the memory slots and cause instability, so it might not work.
- Memory Controller Voltage
If you can’t go past beyond a certain point and your system does not boot/crash during benchmarks, you can adjust some other settings for stability. Namely, you can increase the memory controller voltage. This setting is typically called VCCSA on Intel socket motherboards and SOC on AMD-based motherboards. More broadly, it’s called the system agent.
(Note: The memory controller is stored inside the CPU in DDR4 memory, but DDR5 memory brings a revolution where the controller is stored inside the memory module itself. Read: DDR4 Memory vs DDR5 Memory)
- I/O Voltage
For stability, you can also increase the VCCIO voltage, which controls the voltage of the I/O pins on the CPU. Neither of these voltages is directed toward the memory but is important for memory stability.
Points To Remember
With the discussion of overclocking out of the way, it’s a good measure to look back at some of the things that you need to keep in mind before you embark on this task.
- Remember the principle of adjusting every value by its minimum possible factor. Jumping too up or too down can be a problem because if the system fails to boot, you need to go and reset every setting. Thus, it’s better to move slowly to get the best possible results.
- While overclocking your memory beyond your CPU’s supported max frequency can be successful, AMD and Intel have made it clear that this will void the CPU warranty. You can, of course, revert back to your CPU’s supported memory frequencies.
- Memory overclocking, both manual and automatic, generally require higher-end motherboards. Manual overclocking is a better practice for those who have enthusiast-grade motherboards.
- Your memory voltage should be kept under 1.5 volts under all circumstances. In terms of temperature, below 50 degrees centigrade is a safe place during stress tests.
- Manual overclocking may take several hours before you find the sweet spot. Automatic profiles such as Intel’s XMP can save you a lot of time.
- In the process of memory overclocking, you will reach a point where improving frequency further might not improve results any further in gaming performance. This may be because of the game’s optimization or a bottleneck from the GPU or CPU.
- Memory overclocking has been known to have better yields for AMD CPUs.
Is Memory Overclocking Worth It?
Memory overclocking can definitely provide you gains in performance, but not as much as CPU and GPU overclocking can. Generally, memory capacity is the most important factor, and frequency comes next. You can think of memory overclocking as simply buying a faster module of the same RAM. The performance improvements increase depending on how much faster your memory is (say, the difference between 2400 MHz and 3200 MHz). Tightening the timings has a smaller impact on performance.The bottom line is, if your memory supports XMP, then, by all means, you should enable it. Otherwise, you’re literally missing out on the speeds you’re paying for that have been tried and tested. Likewise, if your motherboard provides premade custom memory profiles, then you should try those out. As long as your memory runs stably on these memory profiles, you’re getting better performance without any sacrifice.
Manual overclocking is a different case. While the yields from manual overclocking are generally the highest, it can take hours for you to find the correct settings. Thus, if you want any noticeable improvements over XMP, you’ll probably find yourself spending at least a few hours in manual overclocking.
So if you’re willing to spend a few hours getting familiar with different settings and then finding the sweet spot, manual overclocking might be worth it. “Might be” is implied because memory overclocking may or not benefit you depending upon your specifications and applications. In any case, we hope that our guide has helped you learn about how to overclock RAM.
Overclocking your RAM can provide decent performance boosts depending on your specifications and how much overclocking headroom is available.
You should enable XMP for your RAM by all means, as it allows you to run your memory at its advertised speed. As long as your memory passes stability tests with the XMP profile, you’re good to go.
There are a few safety regulations when it comes to overclocking RAM. As long as your memory maintains temperatures under 50 degrees centigrade and no more than 1.5 volts are being provided to it, it’s generally safe.
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