How To Overclock RAM

Get more performance from your hardware for free

To get started, you'll need a Windows PC with DDR4, the modern version of RAM found in most computers, as well as a motherboard that supports XMP or Extreme Memory Profiles, a feature found in most motherboards capable of overclocking.

This method isn't the fastest or most efficient overclock possible, but it's safe, simple, and a good way to get your feet wet in the sometimes overwhelming world of overclocking.

The benefits of overclocking will depend on how you use your computer. If you're a video editor, overclocking RAM won't make video editing much easier. But if you play many modern video games, overclocking can be a meaningful way to increase your FPS. Make sure to keep your expectations in check.


A word of caution: Overclocking is never a guarantee. Many factors, often decided by tiny imperfections in a component's manufacturing, can influence how much you can overclock or if you can do it at all. So, even if you have the right motherboard and the right RAM, your mileage may vary.

Gather Your Information

CPU-Z mainboard and memory tabs

There are many different ways to determine what motherboard and RAM you have installed in your computer, but the freeware utility CPU-Z is an excellent one-stop-shop. With CPU-Z, you can check what processor, graphics card, and RAM you have and how fast each component is currently running.

Download the setup file, follow the prompts onscreen, and open the application. In the Mainboard tab, another term for a motherboard, you'll find the manufacturer and model of your motherboard.

With this motherboard information, you can find out if your motherboard supports Extreme Memory Profiles. Simply put, these are collections of RAM settings, tested by the manufacturer of your motherboard and tuned by CPU makers, that can be applied to safely and easily overclock RAM. Depending on your CPU and motherboard, this feature will usually go by XMP, but it can, occasionally, go by another similar name.

  1. In Google (or another search engine), search for your motherboard followed by "XMP" to ensure your board supports it. Oftentimes the best resource, if there aren't forums confirming its existence, is the manual for your particular board, which is often available online.

  2. Next, head to the Memory tab, another term for RAM, in CPU-Z to see what type of memory you have. You don't need a certain type of memory to overclock, but today the most common memory on the market is DDR4. For this guide, we'll be focusing on overclocking this type of memory.

Because of XMP support variability, there isn't a single way to enable XMP across motherboards. When confirming your motherboard supports XMP, it's advised to find out exactly where that setting is in your BIOS' user interface, lest you have to search for it yourself.

Enter the BIOS and Enable XMP

MSI motherboard BIOS

MSI

Once you've finished your basic research, you're ready to overclock your RAM in just a few clicks from within your computer's BIOS or Basic Input Output System. The BIOS is a lightweight application stored on your computer's motherboard that runs before your operating system does.

From within the BIOS, you can directly tweak how your hardware functions. You can adjust fan speeds, decide what drive to boot when your computer starts, do your overclocking, and more, all in the BIOS.

Every motherboard is different, and entering every BIOS will be different, too. For every motherboard, you'll have to shut down your PC, turn it back on, and press the correct key at the correct time, while your computer is first starting up, to load into your BIOS.

  1. After you successfully load into your BIOS, navigate to your XMP option and enable it. Be sure you save your BIOS settings so they actually take effect. Then, restart your computer.

  2. The first restart after applying an overclock will often be longer and more unusual than normal. Your screen may flash, your computer may beep or otherwise make a sound, and this could take a minute or two.

  3. If unsuccessful, your BIOS will revert to a previous stable configuration, so don't worry about damaging your computer. In fact, overclocking in the modern day is an incredibly safe endeavor because motherboard and component makers build in safeguards into their products to make sure hardware shuts off before any damage can occur.

    Not every stick of RAM will support XMP, and not every version of XMP on every motherboard will work with every stick of RAM that supports XMP, either. If you can't enable XMP or can't successfully boot your computer with XMP enabled, all is not lost, but you will have to tweak your RAM's individual settings yourself if you intend on overclocking.

Stress Test Your Overclock

With XMP engaged, your RAM has been overclocked, congrats! However, achieving an overclock is only the first step in the process. Once overclocked, you need to stress test your system to make sure your overclock is stable.

A RAM stress test, different from a benchmark, involves downloading and running an application to fill your RAM up to capacity with data. Then, you allow it to run while you monitor your PC to ensure there are no crashes or major issues.

MemTest64 application

While this may sound like a science, it is not. Different programs will stress your components differently, and there's always a chance that you can experience a crash if you stress tested a little longer. Furthermore, for more advanced RAM overclocks, pre-boot stress tests, instead of applications run in Windows, are much better at rigorously putting a system through its paces.

XMP overclocks are by design relatively modest and very safe, though. Once XMP is engaged, running a stress test within Windows is a simple way to gauge if there are any significant issues with your overclock.

MemTest64 is an excellent freeware application that stress tests RAM within Windows. With it, you choose how much memory to test for how long, how many CPU threads to use, and more.

Download and run the application. On first opening up MemTest64, you may receive the message The Windows paging file might be too small. If you do, consider increasing your paging file's size.

The Windows page file is another name for virtual memory. Virtual memory is space on a storage device, like an SSD, that Windows uses as slower, replacement RAM when your system's RAM is full. A good stress test will test all your RAM, so make sure your paging file is at least 4GB, which will allow Windows to continue to run while you test.

By default, MemTest64 will test all your memory and use the maximum amount of CPU threads available, which will test your system as thoroughly as the program is able. There isn't a hard and fast rule on how long you need to stress test. A good rule of thumb is to test for a single day or night, stopping on errors, so by the time you wake up or return home if the stress test is still running, you know you didn't encounter any issues.

  1. Exit any open applications, close any programs running in the background, and commit to not using your computer for the test's duration.

  2. With MemTest64 open, check Run indefinitely and Stop on error. Then, click Begin Test.

  3. Close monitoring of the stress test isn't required because if there's a minor issue, the application will stop testing, and if there's a major issue like a Blue Screen of Death (or BSOD), then your computer will restart, and you will return to a blank desktop.

  4. If the stress test runs without issue the whole way through, this likely means the overclock is stable enough not to cause you any issues.

It's only "likely" that the overclock is stable because stress tests can be run indefinitely, and some folks will demand they run for days or weeks without error to prove stability. However, for most situations, if you pass a day-long stress test in Memtest64, your overclock is stable.

What To Know About RAM

Random Access Memory, or RAM, is a key component of any computer. If you think of storage (such as a hard drive) like your computer's long-term memory, then RAM is your computer's short-term memory, where all the information about what you're currently doing on your computer is stored.

Like hard drives, RAM comes in different sizes, and like CPUs or GPUs, RAM comes in different speeds and requires different amounts of power to maintain these speeds. Like a CPU or GPU, RAM can be overclocked, which means you can choose to run your RAM at faster frequencies for more performance or underclocked at slower frequencies to reduce power consumption.

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