Corsair Overclocking Guide Part 3: RAM

 

The last thing we’re going to talk about overclocking may theoretically be the least exciting, but if you want to extract a little more juice from your system without too much effort, this is a way to go. On older systems or systems with quad-channel memory, it may not mean much, but under certain circumstances it can help tremendously. More modern processors can actually find themselves bandwidth limited, especially if you’re using the integrated graphics. So while the best and safest way to go is still to buy faster memory, if you have an existing system and want a bit of a performance boost, or you’re on a tighter budget, overclocking is an option.

As I mentioned in the other overclocking guides, though, there are no guarantees. Memory especially tends to be screened pretty rigorously, with higher-performing chips being weeded out for faster modules. There’s typically at least a little bit of wiggle room, though.

When overclocking memory, there are basically four sets of dials to turn: the memory voltage, the memory timings, the memory speed, and the system’s BCLK (or base clock). You’ll also want to be sure to have OCCT and PC Mark 8 on hand to test stability. Finally, many of our modules come with XMP profiles, which allow you to dial in a safe factory overclock to get them running at their rated speeds. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of fine tuning, just enable the built-in XMP profile.

With the voltage, you want to give yourself a healthy amount of headroom without risking damage to the memory or the processor. If your stock voltage is 1.35V, as with DDR3L, you can probably safely raise it to at least 1.5V. If your stock voltage is 1.5V, 1.65V is still plenty safe. Generally speaking, though, that’s as high as you want to go.

The next thing you’ll want to tweak is the memory speed itself. First, see if you can get your system to POST at the next memory speed grade while leaving everything else on Auto. If it does, fantastic! If not, you’ll want to go and adjust the next dial: the memory timings.

Tweaking memory timings can be incredibly intimidating, but focus on the primary four: CAS Latency, RCD, RP, and RAS, and they’re always in that order. Generally lower timings are better for performance, while higher timings are often needed to hit higher overall speeds. This seems contradictory, I know; basically, if you can’t hit a higher memory speed, tighten the timings by lowering them. If you’re trying to hit a higher speed, though, you can relax/loosen the timings by raising them. Whenever adjusting them, raise or lower by one step all but the RAS. When loosening timings, raise the RAS in about increments of 7, but when tightening, lower it only by 1 or 2 for each increment you reduce the other timings. So if your memory is running at DDR3-1333 at 9-9-9-24, you can try DDR3-1600 at 10-10-10-31 and see if that works. If you’re just trying to tighten the DDR3-1333 and it’s at 9-9-9-24, you can try to hit 8-8-8-22.

The last thing you can play with to get that last ounce of bandwidth is your system BCLK, but note that many aspects of your system are tied to this clock. Raising this will overclock your CPU modestly as well, so generally you don’t want to raise it to more than 102MHz or 103MHz, and you’ll want to rigorously test system stability each time, including with games.

My experience in overclocking memory has been that if the memory doesn’t have the headroom or just doesn’t want to run faster or tighter, it’s usually pretty immediately obvious. Your system either won’t POST, or will crash when you try to load Windows. If you’re using a good motherboard, it’ll kick you back to BIOS after a power cycle and let you know your overclock settings are too much.

Many users may not bother with this step, with trying to speed up their memory, but every little bit can help. As I mentioned, modern processors like Intel’s Haswell 4th Generation Core series chips and AMD’s A-series and FX-series APUs can take advantage of memory speeds in excess of the mainstream standard 1600MHz. If the potential performance is sitting there waiting in your system, why not try to unlock it?

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