Why You Need XMP to Run RAM at Full Speed


You splurged a ton of money on a RAM kit that could run at a high clock frequency, but when you looked at the memory speed in Task Manager, you were shocked to see that your RAM wasn’t running at the advertised speed.

So, why is the high-performance RAM on your system not running at the correct speed?

Well, if you find yourself asking the same question, it’s to look at XMP—RAM profiles that enable your RAM to run faster.

Why Do You Need XMP?

Before getting into XMP, it’s crucial to understand how your CPU connects to the RAM and why XMP is needed in the first place.

You see, the CPU on your system is connected to the RAM through the motherboard using sockets. It is through these sockets that the data reaches the CPU. Therefore, the motherboard, CPU, and RAM must work together to get data from the RAM to the CPU.

To get everything working correctly, the motherboard on your computer uses a small chip that stores the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). This chip comes to life when you turn on your computer. Once powered, the BIOS performs the power-on self-test (POST). During this test, the motherboard checks the state and initializes the various input/output devices connected to the CPU. During this test, the motherboard decides the frequency at which the RAM should run.

To do this, the motherboard communicates with the Serial Presence Detect (SPD), a chip that stores information like the RAM’s frequency, voltage, and timing. This data stored on the SPD is standardized for different technologies of RAM such as DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4 by the JEDEC (Joint-Electron-Device-Engineering-Council).

Due to this standardization, DDR4 RAM can run at frequencies between 800 and 1600 MHz offering data rates of up to 3200 megatransfers per second (MT/s). That said, a high-performance RAM stick can reach up to 5333 MT/s.

Which brings up the question of how does a RAM bypass the JEDEC specification and run at a faster frequency? Well, this is where XMP comes into the picture.

What Is XMP?

Short for Extreme Memory Profiles, XMP defines a set of configurations embedded into the RAM SPD in addition to the standardized profiles approved by the JEDEC. These profiles define the RAM’s voltage, frequency, and CAS latency so that it can run at faster clock speeds compared to the standardized frequencies.

Developed by Intel, the XMP profile of a RAM module is validated by Intel XMP test plans so that your system can offer sustained performance when running at high frequencies. As these profiles are defined by the RAM manufacturer and validated by Intel, using XMP is better when compared to manually overclocking your RAM.

As explained earlier, the RAM, CPU, and motherboard work together to move data from the RAM to the CPU. Therefore, it’s important to check that all these components support overclocking. If not, your RAM will run at the standard frequencies defined by the JEDEC.

Different Types of XMP

There are two types of XMP that you need to know about.

  • XMP 2.0: This version of XMP provides users with two pre-set versions of voltage, timing, and frequency to boost the system’s performance. In most cases, one setting is designed to be more stable while the other is configured for faster RAM speeds.
  • XMP 3.0: Released with DDR5 and Intel’s 12-generation processors, XMP 3.0 provides users with five different profiles. Three of the five are pre-set, whereas two profiles are user configurable. Due to this, users can create profiles that work best with their workloads. In addition, Intel’s 12-generation processors come with dynamic memory boost technology. This enables the CPU to switch between the XMP frequency and base frequency based on the workload enabling better performance and stability.

AMD’s Take on RAM Overclocking: AMP

The RAM, CPU, and motherboard must work together to run the RAM at higher speeds.

Here’s the rub: if you have an AMD CPU and AMD motherboard, you won’t be able to use Intel’s XMP, as XMP is for Intel products only. However, you’re not a total loss, as AMD developed its own take on memory profiles, known as AMP (AMD Memory Profiles). It isn’t as popular as XMP, but the latest generation of AMD processors and the new AM5 socket will use Ryzen Accelerated Memory Profile (RAMP) to boost RAM.

In addition, motherboard manufacturers like Asus and Gigabyte have come up with DRAM Overclock Profile (DOCP) and Extended Overclock Profile (EOCP). These profiles enable an AMD CPU to communicate with the RAM using the XMP profiles by changing the voltage, timing, and frequency parameters for an AMD system—enabling the user to overclock RAM.

How Does XMP Improve the Performance of a System?

Now that we have a basic understanding of how XMP works, we can look at why it improves the performance of your system.

You see, a traditional processor runs at a clock speed of 4GHz during a turbo boost. At this clock speed, a processor can perform tasks in a quarter of a nanosecond. However, when running at 1600 MHz, the RAM can transfer data at 3200 MT/s. In addition to this, the RAM cannot transfer data instantaneously due to its CAS latency. This latency defines the delay between a RAM’s request and response time. Due to this, a DDR4 memory module can transfer data to the CPU every ten nanoseconds.

Therefore, when a CPU runs at full tilt, the RAM cannot supply data at the required speed. Increasing the frequency, however, reduces this gap as the RAM can supply data faster to the CPU, improving the system’s overall performance.

How to Check RAM Speed

Checking the RAM speed on your system is not all that difficult. You just have to open the Task Manager, and at the click of a few buttons, you can understand the speed at which your RAM is running.

  1. Left-click on the taskbar and click on Task Manager.
  2. Click Performance > Memory to see the RAM speed on the right side.

If the RAM on your system is not running at the advertised frequency, you can head to the BIOS settings and select an XMP profile.

Is Overclocking Your RAM Worth It?

The data transfer rate of a RAM stick can be improved by changing its frequency and voltage through a set of Extreme Memory Profiles embedded in the SPD. Therefore, if you have RAM that can run at faster clock speeds, using XMP can improve the overall performance of your system.

This performance improvement can lead to a better gaming experience. That said, the games and workloads you run need to be optimized to use a high CPU bandwidth to see these improvements.

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