Your RAM may not run at the advertised speed. According to Reddit user Marck527, many motherboards don’t recognize the right CAS latency or frequency of RAM. This issue exists on Intel motherboards and can easily be resolved by enabling XMP in your motherboard’s UEFI (or BIOS) settings.
Unfortunately, the fix causes additional issues – whenever you enable XMP, it may sometimes set your Turbo Boost frequencies to the maximum frequency, which causes the silicon on your CPU to age faster. For those with Haswell and Ivy Bridge CPUs, this further exacerbates the issue with the thermal paste used between the CPU’s integrated heat spreader and the die of the CPU.
But first, let’s explain what Turbo Boost and XMP profiles are.
Tip: The term “XMP profile” is redundant, as the “P” in XMP stands for profile.
What’s Turbo Boost and What’s an XMP Profile?
I’ll quickly explain Turbo Boost and XMP Profiles before explaining the RAM timing issue.
What’s Turbo Boost?
Turbo Boost is Intel’s method of providing a little extra performance out of their CPUs. Given a high workload, Intel CPUs, ranging from Nehalem to Haswell, dynamically increase frequency to efficiently handle workloads. This provides snappier performance, without creating excess amounts of heat. On the downside, some motherboard manufacturers design their wares to increase CPU frequency to its maximum Turbo Boost frequency when XMP profiles are enabled.
What’s an XMP Profile?
As stated above, XMP Profile is a redundant term, as XMP stands for eXtreme Memory Profile, an Intel specification for DDR3 RAM timings. CAS RAM timings on DDR3 RAM range from around 9 to 12 – the lower, the better. Higher quality RAM typically pairs very low CAS ratings with high frequencies. So if your RAM runs at 1600MHz, but with a CAS of 11, you may not be getting the desired performance that you seek. In fact, many users may own high quality RAM that runs at lower than advertised speeds because they did not enable XMP.
Resolving Your RAM’s Timing and Frequency Issue
First, use CPU-Z to find out your RAM’s actual speed and timings. Second, enable XMP in your BIOS/UEFI. However, this may cause your CPU to run at full throttle. Third, you may need to disable Turbo Boost in your UEFI.
Finding Out if Your RAM’s Speed
You should already know your advertised RAM speed. A quick way to determine whether or not it’s actually running at its advertised speed, try downloading and installing the acclaimed CPU-Z. After installing it (or simply downloading the CPU-Z standalone executable), run the software. You’ll see several tabs. Choose “Memory”.
You’ll see several numbers. The most important is “DRAM Frequency” and “CAS# Latency (CL)”. Make sure that these numbers check out with those advertised by the manufacturer. However keep in mind that DRAM Frequency is dual channel, so if you use more than a single stick, you can double this number. For example, if the speed is advertised as 1600MHz, then it should report as 800MHz in “DRAM Frequency”. If your RAM isn’t running in dual channel mode, CPU-Z will also report that under “Channel #”.
Enabling XMP in UEFI/BIOS
Enabling XMP in UEFI/BIOS doesn’t take much effort. The process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but there exist a few general rules to finding those settings. Simply tap the correct F-key on boot up to enter your UEFI’s configuration menu. From within the UEFI, find your RAM’s settings. You may notice that XMP doesn’t appear – in this case, your RAM may not have an associated XMP profile. In this case your timings might require using either a manual or default setting.
Dealing with Turbo Boost
If enabled, Turbo Boost temporarily overclocks your CPU to its maximum rated frequency, if enough thermal leeway exists. Intel’s design allows for snappier performance, when required. Unfortunately, some motherboard manufacturers try to squeeze every bit of juice out of their designs and frequently set CPUs to run at their top, overclocked speed, all the time if users enable XMP profiles. This proved to be the case when I attempted to enable both Turbo Boost and XMP profiles on my MSI Z87I mITX motherboard. All cores immediately jumped to their maximum frequency and stayed there, regardless of the workload size. This resulted in a much higher CPU temperature.
According to Chris at Tom’s Hardware, Intel didn’t intend for this. Motherboard manufacturers, such as MSI, rigged their boards to to run all CPU cores at their maximum Turbo frequency at all times. I experienced this issue when attempting to build a passively cooled, eco-friendly PC – which caused a great deal of overheating problems.
Why Does Turbo Boost Cause a Problem?
You don’t want your desktop CPU to run at its maximum frequency at all times. This forces your fan to work harder, increases dust clots and shortens the life of your CPU. The performance gains won’t be particularly noticeable, either, since your CPU would reach those frequencies, given a heavy workload anyway. Running all cores at their maximum overclocked setting all the time isn’t wise. There might be a setting in the UEFI that turns top speed off, but I couldn’t locate it on my MSI board. Conversely, the ASRock replacement board allowed for both XMP and Turbo Boost, without perma-overclocking the CPU.
The Solution: Turn Off Turbo Boost
I contacted MSI regarding this issue, after first experiencing it. The MSI technician advised me that the problem lies within the CPU and not the motherboard. Fortunately, this wasn’t true and I eventually replaced the motherboard with an ASRock model that didn’t automatically run the CPU at the highest frequency. The problem lay with MSI’s design. Unfortunately, the only way to resolve this issue is through either turning off XMP profiles and using sub-optimal settings, doing manual timings (which can take a lot of work) or turning off Turbo Boost.
If your RAM isn’t running at the advertised speed, try enabling XMP profiles. However, enabling XMP may require that you turn Turbo Boost off or it will cause irregular amounts of stress on your system. A higher ambient temperature will prematurely age your silicon, resulting in a higher rate of failure. Intel’s decision to use thermal paste, which itself ages prematurely at higher temperatures, likely compounds this issue.