AMD's Ryzen CPUs are its fastest, most competitive parts in ages, but the universal truth still applies—you can make them even faster by overclocking. AMD encourages users to tweak their platform, and you can level the playing field between the first- and second-gen Ryzen CPUs by using AMD's own tools and advice to overclock your processor. Make the years disappear and your processor will feel like new again.
We'll walk you through everything you need to know to overclock a modern AMD CPU. There's still plenty of life left in AMD's first generation of Ryzen CPUs, but if you have a newer Ryzen processor you can still get in on the fun, and here is our guide to the best CPUs for gaming. Our testbed was a Ryzen 1700X on Gigabyte's AX370 Gaming 5 motherboard along with 8 gigs of 3600MHz TridentZ G.SKILL DRAM, but all these techniques work just as well with newer processors and motherboards. While there isn't much risk to overclocking these days, there's always a chance for damage when you run hardware beyond spec, so keep that in mind as you proceed!
Clean before you overclock
Believe it or not, one of the most important steps in overclocking a PC is making sure the case, fans, and heatsinks are clean and clear of obstructions. Even the best watercooled system won't operate with blocked vents, clogged fans or dust-encrusted radiators, and every PC eventually develops these problems. Open your system and give it a top to bottom clean-up. This is especially important if you haven't cracked open the case in more than year. It may be scary in there.
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Rerouting cables behind the motherboard is a great way to improve ventilation. Not only does this improve the efficiency of your cooling system, it also looks much better through the side window, showcasing components and LED lighting effects.
Speaking of cooling, if you want the most out of an overclocked system, you'll need to go with at least a budget upgraded air cooler such as Cooler Master's Hyper 212 EVO. Check out our guide to the best CPU coolers at a variety of budgets.
While the case is open, check your power supply to make sure it has enough juice to handle the extra load an overclocked processor will draw. If you're already pushing your power limit with a low wattage model, it may be time for an upgrade to a certified 80 Plus Gold or better PSU that has a few extra hundred watts to spare. Not only does that eliminate the hard-to-pinpoint problems caused by uneven power delivery, it also prepares your rig for any future upgrades urges, such as a hungry new graphics card.
The software you'll need before you overclock
You'll need several software tools to successfully overclock a system, but they are all easy to find, free, or cheap, so this part is easy. First, pick a few games with good built-in benchmarks so you can test your system before and after with real software. While the type of game depends on your tastes, good CPU gaming benchmarks include the Total War games, GTA5, and Hitman. Chose a lower resolution, such as 1080p, and moderate visual settings so you don't wind up stressing the GPU more than the CPU.
Next up are static benchmarks and stress tests, to see how much performance you've gained in a more controlled software setting and to make sure the new CPU speeds are stable even when the processor is pushed to the limit. 3DMark's Firestrike and TimeSpy have CPU tests that are good benchmarks, but AIDA64's stress test and static benchmarks are favorites due to their speed, depth and ability to tease out errors quickly. Traditionalists will prefer Prime95 and Memtest, although the former may work your processor harder and hotter than required.
To prep your PC for its overclock primping, visit your motherboard manufacturer's website to check for new motherboard and chipset drivers, especially any BIOS updates. Ryzen has come a long way since launch, and you want every advantage a new, stable BIOS brings to the table. Consider upgrading graphics card drivers also, to start with a clean, up-to-date slate.
How to overclock an AMD Ryzen CPU
Overclocking is traditionally done on your motherboard's BIOS screen. To enter the BIOS, you'll have to press a key during boot up—usually a Function key, DEL, or ESC. The key you need to press should briefly be displayed on-screen during the boot process.
Once in the BIOS, it's time to dive into settings and start speeding things up. The clockspeed of a CPU determines how quickly it performs operations, but raising it is not as simple as dialing in a new number. Processors use two values, the base clock (BCLK) and the multiplier (also called Core Ratio), to determine the final clock speed.
A system's base clock, usually 100 MHz, determines CPU speed as well as the speed of a host of other subsystems on the motherboard. While slight bumps on this value raise CPU performance, it's far more likely to cause instability since every other component that uses it is also overclocked, and most of those subsystems aren't as tolerant to overclocking as the CPU. For beginners, this is best left alone, although experienced overclockers will often tweak this value slightly to squeeze the last few MHz from an overclocked CPU or to get the most from high speed DRAM.
Changing the multiplier only affects the CPU speed and is much more forgiving to overclocking shenanigans. This is where most of the speed increase takes place. As the name suggests, the top CPU clockspeed is determined by multiplying this value with the base clock, so a multiplier of 40 and a base clock of 100 yields 4GHz. For most Ryzen CPUs 3.9 to 4.2 GHz—via multiplier—is the ceiling people hit when attempting an overclock. The second generation Ryzen parts (specifically the 2600, 2600X, 2700, and 2700X) will typically do 200-300MHz more than the first-gen parts.
Keeping the cores fed with power at higher speeds so they remain stable often requires an increase in CPU voltage as well, and your top speeds will be a balancing act between voltage, multipliers and heat. Ryzen responds best to CPU voltages (or VCore) of around 1.35-1.37V. Higher voltages up to 1.45V are possible but require exotic cooling solutions and may shorten the life of your processor, and we don't recommend them for anyone reading this guide. Keep temperature below 80-85C. Ryzen processors don't like going beyond that temperature.
We recommend starting with a manual (not automatic or offset) voltage of 1.35V. Then set your core multiplier to 39 (aka 3.9GHz). Save the BIOS settings and boot into Windows.
Test with a couple of benchmarks and a stress test, and if no problems pop up, raise the multiplier by one and repeat the process until instability occurs. If you got lucky and have an overclocking-friendly CPU, you can generally push past the instability by raising voltage slightly and testing again, but every chip is a bit different. Keep an eye on temperatures, as increasing voltage can have a large effect on heat and may prove counterproductive depending on your cooler.
Eventually you'll reach a wall where raising the speed even a little bit will require a big voltage bump, or the processor becomes unstable to matter what you do. We'll give you a few pro tricks in the section below, but if you want a nice simple overclock, this is the end of the road. Ease back from the edge by 1 on the multiplier for a safety margin and run benchmarks, stress tests and some demanding real-world software.
Hitman or The Witcher 3 are good for this—both tend to crash on unstable overclocks. If everything checks out, you're good to go.
Going beyond the overclocking basics
There are a few more tricks to raise speeds just a little bit further. Early on, Ryzen had problems with faster memory sticks and while these issues were addressed quickly, many users still have DRAM set to the most compatible and stable speed settings. A lot has changed from those early days, and if you have an enthusiast motherboard it's likely to handle whatever memory speed you can toss at it, so it's worthwhile to check and see if you're running those DRAM sticks at their rated potential. Ryzen systems leverage fast memory more than Intel-based hardware, especially AMD APUs, and you'll feel the difference if you're still running at the chipset's default 2400 or 2666 MHz.
Like the CPU, DRAM voltage can also be raised for stability. A value of 1.35V is best for this if the default value isn't enough. Keep in mind that memory tests can take a while, faulty settings are a pain to troubleshoot, and DRAM tinkering can cause OS corruption. Stick to the various listed speeds provided by the memory manufacturer, rather than rolling your own timings, unless you have tons of tinkering time to kill.
Your success in overclocking Ryzen processors often will depend on what CPU you're using. The latest Ryzen 5 2600X and Ryzen 7 2700X have base clocks of up to 4.2/4.3GHz, and features like Precision Boost often do a good job of using all the available headroom. Because overclocking Ryzen CPUs disables turbo speeds, you may not end up with a meaningful improvement.
The non-X processors like the Ryzen 5 2600 and Ryzen 7 2700 CPUs on the other hand come with more conservative clockspeeds at stock, and often overclock nearly as high as the X variants. This is true of both first and second generation Ryzen processors. If you're looking for the best value for Ryzen overclocking, we recommend the less expensive non-X models.