The most disruptive computer processors in a decade are finally here, and AMD’s Ryzen CPUs are multithreading monsters.
The initial salvo of high-end chips—the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X, $400 Ryzen 7 1700X, and $330 Ryzen 7 1700—absolutely chew through productivity and content creation tasks. AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors bring the power of 8-core, 16-thread chips to more mainstream price points. Intel’s cheapest 8-core consumer chip costs a whopping $1,050, and Ryzen matches it blow-for-blow in multithreaded applications. Hot damn. (PCWorld’s Ryzen overview takes a high-level look at everything you need to know about AMD’s chips, including gaming performance.)
As well as Ryzen performs out of the box, however, enthusiasts can turn knobs and tweak settings to push the processors even further. Today, we’re going to go deeper with tips and tricks that bleeding-edge adopters can use to squeeze even more performance out of their Ryzen PCs, starting with the hardware itself and going from there.
1. Pick the right motherboard
Let’s start with a quick tip in case you haven’t actually purchased your PC yet, because as always, one of the most important parts of getting the most out of your system happens before you even put it together.
All Ryzen chips slot into AMD’s new AM4 motherboards, but those motherboards are all built using different chipsets that directly affect your computer’s capabilities. Not only does each chipset offer varied interface support for technologies like USB 3.0 ports and NVMe drives, but some chipsets support CPU overclocking and multiple graphics cards while others don’t.
We aren’t going to delve deeply into all of that here, but check out PCWorld’s guide to Ryzen’s AM4 motherboards for all the info you need on that topic.
2. Update your BIOS regularly
Usually, we advise most PC users to ignore motherboard BIOS updates unless they need to add a specific new feature, due to the small, but real possibility of bricking your hardware. That’s not the case with Ryzen.
Ryzen’s so new that BIOS updates are coming fast and furious from motherboard makers. Revisions released during these initial weeks have greatly increased speed, stability, and available features for AMD systems. You definitely want to stay up to date during these early days for Ryzen. Just be sure to back up your existing UEFI BIOS to a flash drive before you take the plunge to stay safe. New to the process? We recently updated PCWorld’s guide to updating your PC’s BIOS to help walk you through it.
3. RAMming speed
Early tests show that Ryzen responds strongly to memory speeds, especially in gaming tasks (where Ryzen’s performance can sometimes be slower than that of Intel chips). But different motherboards support different memory speeds, and your BIOS may not be configured to take advantage of the best performance out of the box.
For example, my system’s Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370 Gaming 5 motherboard ($195 on Amazon and Newegg) drops my 3,000MHz Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory ($130 on Amazon) to 2,133MHz automatically using the default BIOS settings.
Entering the BIOS and diving into the Advanced Memory Settings section let me enable an Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) which boosts the RAM’s frequency to 2,933MHz. That 800MHz difference is huge and you’d never know your memory wasn’t running full-speed unless you poked around the BIOS. (Side note! At the time of this writing, Gigabyte offered a beta BIOS enabling improved DDR4 compatibility. Like I said: Keep your BIOS updated.)
Enabling higher memory speeds directly improves Ryzen’s performance in some games and applications, as this fine Legit Reviews article shows. If your motherboard doesn’t include preconfigured profiles and settings for your chosen memory kit, you should be able to manually overclock your RAM—or at least set it to the CAS timings and voltages it’s designed to run at—in the system BIOS. It’s best if you stick to memory kits officially supported by your motherboard, though.
Currently, Ryzen memory speed effectively maxes out at 3,200MHz. Pushing past that requires tinkering with your processor’s bus speed. Ick. But AMD says faster speeds are a-coming: “We intend to issue updates to motherboard partners in May that will enable them, on whatever products they choose, to support speeds higher than the current DDR4-3200 limit without refclk [reference clock] adjustments.”
4. Overclock it!
The primary difference between the $500 Ryzen 7 1800X, $400 Ryzen 7 1700X, and $330 Ryzen 7 1700 are their clock speeds. The flagship 1800X’s base clock is 3.6GHz and it can boost to 4GHz, while the 1700 runs from 3GHz to 3.7GHz.
Now for the good news: Early Ryzen processors tend to have no problem overclocking to between 3.8GHz and 4GHz. Overclocking the Ryzen 7 1700 to those levels allows the chip to meet or beat the 1800X’s performance for $170 less, as PC Perspective’s testing shows at 4GHz (though it also boosts the chip’s power usage far, far higher). PCWorld’s in-house testing saw similar results.
You’d need a beefy CPU cooler to achieve the best overclocks, along with an X370, B350, or X300 motherboard. And not everybody’s comfortable tweaking their hardware—especially since it voids your hardware’s warranty. But if you’re open to it, overclocking Ryzen can give you a free and potentially huge boost in performance.
AMD’s even released a powerful yet easy-to-use overclocking tool to help you lift those loftier performance heights. Check out PCWorld’s Ryzen Master overclocking guide to learn about the software and start cranking those clock speeds.
Next page: Software tricks to boost AMD Ryzen performance.
5. Clean install Windows
Many PC builders perform a clean Windows installation when they build a new PC, but if you don’t—do it! AMD told PCWorld that performance is slightly increased when using a clean version of Windows installed specifically on a Ryzen system, versus using a pre-existing Windows image created on an Intel-based machine. We haven’t tested it firsthand, however.
Semi-related, you probably want to run Windows 10 instead of Windows 7. While Windows 7 will certainly install and run on Ryzen chips, neither AMD nor Microsoft will support the older operating system with updates or drivers, meaning that all those crucial platform updates no doubt coming down the pipeline will never appear for Windows 7. In Microsoft’s world, Ryzen is Windows 10 only—though AMD’s chips also support Linux.
6. Change Windows’ power plan
Here’s a weird one, but it can definitely improve performance by around five percent. AMD suggests changing Windows’ power plan from the default “Balanced” plan, which (duh) balances power and performance, to the “High Performance” preset.
Why? The high-performance plan—found in the Power Options section of the Windows Control Panel—ensures “that the SenseMI Pure Power and Precision Boost technologies have the ability to respond to varying workloads as quickly as 1ms,” AMD says. “The default ‘Balanced’ permits the operating system to request which P-State (or clock speed) to use, which typically trends to a 30ms response time. Selecting ‘High Performance’ hands over control from the OS to the processor completely, allowing fine-grain control and maximum performance of the processor.”
The rub: You don’t need to do this for Intel chips, and when your PC’s set to High Performance it uses a lot more power than when it’s in a Balanced state, as core clock speeds don’t plunge when idle. Help is on the way, however. “By the first week of April, AMD intends to provide an update for AMD Ryzen processors that optimizes the power policy parameters of the Balanced plan to favor performance more consistent with the typical usage models of a desktop PC,” AMD’s Rob Hallock wrote in a recent post.
7. Disable Windows’ High Precision Event Timer
Here’s another obscure tip that can improve gaming performance, though we haven’t tested it ourselves on a Ryzen processor yet. It’s been a go-to tip for possibly increasing performance on Intel processors for years, though.
“Make sure the system has Windows High Precision Event Timer (HPET) disabled,” AMD told PCWorld. “HPET can often be disabled in the BIOS. Alternatively: From Windows, open an administrative command shell and type: bcdedit /deletevalue useplatformclock—this can improve performance by 5 to 8 percent.”
Plot twist! AMD’s Ryzen Master overclocking tool relies on HPET for accurate chip measurements. So if you plan on going this route, consider using the overclocking tools baked into your motherboard BIOS to overclock Ryzen, rather than AMD’s software.
Don’t: Turn off simultaneous multithreading
AMD now doesn’t necessarily recommend turning off simultaneous multithreading to improve gaming performance, a tweak that the company suggested to reviewers during Ryzen 7’s testing process
This isn’t something many people would want to do anyway. Simultaneous multithreading, AMD’s equivalent to Intel’s Hyper-Threading, is a big part of what makes Ryzen so attractive. It lets your system utilize 16 threads rather than the eight physical cores alone. Tom’s Hardware and Gamers Nexus performed extensive testing with SMT both enabled and disabled (via the BIOS). Performance actually decreased slightly in a couple of scenarios, many games saw a very mild increase, and Total War: Warhammer and Ashes of the Singularity received major performance boosts.
In his recent post, however, AMD’s Rob Hallock walked back the recommendation to disable SMT. “Based on our characterization of game workloads, it is our expectation that gaming applications should generally see a neutral/positive benefit from SMT,” he wrote. The “remaining outliers” can be improved by developers implementing Ryzen optimizations, which fits into the “gaming will only get better” drum AMD’s been beating since Ryzen’s launch.
Our suggestion: Just overclock your processor and leave SMT enabled. Multithreading’s key to Ryzen’s powerful productivity and mixed workload performance.
Small boosts, big power up?
Overclocking aside, none of these tips provide major performance boosts individually. Add it all up, however, and you may see a significant performance increase in some games and applications, depending on your overall system setup.
While tinkering with your system’s SMT may be more hassle than it’s worth, most of the tips here are more of the “set it and forget it” variety. Clean-install Windows, tweak your CPU clock and memory speeds, enable the High Performance power plan, maybe even disable the Windows High Precision Event Timer—though not if you’re using Ryzen Master—and you can inject a significant amount of extra pep in your Ryzen PC’s step in the course of a single afternoon.
Just keep an eye out for those crucial BIOS updates.