The Beginner’s Guide to Improve Gaming Performance of Zen 2

With the launch of Zen 2, AMD has turned the CPU market upside down.

Now AMD not only dominates in Price-to-Performance ratio but it does more while costing less. A Ryzen 7 3700X is basically an i9-9900K which doesn’t require an additional cooler, performs the same or slightly better in Highly-Threaded applications and is only 1 to 2% weaker in Lightly Threaded tests and it is 33% cheaper.

I should also mention how power efficient these chips are.

We know that 3rd Gen Ryzen has higher IPC than Intel’s Coffee Lake Refresh, but the Higher Clock speeds of Intel’s chips make them almost on-par in Single-Threaded performance.

So, Zen 2 should perform the same as Intel in Gaming as well, right?

Wrong. In our tests, a Core-i9 9900K was better than Ryzen 7 3700X in gaming by almost 7%. Even if we run a 9900K and a 3700X at the same Clock Speeds, the i9 9900K gives higher frame-rates.

So, what is wrong with Zen 2?

High-Memory Latency is the biggest culprit that hampers the performance of 3rd Gen Ryzen.



Although AMD has made several improvements such as doubling of L3 cache, decrease in L3 cache latency, decoupling of Fclk & Uclk, and a new Infinity fabric with higher efficiency, it was not enough to bring down the memory latency.

The new Memory Controller has dramatically improved the support for high-frequency memory, but we still haven’t seen a drastic improvement in memory latencies.

Here’s a table showing the Latencies in Geekbench & AIDA64 tests using the same 3600 MHz Memory kit at its default XMP settings.

CPUGeekbench Memory LatencyAIDA64 Memory Latency
Intel Core-i9 9900K50.2 ns50.5 ns
Ryzen 7 3700X73.1 ns73.8 ns

Zen 2 has 45% higher memory latency when compared to Coffee Lake Refresh (on AIDA64 & Geekbench).

This 45% latency difference is the most significant contributor to that 7% worse Gaming Performance. The other factors that are contributing to this number are the early drivers and optimization issues.  I do believe that this number will reduce in the future with better drivers and BIOS revisions.

Older games that rely on just a few cores would continue to favor Intel.

Before we begin, I seriously need to ask you this one question.

    Why do you Need better Gaming Performance?

The CPU limits the performance of a game when it can’t keep up with the GPU. Such situations won’t arise with Zen 2 if you’re using an RX 5700 or any weaker GPU at 1080p (or higher resolution). Again, you won’t be limited by any Zen 2 CPU if you’re playing at 1440p or 4K High/Ultra using any GPU (including the RTX 2080 Ti).

Hence, it won’t matter whether you pair a Core-i5 9600K or a Ryzen 5 3600 with a 1660 Ti/RTX 2060/RX 5700 for 1080p/1440p Gaming at High preset.

The only reason why you would need higher FPS out of your 3rd Gen Ryzen PC is when you own a high-end GPU (2080 Super or 2080 Ti), and you run games at 1080p High/Medium with a 144Hz/240Hz Monitor, and you’re unable to hit 144/240 FPS consistently. The same will be true for even midrange GPUs if you play games at 1080p Medium/Low or at 720p.

If you don’t fall in the above category, then your current system is already on par with an Intel’s 9th Gen equivalent systems in most games. And you shouldn’t expect performance gains higher than 2-3% after following the steps in this article.

But if you do fall in that category and your CPU is really limiting the GPU performance, then follow this guide and the performance improvements in some games could be as high as 15-20%.

    Preliminary Steps

If you haven’t built the PC yet or haven’t bought the RAM, I will highly recommend a 3200 MHz CL14 or a 3600 MHz CL16 Samsung B-die kit.

How to know if a particular memory kit is Samsung B-Die? Just head over to B-Die finder and search for the memory kits that you’ve shortlisted for your PC Build.

Also, remember that all B-Dies are not created equal. There’s binning in Memory Dies as well. Some kits like G.Skill F4-3600C15D-16GTZ (3600 MT/s CL15) have a latency of 8.3 ns while some kits like Corsair Vengeance RGB CMR16GX4M2C3600C18 (3600 MT/s CL18) have a latency of 10 ns.

Using B-Die finder, I’ll recommend going for kits having latency under 9 ns.

If B-die kits are out of your budget, try looking for Micron E-dies as they are pretty good as well. You can also consider Hynix C-Die (also known as Hynix CJR) which are decent but not on the same level as Samsung B-die.

As shown in this presentation by AMD, 3600 MHz CL16 kit gives the best price-to-performance ratio.

3rd Gen Ryzen Memory Latency Sweet Spot

Source: AMD

If you have already built the PC, here are some things you should double-check:

  • Make sure your RAM sticks are in the correct slots and are running on Dual-Channel mode. If you’re using a Single 8GB/16GB Stick, I’ll highly recommend getting another one of those to utilize the Dual-Channel Configuration. You’re losing a lot of performance by not utilizing both the Memory Channels.
  • Your RAM is running at its advertised XMP Speeds. If not, switch to that XMP profile in the BIOS.
  • You have the latest chipset drivers, and BIOS updates installed. To get the latest chipset drivers, head over to the AMD’s official website. For the latest BIOS update, search for your Motherboard on the manufacturer’s website. If the most recent BIOS has the new AGESA Code (1.0.0.3ABBA), I’ll highly recommend flashing it as it fixes the bug regarding boost frequencies.
  • You’re using the Windows 10 v1903 as it has optimized the Windows scheduler for Ryzen CPUs.

    Turn On PBO & High-Performance Mode

On average, I gained 4% FPS just by turning on Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) and changing the Power Plan from Windows’s Default Plan to AMD Ryzen High-Performance.

You can enable PBO directly from Ryzen Master. If you haven’t installed that application yet, head over to AMD’s website and search for Processors Drivers.

Once you open the application, you will get the following screen.

Ryzen Master

From the left sidebar select any profile.

Now change the Control mode from Default to Precision Boost Overdrive and press apply.

Enabling Precision Boost Overdrive

That’s it!

You can also enable both PBO & Auto OC through the BIOS.

To change the Power Plan, look for Power & Sleep Settings. In that Window, look for additional power settings.

Ryzen High-Performance Plan

Instead of using one of the Windows Power Plans, I’ll recommend the Ryzen Balanced Plan for Normal Usage and Ryzen High-Performance Plan while gaming.

    SMT & Background Processes

You can gain a decent boost in some of the games after disabling Simultaneous multithreading, but I’ll only recommend it for the Ryzen 7 & Ryzen 9 lineups. You’ll also lose Multi-Threading performance so you should disable it only if gaming is all you do on your PC.

Disabling SMT could either improve or decrease the gaming performance depending on how well that particular game utilizes Multi-Threading and whether you’re running any background tasks.

Update: Reddit user iSentinel has suggested using a tool known as Project Lasso. With this tool, you can disable SMT per-application basis. So, you can turn it off only for those games that benefit from disabling SMT. 

I’ll recommend testing your favorite games with & without SMT to make sure you’re getting better average FPS and 1% Lows after turning it off. If not, then you should keep SMT On.

To disable SMT, open Ryzen Master, select a profile and press the OFF button next to Simultaneous multithreading and Apply.

Disable SMT Zen 2

Restart your PC and SMT will be disabled. You can follow the same steps to enable it back.

SMT can also be disabled from the BIOS.

Now let’s talk about the background processes. Disabling these should improve the frame rate stability. I wouldn’t be too worried about background processes with an 8-Core or 12-core chip, but with Ryzen 5 (especially when SMT is disabled), I’ll highly recommend it.

Before starting the game, open Task Manager and sort the processes as per their CPU Utilization. Try closing all the non-system apps that you installed and are aware of. Some of the programs I’ll recommend closing are Chrome, RGB Sync Software (Mystic Light/RGB Fusion/Aura Sync/Polychrome RGB), Steam, Origin, Epic Store, Uplay, Discord (if not being used in the game).

If you have an Anti-Virus Software, you can either temporarily disable it or enable the Gaming Mode/Silent Mode if that feature is available in your Anti-Virus.

    Optimizing RAM Performance

As we have already discussed that Memory Latency is one of the most critical aspects of Zen 2, we will try to optimize the Memory Timings using the DRAM Calculator by 1usmus.

This step isn’t going to be as easy as the previous steps, but the performance gains are massive. Even a 3000 MHz Memory kit with Manually Tuned timings can outperform a 3800 MHz kit using default XMP profile. Here’s a video by Steve from Hardware Unboxed which illustrates the massive performance gains just by tuning the memory.

Tuning Memory Timings

Firstly, download the Ryzen DRAM Calculator and Thaiphoon Burner.

Open the Thaiphoon Burner and Click on Read and select one of your memory sticks (I hope you’re using two identical RAM sticks).

Thaiphoon Burner Read Memory Stick

 

On the next screen, you’ll be presented with detailed info on your Memory kit. Use this screen to identify your DRAM Manufacturer and Die Type. You should also note whether it is a Single-Rank Memory or Dual-Rank.

You will find the required information under Manufacturer, Part Number, and Die Density/Count. This screen confirms that I’m using a Hynix C-Die (CJR) and it is a Single-Rank Memory.

Now press the Report Button.

DRAM Module Info in Thaiphoon Burner

 

You’ll now arrive at a new screen with detailed info on your RAM timings. Scroll down till the end, and you’ll find the option to Show Delay in Nanoseconds. Click that option.

Show Delay in nanoseconds Thaiphoon

 

The last step is to export the details. Click export and then select Complete HTML Report and save it to a location.

Export Complete HTML Report of DRAM

 

Now, open the Ryzen DRAM Calculator, and you should see the following screen.

Ryzen DRAM Calculator

Type the values for Processor, Memory Type, Memory Rank, Frequency, DIMM Modules, and Motherboard.

In Processor, Ryzen 1 gen corresponds to 1st Gen Ryzen, Ryzen+ gen to 2nd Gen Ryzen and Ryzen 2 gen to 3rd Gen Ryzen (Zen 2).

In Memory Type, choose the Memory Die info that we obtained from the Thaiphoon Burner. You’ll also find the Memory Rank from Thaiphon Burner.

In Frequency, select the desired frequency you want to run your kit at. Leave the BCLK to its default value of 100.

On DIMM Modules, select how many memory modules you’re using. In Motherboard, choose your Motherboard’s chipset.

Enter Memory Details in Calculator

After you’re done putting the details, press Import XMP and select the HTML Report that we previously saved from the Thaiphoon Burner. After importing the profile, you should get the following screen.

Import XMP Profile in DRAM Calculator

 

Now, we can calculate the Memory Subtimings by pressing the Calculate SAFE or Calculate FAST Option. I’ll first recommend calculating the safe timings first and move on to Fast if the system boots successfully and the Memory Stability test passes.

Calculate Memory Subtimings

I know these sub timings will look overwhelming at first, but it isn’t that difficult once you’ve done it for the first time. Now you should take a photo or save a screenshot of this screen and send it to a Smartphone or another PC/Laptop as we will be entering these values in the BIOS.

Look for the DRAM Overclocking Settings on your BIOS. I’m currently adjusting the timings on a B450 Gaming Pro Carbon AC that is running on the GSE-lite BIOS. On MSI Boards, these settings are available under the Overclocking menu.

Disable the A-XMP and Memory Try It and go to Advanced DRAM Configuration.

Overclocking Menu in MSI GSE Lite BIOS

Now you should enter the Timings & Subtimings DRAM Calculator gave you. If you see any option that is not present on the DRAM Calculator, leave it to Auto.

You’ll see the tRFC1, tRFC2, and tRFC4 values that are not present on the DRAM Calculator. On tRFC1/2/4, enter the tRFC value that the calculator gave you and leave the rest of the tRFC fields on auto.

Configuring DRAM Timings from BIOS

Once, you’re done entering the timings, go back to the previous menu. On DRAM Voltage, enter the DRAM Volage the Calculator is recommending.

You should also change the DRAM Frequency to the one which you chose in the Calculator and FCLK Frequency should be half of the DRAM Frequency. So, if I’m running the RAM at 3200 MHz, the FCLK Frequency should be 1600 MHz.

Adjusting DRAM Voltage in BIOS

Now, you should save the BIOS settings and reboot the PC. If it fails to boot, you’ll have to clear CMOS and try it again with different voltages, or different profile (V1/V2/Manual) in DRAM calculator, or at different frequencies.

If it works fine, you should first perform the Memory Stability test and then move on to the FAST Settings in the DRAM Calculator.

Memory Stability Test

If your PC boots successfully, the first things you should do is performing a stability test. I’ll recommend using Memtest that is included in the folder of DRAM Calculator. You should run the test for a long duration for better results. I’ll recommend leaving it overnight.

If you get any errors, you should enter the SOC, VDDP, and VDDG voltage that DRAM calculator provides. If you still get any errors, you should go back to the SAFE preset or calculate the timings again with a different frequency.

Clearing CMOS if the PC Fails to Boot

You should refer to your Motherboard’s Manual on how to clear the CMOS. The easiest way to do it is to short the JBAT pins for 10-15 seconds using a CMOS jumper or a screwdriver.

For some reason, clearing the CMOS works differently on AM4 platforms (I’m not sure if it is true for all AM4 boards or just the MSI ones). You should check out this guide on MSI Forum. The only way I managed to clear the CMOS on B450 Gaming Pro Carbon AC was using these steps:

  1. Turning Off the PC
  2. Keeping the PSU connected to the AC power outlet (or the UPS) with the switch being On
  3. Turning Off the Power Button on PSU
  4. Shorting the JBAT pins for 20-30 seconds using a screwdriver

So, if anyone of you using MSI’s boards can follow the above steps if having trouble clearing the CMOS. If it doesn’t work, you should either take out the CMOS battery or simply flash the BIOS again using BIOS Flashback method.

    Manual Overclocking

You might be aware that there’s isn’t much OC headroom in 3rd Gen Ryzen CPUs. But if you still want to get the best out of your chip, the manual OC is the way to go. I’ll recommend watching videos from der8auer, Buildzoid, and Gamers Nexus.

Here’s an excellent 3rd-gen Ryzen Overclocking video by Anthony from Linus Tech Tips.

 

    Wait for Better Drivers & BIOS

The system I’m currently using has a Ryzen 7 3700X paired with a B450 Gaming Pro Cabon AC. At the time of writing this, MSI hasn’t yet provided the update for the latest AGESA 1.0.0.3ABB that AMD released almost a month ago.

Better drivers and optimization should enhance performance in the upcoming months. This has always been the case with most AMD products.

Back in 2017 when I initially tested the Radeon RX 550, it lost against the GeForce GT 1030 in almost every game. And now with better drivers, it is superior to the GT 1030. So, with AMD you can always expect better performance as the platform matures and we get better drivers.

    Intel or AMD for Gaming?

If Gaming is the only thing you do on your PC, then Intel is still the best choice.

But the above statement is only valid when these three conditions are met:

  • You own a 2070 Super or a better GPU
  • You own a Monitor with Refresh Rate higher than 120 Hz
  • You game at 1080p

For the E-sports players who play CS: GO, Overwatch, PUBG, Apex Legends, or Fortnite and meet the above criteria, I’ll recommend Intel.

For everyone else, AMD Ryzen is a better choice.

At this point, the only Intel CPUs that make sense are the i5-9400F and the i9-9900K. Let’s analyze the competition between both brands at each price point.

$100-$200

The i5-9400F provides an excellent value for budget gaming at it is only 2-3% weaker than Ryzen 5 3600 while being $50 cheaper. But then again, if you do anything else on your PC, Ryzen 5 3600 is better due to SMT support.

At this budget, you’ll be likely pairing up the CPU with something like an RX 580, GTX 1660, GTX 1660 Ti with a 60Hz or 75Hz 1080p Monitor. In this scenario, most games will be GPU bound and a Ryzen 5 2600 or 2600X can provide an excellent value depending on their price in your country.

If you can’t afford or don’t want to get a discrete GPU right now, the Ryzen 5 3400G is also a decent choice. You can get gaming performance similar to that of a GT 1030 or RX 550.



There are also rumors about the launch of Ryzen 5 3500, but I’m not sure if it will be an OEM-only chip or it will be sold commercially.

For most people who cannot increase the budget for R5 3600, grab a Ryzen 2600 or 2600X.

If your primary concern is only gaming and not productivity and 2600/2600X cost higher in your country, get a Core i5-9400F.

If you don’t want to buy a discrete GPU and still want to play games at 720p Medium or 1080p Low, grab a Ryzen 5 3400G.

$200-$300

Yes, the i5-9600K dominates the Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X in gaming performance.

But when?

When you game at 1080p and pair it up with something like an RTX 2080 Ti or 2080 Super, I can’t stress this enough. I’m pretty sure that none of you here are planning to pair a Core i5-9600K with something like an RTX 2080 Ti.

If you are, then I would advise you not to.

I hope you get what I mean. The best GPU to pair with these CPUs will be GTX 1660 Ti, RX 5700, and RX 5700 XT.

The i5-9600K not only costs higher than R5 3600, but it will also require an unlocked motherboard and a good cooler to get the best out of it. While the R5 3600 would do just fine on the stock Wraith Stealth and a $100 B450 Motherboard.

Also, the games that can utilize more than 6 threads will run better on Ryzen 5 due to SMT support.

As you might have already seen in most benchmarks, the gaming performance of 3600X is only slightly better than 3600 even though 3600X has higher clock speeds.

I would recommend to going with a Ryzen 5 3600 + a decent aftermarket cooler instead of the 3600X.

A Ryzen 5 3600 is the only sensible choice in this price range.

$300-$400

In this price segment, we have the Ryzen 7 3700X, Intel Core-i7 9700K, and Ryzen 7 3800X.

The best GPUs to pair with them are RX 5700 XT, RTX 2070 Super, and 2080 Super. All these perform quite well in 1440p and 4K.

With 3800X, you’re only gaining a slight increase in performance at the cost of an extra $70. I’ll rather save that money or use it to get a better GPU.

The Core-i7 9700K not only costs higher than 3700X, but you’ll also require a really good cooler to overclock it. It also does not have Hyper-Threading so it will always lose against 3700X in Multi-Threaded tests.

If you play games at 4K or 1440p, go with the Ryzen 7 3700X.

If you play games at 1080p, own a 144Hz/240Hz Monitor, and can afford a really good CPU cooler go with Core-i7 9700K.

But if going with 9700K would require going down a GPU tier just to fit the extra costs involved with a CPU such as an Unlocked Motherboard and a Good CPU cooler, don’t do it.  Pairing a decent $100 B450 Motherboard and the stock Wraith Prism Cooler with 3700X seems a more sensible decision.

$400-$500

Here we have the Core-i9 9900K and the Ryzen 9 3900X.

Here the choice is pretty simple. If you game at 1080p on High Refresh Rates, get the Core-i9 9900K. But do remember that some competitive games like CS: GO that can utilize the higher cores of Ryzen 9 will perform better on it. I’ll recommend checking out the individual game benchmarks on both these CPUs to get a better idea.

For 1440p/4K Gaming, both the CPUs should give a nearly identical performance, but I’ll pick the Ryzen 9 3900X for those extra four cores and better power efficiency.

Suggested Article: AMD Zen 3: What to expect?




2 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Improve Gaming Performance of Zen 2”

  1. Well done and informative guide. I’m using an ASROCK X370 Taichi and found interesting behavior using the Ryzen Master “Precision Boost Override” option. First it displays performance settings far in excess of default: 740-480-650; stock is 142-95-140. When the PC leaves sleep these boost settings change to stock. If the computer reboots it changes to stock.

    When I enter these high PBO settings in bios, give it a multiplier of 4X, and a boost value of 25Mhz ( which increases the CPB from 4500 to 4575. (Note that HWINFO shows a stock CPB of 4550 for my 3800X.) I then get boost behavior better than any other settings, including Mobo settings of 4096-480-650. I hit peaks of 4550 and 3 to 4 cores over 4500.

    I am beginning to think the RM settings trigger microcode in the chip or bios to perform at peak performance. My CB scores increased to 5076 and 516 single core.

    Something is happenning with the RM PBO values and this chip.

Leave a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest