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Why ECC RAM is an important memory component for any professional Workstations

By Aaron Yip - 21 Feb 2020

Why ECC RAM is important to any professional Workstations

A Z by HP Workstation.

Most, if not all, know that memory banks for the computer is an essential component. For reference sake – there are two memory systems used for computing platforms of all types. Both are very different from each other, where one deals with long-term storage (hard-disks), while the other focus on the immediacy of using, managing, and processing data (Random Access Memory – RAM).

This feature will deep-dive into the latter and specifically focus on a very specific type of RAM – the Error Correction Code RAM (ECC RAM). Unlike other RAM types – consumer-grade, high-performance, graphic processing, and low-powered – ECC RAM is made to operate with business-grade platforms. This includes server-class systems, Cloud services, data processing nodes, and high-level computational systems – all of which cannot afford to encounter any hardware outages, system failure, or data corruption.


What is RAM?

Before going into details of ECC RAM, let’s do a quick recap on RAM. Unlike hard-disks, solid-state drives, flash storage, or optical drives – RAM reads and writes data almost instantly at almost the same time. It achieves this via the hard-wired circuitry it uses, all of which have been fine-tuned to manage data transfers simultaneously at high speeds. As it is, RAM is the only electronic within a computing system that can ensure bits of data are zipping between the device’s processor, storage, and sub-systems.

There is this believe that having more RAM in a system will ensure all data movement is immediate and that there will be zero delays. As processor core count and speeds continue to climb, memory banks are being filled up for computers that are ready to work with high capacity RAMs. Similarly, graphic processors are also constantly innovating their own memory systems. In fact, efforts to experiment with memory innovations, such as stacking and high-bandwidth development, have also rolled out recently.

If anything, there is no doubt that on-going research and development will continue to evolve and transform RAM designs and usage, making it front and centre for a very long time.


What is ECC RAM?

So how does ECC RAM differ from normal RAM? In terms of use, they are the same as ECC RAM primarily transfers data and managed processed bits of code for the computing platform. Like normal RAM, this variant can also be paired up and scaled to increase the performance delivery. Beyond these two similarities, the design and primary function of ECC RAM plays differently from mainstream RAM. This is due to how it approaches the concept of data corruption management for critical applications.

As memory material can be altered via the low-energy radiation that electronics are known to emit, and cause unnecessary errors, RAM makers wanted to overcome these design issues. In fact, as memory cells are now packed into high-density systems, data errors are now more prone to appear. To mitigate these issues, new dynamic RAM have added on an extra memory module to manage and reduce these potential errors. The additional memory module is used to record parity or introduce an error-correcting code system. Of the two, parity has one role – to detect single-bit errors and odd numbers of wrong bits. As for ECC, it will detect single and double errors and correct them when the right programme and follow-up system is in use. If mistakes are found in the data strings, ECC uses an advanced form of parity to search for these errors within large datasets and match the digital bits to ensure all are correct. This is how ECC RAM work towards mitigating any potential system failure that are likely to occur due to data matching errors or information corruption.


Business-Class Delivery

ECC RAM is usually paired with business- or server-class hardware, specifically computers that run with Intel Xeon or AMD Ryzen Pro CPUs – like those used in Z by HP Series of desktop and laptop-type workstations. All these systems are usually mission critical; of high importance; and usually considered sensitive platforms. These are the ones that cannot afford any downtime, experience data loss, or deal with information mismatching.

Examples of high-performance computers and electronic systems, especially those that sport top-end industry specs or have been optimised to run 24-hours/7-days a week, are:

  • Aviation and space-tech: Sensitive equipment that are exposed to atmospheric/space radiation
  • Financial and banking industries: Need to deal with multiple transactions and data processing
  • Scientific and research systems: Long and arduous data processing for various lab work
  • Cloud-based services: Email, content streaming, and scalable storage – all cannot face downtime
  • Enterprise-grade servers and workstations: Hardy platforms that can run non-stop for months
  • Power, water, and telecom utilities: Critical assets that are prone to cyber-attacks and overloads

Most, if not all, of these market verticals are loaded out with business- and server-class platforms that will ensure there is no downtime or disruption. In fact, to ensure data recovery contingencies are in place and consistent system uptime and seamless user experiences are delivered, these technologies are necessary. Most critical are business-optimised high-powered processors, advanced power supply management, and ECC RAM.


The ECC RAM Advantage

How will ECC RAM offer any advantages over normal RAM? Beyond mitigating downtime challenges and ensuring there is no service outages, this specific memory system is very much for industry platforms and business solution providers. In using ECC RAM, major data failure concerns, such as security vulnerabilities, data transcription issues, corrupted information, and lost data, can be prevented, or if these issues do pop up, better managed as well.

These progressive capabilities will require high-spec CPUs to run properly and ensure there is no slowdown in terms of user experience. These processors must be faster and more versatile as they must make up for the lower clock-speeds that ECC RAMs run on. It’s designed to be slower on the basis that they are supposed to deliver a more robust and versatile performance.

Promising close to no downtime, hardy characteristic that ensures it can deal with most threats of hardware failure, and being optimised only for workstations, servers and mainframes, ECC RAMs stand out as true made-for-industry equipment. While some consumers are crazy enough to get them to pair with their DIY workstation, it’s best to stick with consumer-grade or gaming-focused specs when making high-performance PCs.

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