Upgrading a Server or Workstation? Read this first!

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If you have never purchased or installed memory for a server or workstation, there are additional considerations above and beyond that of normal desktop and laptop computers. These factors are not apparent using detection tools such as the Crucial System Scanner, so it is important to be aware of them and familiarize yourself with what to watch out for when shopping for upgrades for these more demanding system types. The most common issues reported to us by users caught unaware are below.



ECC versus Non-ECC


Servers and workstations, for improved stability in mission-critical systems, often incorporate memory with added features to check for errors in operation and prevent crashing of programs or a system as a whole. This is referred to as ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory, and allows for a process in which the memory can check the integrity of the data it processes for any errors created by interference and fix single-bit errors as it handles data. Non-ECC memory is typically quite stable, but for added peace of mind in systems which must have zero downtime, ECC memory is often preferred. Problems reported by our users usually come from mixing ECC and non-ECC memory, for example when a pre-built system ships with non-ECC as a value option and ECC is added later. This can work in rare instances, simply disabling the ECC functionality, but in most cases your system will fail to complete POST and load into your operating system. Another potential problem is if your motherboard or processor do not support ECC memory, which can also either work but disable the added functionality or refuse to allow your system to complete startup. The best way to confirm any restrictions on mixing or using ECC memory at all is by checking your motherboard and processor specifications and/or any comprehensive hardware or maintenance documentation for your pre-built configuration if applicable.


Registered and Unbuffered


Registered memory (RDIMMs), as opposed to unbuffered (UDIMMs), features a register on the module which buffers data for a clock cycle between a system's memory controller and a module's DRAM. This reduces electrical load on the components involved and in exchange for slight performance loss allows a system to address much higher memory totals than unbuffered memory will typically allow for. Almost all registered memory is also ECC, with all the benefits that provides as well. Like ECC memory, CPU and motherboard limitations can prevent registered memory from being fully compatible with your system, though most often with registered parts the system will refuse to start at all if any other component is not fully compatible with that standard. Also, registered and unbuffered memory can't be mixed, even in an environment which is compatible with both types of memory.




Memory modules can be single-, dual-, quad-, or octal-ranked. While usually not a factor on standard systems, ranking limitations can present a few complications particularly when dealing with registered parts. Most commonly, quad-ranked or octal-ranked parts will have specific requirements in how and in what quantity they can be installed in your system's memory slots. Higher-ranked modules can limit how many total modules can be installed, for example allowing only four out of six memory slots to be populated when any quad-ranked parts are installed, and forcing you to use specific slots in your system if quad-ranked parts are mixed with single- or dual-ranked. Higher rankings can also impact your memory bandwidth, forcing your memory to run at lower speeds when high-ranked parts are present. This trade-off may be required to utilize higher capacities of memory in some systems, though, if single- or dual-rank parts are not available at capacities desired, or if reduced ranking parts are not compatible with a system at higher memory totals. If none of these restrictions apply, there is otherwise no functional difference between rankings of parts. More details on ranking can be found here.


Load-reduced memory (LRDIMM)


LRDIMMs are an evolution of registered memory featuring a unique memory chip buffer which further reduces electrical load. The result of this is the reduction or elimination of ranking concerns, allowing extremely high totals of memory without performance reduction (or at least diminishing its effect) or any need to avoid filling all slots in a compatible system. Like the relationship between UDIMMs and RDIMMs, LRDIMMs can't be mixed with the other standards without a system refusing to start up properly.


Physical space


Server and workstation memory, especially RDIMMs and LRDIMMs, are often physically larger than their less demanding counterparts. Besides more components soldered to the parts, heat sinks are often attached to offset the additional heat generated by these more active parts. While server/workstation boards or memory risers for them generally account for this in how the slots for RAM are spaced, pay attention to any height needs in your system. Systems with larger CPU fans or other internal components limiting your RAM module height may require purchasing Very Low Profile (VLP) modules to fit alongside other installed components. Some users also prefer VLP parts due to the lower profile allowing slightly improved case airflow and cooling.


BIOS updates


A potential issue in any computer is running an outdated BIOS, but servers and workstations especially work best when running your system's most recent BIOS. As newer technologies are introduced in RAM components, BIOS updates become increasingly likely to be required to run higher memory totals.


If your resources are unclear on any of the above, your motherboard or system manufacturer and Crucial Support can assist you further. Multiple contact methods for Crucial are available at http://www.crucial.com/usa/en/support-contact to help ensure the right parts are selected for your needs.



The contents of this article were originally provided by Matt_TheCru.