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“Which RAM did you choose for your server?” I ask people

“I don’t know, the server came with one.”

Not many people are aware of how crucial server specifications are for feather-like operations. RAM (Random Access Memory) is a volatile memory- a memory that sublimes once power supply disrupts, and is, therefore, commonly overlooked. People tend to focus more on permanent memory drives instead, and do not realize the importance of RAM until it crashes, grinding operations to a complete halt.

These volatile memory chips hold information that the CPU needs delivered in a very short time, especially while booting up wherein RAM is the chief and only source of loading OS files from the hard disk to the CPU.

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With a managed VPS hosting service you may never have to worry about choosing your hardware, but with any other unmanaged hosting the responsibility lies solely on your shoulder.

The type of RAM your system has been configured with has a big impact on CPU performance. Different RAM types specialize in different operations and bring in different advantages, and inevitable disadvantages, with it.

A common misconception about hardware configuration is: the more, the better. The fact is, albeit, true, but only to a point, beyond which you would not see any noticeable difference no matter how high a configuration you choose. Then, what is the optimal RAID configuration for my server? Which RAM should I choose for my server and which one for my computer?

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Read on to find out.

RAMs are fast, about 50 times faster than hard drives, and only about 30 times slower than cache. Random memories are fast themselves, and for something (like cache) to outspeed RAM should have extremely fast response to access requests. Cache responds in a few nanoseconds within CPU requests. Such high-speed operations make the difference between RAM and cache very less tangible; though only for humans, as computers are fast enough to clock even nanoseconds.

There are lots of ways to classify RAMs, but the classification, in the end, majorly comes down to a comparison of an intermediate storage layer and so RAMs classify as- buffered and unbuffered.

Buffered vs. Unbuffered Memory

The only difference between a buffered and an unbuffered memory is that the former contains a register, or a layer, between the RAM and the CPU. The layer which is also commonly called ‘buffer’ acts as a reservoir (holding area) for data that is being sent to the CPU for processing. The duration for which data is being held in a buffer allows CPU a sufficient time to manipulate data prior to transferring it to a device. Buffered memory chips are a common requirement in case of servers. RAMs, that are buffered, are slower than their unbuffered counterparts, but, ironically, are still preferred over the latter for server-use. A flip side of the argument is that the reservoir (buffer) establishes a very stable and steady environment, which, in turn, translates to reliable and smooth server operations.

An unbuffered memory chip transmits bits uninterruptedly to the memory controller, burdening its application and thus placing more load on the controller.

For desktops and other low-end home computers, unbuffered chips have and will remain a popular choice, because not only are they cheaper, but also faster.

Buffered and unbuffered RAMs both come with or without ECC memory

ECC Memory- Error Checking & Correction Memory

Electrical or magnetic interference undergoing inside a system can cause the stored bits to flip its state, resulting in read errors. Errors, even as minute as these, are not tolerable and can have catastrophic outcomes in fields like aerospace, finance, research, etc.

An ECC memory is able to identify the missing or changed memory bit and is capable of recalling and writing its last-known correct state, allowing a highly stable running environment with near-zero corrupt-data statistics. It is difficult to entirely zero down the possibility of data going corrupt, and even with ECC one is bound to run into unseen scenarios, though not that frequently.

ECCs, too, come with their paired-set of pros and cons. Because there is a thorough data check going on with ECC modules, these modules are slower and have higher access-response time. Error correction memory chips go with servers readily (rather than desktops), as they run all round-the-clock, 365 days a year. Home computers (or desktops) are regularly switched on and off, as a result, the memory is frequently wiped off completely, allowing little time for the RAM to corrupt.

Error correction memory chips have most widely been used with performance machines. Most dedicated server hosting services rely on these chips to carve performance out of their hardware.

A less technical but more popular approach to classifying RAMs is based on memory speeds through generations.

DDR2 memory speed/chip

DDR2 noticed major improvements over its predecessor DDR SDRAM. The pre-fetch buffer of these RAMs is 4 (twice its predecessor’s), and by improving the bus signal, was able to operate its external bus twice as fast as DDR SDRAM.

DDR3 memory speed/chip

DDR3- that could control its refresh rate according to the temperature variation, incorporated almost 40% reduced power consumption tech over DDR2. The pre-fetch buffer bus speed was also doubled over its predecessor DDR2. As a result, it pre-fetched 8 bits of buffer width instead of 4.

DDR4 memory speed/chip

DDR4 added 4 new bank groups with each group capable of performing operations singlehandedly. So, obviously, DDR4 has the capability of processing 4 times the data within a clock cycle.

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Tabulated below is the transfer rate achievable from each of these upgrades.

Memory Chip

DDR1

DDR2

DDR3

DDR4

Transfer Rate in GBPS

2.1 – 3.2

4.2 - 6.4

6.5 – 14.9

17 – 21.3

The above list is expected to undergo a fresh entry soon. DDR5, which we are anticipating to be released by 2020, will unlock even superior transfer capabilities.

Storage needs

The type of volatile-storage ideal for a system depends upon its desired use. Desktop users should continue adhering to an unbuffered non-ECC RAM. ECCs and buffered chips are something only server admins should worry about. Though the choice of an ECC module could depend on whether or not your server can afford data corruption, servers operating under circumstances where a few read-errors would not bring any substantial difference can opt for non-ECC based modules.

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