Laptop ram sitting on a wood table
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

Enterprise-grade computer hardware can be really boring, but some of it can actually be exciting. There’s a specific feature that’s been commonplace in servers and workstations for a very long time, and users with consumer hardware have looked at in jealousy: ECC RAM. Can you use it?

What Is ECC RAM?

First off, we need to clarify what ECC RAM is. Our computers transfer data in and out of RAM constantly, and most of the time, this is a painless process. But of course, it doesn’t always go perfectly. Errors will occasionally slip through, and when they do, they might just cause your PC to crash. A memory error can be caused by anything, including cosmic rays (we’re not joking). This is where ECC memory steps in.

ECC RAM made by Crucial.
DIMM and SODIMM ECC RAM modules, with nine chips each. Crucial

ECC stands for “error correction code,” and in the context of RAM, ECC RAM is a type of computer memory with an extra chip that can actually detect whenever there’s an error in memory, like a flipped bit, and correct it in real-time before it can actually wreak any havoc. Most ECC memory use code that can correct single-bit errors and detect, but not correct, double-bit errors (SEC-DED). It’s normally used in systems where stability is an absolute priority, and data corruption cannot be tolerated, such as certain kinds of servers and workstations.

ECC memory can prevent most memory-related crashes in PCs that support it, but for some reason, the RAM most of us use in our personal PCs is non-ECC, meaning that single-bit errors can mess up—and crash—our PCs. Why is this the case?

Can I Use ECC RAM on My PC?

The answer to this is a bit complicated. While the RAM you have in your PC is probably non-ECC, some consumer hardware actually supports ECC memory. As of the time of writing, it’s a toss-up, though.

For AMD chips, ECC memory is “unofficially” supported. This means that it’s not an advertised feature, but it’s also not something the chipmaker is closing the door to. If you want to use ECC memory on your AMD computer, you’ll need to hunt out a motherboard that supports ECC memory — those that do will normally advertise it.

On Intel chips, ECC memory is also supported on a handful of them since 2021. However, it can be way trickier to hunt down an ECC-capable motherboard for Intel consumer chips. Unlike AMD, where ECC support is up to the motherboard makers to implement, Intel restricts its main consumer motherboard chipsets from using ECC memory. This means that if you have an Intel CPU and you want to use ECC memory with it, you need to hunt down an enterprise-grade motherboard.

Even then, you won’t find any ECC RAM that’s not meant for, or marketed towards, server and enterprise use. It seems weird. If ECC memory is basically just way more stable RAM, why isn’t everyone using it?

Why Isn’t Everyone Using ECC RAM?

Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition Memory in a gaming PC
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

There are a few disadvantages to ECC memory. To account for the error correction process, ECC RAM is normally a tad slower than regular RAM—from 2% to 5% slower. The added capabilities also mean that ECC RAM is 10% to 20% more expensive than standard RAM. And with current CPUs (sort of) supporting it, it might also not be worth it to go out of your way to get ECC RAM and an ECC-compatible system. Not only is the RAM more expensive, but you’ll also likely spend more on your motherboard in your quest to get ECC RAM.

You probably don’t even need it that much to be a feature that you should go and hunt down. Do you remember the last time your computer crashed because of memory corruption? Consumer RAM is currently very stable, and errors might happen very rarely—but then again, if it does happen, it’ll reboot, and you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off. This is unlike servers and enterprise computers, where any downtime could very well be catastrophic.

Some people have argued that ECC should be included in consumer memory, and to be fair, we don’t disagree. Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, famously blasted Intel for holding the industry back and not supporting ECC in its consumer parts, saying that it could do a lot of good in the consumer space.

While this might be right, unless it actually starts to be supported in a mainstream manner in consumer RAM, motherboards, and CPUs, then you probably shouldn’t go the ECC route.

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Profile Photo for Arol Wright Arol Wright
Arol is a freelance news writer at How-To Geek. He's a Pharmacy student, but more importantly, an enthusiast who nerds out about everything tech-related, most notably PCs, smartphones, and other gadgets. He has also written for Android Police, MakeUseOf, and XDA Developers.
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