In a recent forum post discussing error correction code (ECC) memory, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, openly criticized Intel for not making ECC RAM mainstream on consumer platforms while praising AMD for supporting it on Ryzen platforms.
“ECC absolutely matters.
ECC availability matters a lot – exactly because Intel has been instrumental in killing the whole ECC industry with it’s horribly bad market segmentation.
Go out and search for ECC DIMMs – it’s really hard to find. Yes – probably entirely thanks to AMD – it may have been gotten slightly better lately, but that’s exactly my point.
Intel has been detrimental to the whole industry and to users because of their bad and misguided policies wrt ECC. Seriously.
And if you don’t believe me, then just look at multiple generations of rowhammer, where each time Intel and memory manufacturers bleated about how it’s going to be fixed next time.”
Torvald’s post continues with very colorful language (which you can see here), specifically calling out Intel for the lack of widespread ECC adoption in the consumer space. Torvalds says this is due to Intel’s complete lockdown of ECC support on its consumer chipsets and processors, claiming that this alone has killed any incentive for memory manufacturers to create desktop ECC memory for consumers.
Linus also decries the Rowhammer issues that could be easily fixed with ECC memory. DRAM memory cells can leak their own charges into other memory cells. Usually, it’s just a defect in system RAM that can cause memory errors, but Rowhammer attacks use that tendency as a mechanism to gain elevated system rights.
Torvalds also says that standard memory is a nightmare to deal with when developing code for the kernel of an operating system. Linus outlines the headaches of trying to find where an unexplainable kernel error happened, claiming that the errors could often be a result of a hardware issue and not a code issue – all of which could have been fixed with ECC.
Torvalds also praised AMD for unofficially supporting ECC. Even though it is unofficial support, Linus is still very happy that AMD even extends the option on mainstream consumer Ryzen platforms, giving consumers an option to use ECC without paying ridiculous amounts of money for server-class hardware. Whether or not ‘unofficial support’ is the best tactic to increase ECC adoption is up for debate (it often doesn’t work correctly), but Torvalds obviously thinks it’s a step in the right direction.
Torvalds hits on many good points – we wish ECC memory could at least be an option for all DIY PCs and pre-builts, especially for professionals that prize system stability. Memory can be critical for computer stability, as even the slightest number of errors can result in crashes or data loss. Unfortunately, standard non-ECC memory is always at risk for errors and is never 100% stable, even if that risk is often incredibly low. Hopefully, we’ll see a push for ECC RAM to become a more viable option in the consumer landscape.