Recently, a workstation PC was reviewed on a well-known PC hardware site that included a Quadro video card, but no ECC memory. In the comment section of that review, a heated discussion occurred with different readers arguing about whether the lack of ECC RAM was a good or bad thing in a workstation. One side argued that ECC is great for workstations since it is much more stable (as explained in our Advantages of ECC Memory article) and stability is very high priority for a workstation. The other side claimed that ECC memory was slower than non-ECC so it wasn’t the right choice for a high-end workstation where performance was a priority.
Much of the ECC versus Non-ECC argument comes down to speed versus reliability. The reliability argument at least is easy to validate; over the last 12 months we’ve seen a tiny .09% failure rate with ECC memory compared to a .6% failure rate for standard memory. As for performance, we’ve actually tested RAM performance in the past and found that faster memory does not always equate to better performance since the RAM is often not the bottleneck.
However, the expected performance drop of ECC RAM is slightly different than what we saw in those tests since it’s due to the extra error checking process rather than slower timings or frequency. In fact, Crucial has a statement on their knowledge base that ECC memory will decrease your computer’s performance by about 2% compared to standard memory.
Alas, to settle the question of whether ECC actually lowers system performance we ran a series of benchmarks with standard RAM, ECC RAM, and Registered ECC RAM that all run at the exact same frequency, timings, and voltage.
To examine the performance of the three kinds of memory, we used the following hardware:
Motherboard Supermicro X9SRA
CPU Intel Xeon E5-2680 V2 2.8GHz Ten Core
CPU Cooler Corsair Hydro Series H60 CPU Cooler (Rev. 2)
Video Card NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan Black 6GB
PSU Seasonic X-850 850 Watt
RAM 4x Kingston DDR3-1600 8GB
4x Kingston DDR3-1600 8GB ECC
4x Kingston DDR3-1600 8GB Reg. ECC
Hard Drive Samsung 840 Pro 256GB
OS Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
This setup is identical to one of our most popular workstations – the Genesis I. Plus, the Supermicro X9SRA motherboard and Intel Xeon E5-2680 V2 can both utilize either standard, ECC, or Registered ECC memory as long as the total size stays below the RAM threshold for each type, which makes it an ideal platform for comparing RAM performance.
Since we are primarily concerned about how each of the three RAM types compare in terms of performance, we will be presenting all of our benchmark results as a percentage of the standard RAM’s performance. So the standard RAM will always be 100%, and the ECC and Reg. ECC will be either above or below depending on the benchmark results. If you would rather see the actual benchmark results, we will also provide those in a link below the main chart.