Options for genuine ECC RAM on the desktop in (early) 2024

February 16, 2024

A traditional irritation with building (or specifying) desktop computers is the issue of ECC RAM, which for a long time was either not supported at all or was being used by Intel for market segmentation. First generation AMD Ryzens sort of supported ECC RAM with the right motherboard, but there are many meanings of 'supporting' ECC RAM and questions lingered about how meaningful the support was (recent information suggests the support was real). Here in early 2024 the situation is somewhat better and I'm going to summarize what I know so far.

The traditional option to getting ECC RAM support (along with a bunch of other things) was to buy a 'workstation' motherboard that was built to support Intel Xeon processors. These were available from a modest number of vendors, such as SuperMicro, and were generally not inexpensive (and then you had to buy the Xeon). If you wanted a pre-built solution, vendors like Dell would sell you desktop Xeon-based workstation systems with ECC RAM. You can still do this today.

Update: I forgot AMD Threadripper and Epyc based systems, which you can get motherboards for and build desktop systems around. I think these are generally fairly expensive motherboards, though.

Back in 2022, Intel introduced their W680 desktop chipset. One of the features of this chipset is that it officially supported ECC RAM with 12th generation and later (so far) Intel CPUs (or at least apparently the non-F versions), along with official support for memory overclocking (and CPU overclocking), which enables faster 'XMP' memory profiles than the stock ones (should your ECC RAM actually support this). There are a modest number of W680 based motherboards available from (some of) the usual x86 PC desktop motherboard makers (and SuperMicro), but they are definitely priced at the high end of things. Intel has not yet announced a 'Raptor Lake' chipset version of this, which would presumably be called the 'W780'. At this date I suspect there will be no such chipset.

(The Intel W680 chipset was brought to my attention by Brendan Shanks on the Fediverse.)

As mentioned, AMD support for ECC on early generation Ryzens was a bit lackluster, although it was sort of there. With the current Socket AM5 and Zen 4, a lot of mentions of ECC seem to have (initially) been omitted from documentation, as discussed in Rain's ECC RAM on AMD Ryzen 7000 desktop CPUs, and Ryzen 8000G series APUs don't support ECC at all. However, at least some AM5 motherboards do support ECC with recent enough firmware (provided that you have recent BIOS updates and enable ECC support in the BIOS, per Rain). These days, it appears that a number of current AM5 motherboards list ECC memory as supported (although what supported means is a question) and it will probably work, especially if you find people who already have reported success. It seems that even some relatively inexpensive AM5 motherboards may support ECC.

(Some un-vetted resources are here and here.)

If you can navigate the challenges of finding a good motherboard, it looks like an AM5, Ryzen 7000 system will support ECC at a lower cost than an Intel W680 based system (or an Intel Xeon one). If you don't want to try to thread those rapids and can stand Intel CPUs, a W680 based system will presumably work, and a Xeon based system would be even easier to purchase as a fully built desktop with ECC.

(Whether ECC makes a meaningful difference that's worth paying for is a bit of an open question.)

Comments on this page:

Pretty sure the Threadripper class AMDs support ECC. I have a Lenovo P620 workstation with TR and ECC.

By Thomas at 2024-02-17 07:54:04:

I’ve got an ASRock Rack AM5 1U system that I’m quite happy with - a ryzen 9 7900 + 128G of RAM makes a really nice small rack server, and uses <100W nearly all the time.

By cks at 2024-02-17 11:54:58:

Oops yes, Threadripper class AMDs do support ECC and you can get motherboards for them and build your own desktop that way. For some reason I always push this out of my mind as a crazy option, but it's probably not more so than a Xeon-based build.

By Cristina at 2024-02-17 11:59:00:

Jonathan, the Threadripper (TR) is considered a workstation board rather than a desktop board per se. As Chris wrote, "The traditional option to getting ECC RAM support (along with a bunch of other things) was to buy a 'workstation' motherboard…"; that sentence was about Xeon but is just as true for TR.

Threadripper chips and boards support ECC officially, and TR might be the reason for desktop Ryzens supporting ECC at all: at least in the original version, Ryzen and TR used the same dies (TR having been a "spare time" project). But it looks hard to get a new current-generation model for less than 2 or 3 thousand dollars (I do see a previous-generation 5955WX—literally just one, in Ottawa—for $1000 at Memory Express). The motherboards are not cheap either. While a nice option for those who can get an employer to pay, this decision will probably double or triple the cost of a system.

By Cristina at 2024-02-17 13:58:53:

A little over a decade ago, going with a Xeon and ECC instead of a desktop Intel chip added maybe 2 or 3 hundred dollars to the system cost, and I built such a system for under $1500. Now, it seems Xeon has nothing much cheaper than Threadripper. I see some Sapphire Rapids Xeon parts (one generation behind) in the $600-$1000 range.

For a while, Intel also supported ECC on some desktop i3 chips, such as i3-8100. The rumour was that they did this to target embedded markets, unlike the otherwise-higher-end i5 through i9 which lacked ECC. I don't know whether such support still exists.

The "workstation" motherboards do, in general, seem to be closer to what Chris is looking for. For example, I see several with three to seven M.2 slots, dual ethernet ports (or triple, but it looks like the third is usually reserved for BMC), 15+ USB ports, 6 or 8 SATA, even up to seven full-speed full-width PCIe slots. The Asus Pro WS Sage SE boards—W790E or WRX80E—are examples for those who don't mind spending $1400. Or the Gigabyte TRX50 Aero D is $400 cheaper but with only 3 PCIe slots.

The aforementioned 3 boards all seem to need RDIMMs. Personally, I'd probably go for unofficial DDR5 ECC UDIMM support according to web forum posts, maybe with Ryzen 8000G Pro APUs when available. Or catch the trailing edge of W680 boards and CPUs as they drop in price, and add an ethernet card if more than one port is needed. But I'd love to see that hypothetical "W780". As Linus Torvalds has ranted, ECC shouldn't be a "premium" feature. Researchers have found via experiments like "bit-squatting" that memory errors do occur in the wild, often enough to be of concern.

Anyway, thanks for this post, and please keep us updated if you manage to build a low-cost system with working ECC.

By Phong at 2024-02-23 15:54:03:

I have the Asus W680 motherboard mentioned on the Fediverse with an i7-13700K and it does appear to properly support ECC (at least as Windows 11 can tell). I have not had any problems so far running it as my main desktop.

Written on 16 February 2024.
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