The Hidden Danger of Memory Errors in CAD Computing31 Jan, 2018 By: Alex Herrera
Herrera on Hardware: They may arise infrequently, but the consequences of small memory errors can be huge. How can you reduce the chance of errors — and should you bother?
Should You Do Anything to Protect Your CAD Memory?
Given the rarity of occurrences, a user or business could certainly make the argument that there’s no point in doing anything to mitigate the risks of memory errors. The counter to that argument, however, is that in professional computing applications, the penalty associated with even a single failure in a machine’s lifetime can be severe. Having a workstation with failed memory sit idle for hours or days can push back a deadline and waste thousands in productivity. Worse, one undetected error slipping through could yield inaccurate results, leading to specious decisions. Consider trading and valuation applications in finance, where a single data error at the wrong time could cost millions. The same goes for some medical and geoscience applications, where the consequences can be heavy — or incalculable. For applications like these, eliminating even one error during a machine lifetime is a worthwhile goal. And while the ramifications to CAD applications won’t usually reach the same levels, penalties can be heavy there as well, with the severity of course varying by project and business.
Given the consequences, it’s no wonder those running mission-critical professional workflows are motivated to consider options to reduce risks further. Choosing a workstation, versus a conventional consumer/commercial PC, is the simplest first line of defense. Workstations are built for reliability in general and specifically address memory integrity by offering Xeon processors — with their support for ECC and RAS features such as PPR — as well as any OEM’s added-value features, such as Dell’s RMT.
Fortunately, the low costs of such options are making the decision even easier. Most workstation buyers today opt for Xeon already (in about 75% of fixed/deskside workstations and about 25% of mobiles), so Intel’s RAS technology and memory quarantining support essentially come free, and vendors such as Dell provide features like RMT as a standard feature on their Precision workstation models. On top of that, upgrading to optional ECC support has become a very inexpensive proposition. For example, the difference between choosing 16 GB of non-ECC memory and the same size of ECC-enabled memory may be as little as $25.
Ultimately, while the chances of a memory error failure causing severe repercussions might be every low, I’d argue there’s no longer any point in not taking precautions when investing in a new CAD workstation. The support is built-in, simple to deploy, and offered at costs that are negligible in the context of the rest of a business’s typical IT expenditures. There’s a good chance that a memory error will never rear its head to bite you — but why take the risk?