Custom Systems Best Sellers: Desktop/Server Memory

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Compatibility issues between memory and system motherboards has not been an issue during the recent past, but, as memory speed moves from 667MHz to 800 MHz to 1000 MHz to 1333 MHz, those issues are coming back, said Joe Toste, vice president of marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based custom system builder.

"Higher speed is a big issue, leaving less tolerance for error," he said. "No question about it. It's important that we use memory qualified by the motherboard manufacturers."

Custom system builders cite the need to ensure memory compatibility as the main reason for working with Kingston Technology Company, Inc., Fountain Valley, Calif., as their top memory supplier.

While Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., and IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, had the largest share of the distribution market for memory, according to The NPD Group, Inc. in 2007 by virtue of their share of the branded desktop PC and server market, Kingston was the primary choice for custom systems builders, the solution providers said.

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Equus prefers Kingston because of its certification process along with its support, Toste said. The company also sources from other vendors, especially Apacer Memory America, Inc., Milpitas, Calif.

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Nor-Tech works exclusively with Kingston because of its competitive pricing and compatibility data, said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing for the Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder.

"I just go to the Kingston Web site and put in the motherboard data and it tells me what memory to use," Swank said. "It's pretty rare to find a motherboard not listed there."

Amax Information Technology, however, uses memory from at least seven different suppliers, depending on customer requirements and on prices, which fluctuate and need to be updated daily, said James Huang, product marketing manager for the Fremont, Calif.-based system builder.

"The market has been fluctuating, just like the stock market," Huang said. "Prices are up and down every day."

DDR2 memory is still the primary technology used for desktop PCs, said Mark Tekunoff, senior technology manager at Kingston. The typical user purchases systems with 2 Gbytes of memory or less, while high-end users and gamers require 4 Gbytes, Tekunoff said.

Gamers are also willing to look at DDR3 memory, which currently sells for about twice the price of DDR2 memory, Tekunoff said. By year-end, he expects Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., to produce its Nehalem chipsets which use DDR3 memory to boost the performance of dual-core and quad-core processors.

On the server side, motherboards using processors from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., are typically configured with registered ECC (error correction code) memory, while Intel-based motherboards typically use full-buffered DIMM, or FBDIMM, memory.

However, Tekunoff and Paul Henke, director of product marketing at Dataram Corp., West Windsor, N.J., expect Intel to start using registered ECC DIMM memory by year end, due to its cost versus FBDIMM.

Dataram, which produces memory only for servers, just introduced 16-Gbyte memory modules for the Sun Fire X4600MZ server, an eight-socket server from Sun Microsystems, Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., which can be configured for up to 32 AMD Opteron cores, Henke said. That gives the server a capacity of up to 512 Gbytes of memory. "That's a pretty large x86 server," he said.

However, that power will be needed as the popularity of server virtualization continues to grow, Henke said. "We're seeing interest in eight-socket servers growing every day as servers are being virtualized using VMware [Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.] and other technologies," he said. "Memory is the biggest determinant of how many virtual machines can be deployed."

Following the latest increases in performance is not for everyone.

While CTL, a Portland, Ore.-based system builder, looks to the highest-performing memory for its pro audio-visual product line, that is far from the case for government customers, said Erik Stromquist, executive vice president of the company.

"Government customers are slower to ramp up in terms of speed," Stromquist said. "We follow Kingston's road map, but we are conservative in our implementation."