Linus Torvalds clearly did not make a New Year’s resolution to mellow out or soften his criticism of Intel, a company that has been a popular punching bag for the oft-disgruntled founder of Linux. Responding to comments made in a Linux kernel mailing list, Torvalds went on another tirade against Intel, specifically over its lack of consumer support for a special type of PC memory.
His main issue is the thin support on the consumer side for Error Correction Code (ECC) memory. Mainly found in server and workstation settings, ECC RAM contains an extra chip on the module that is tasked with detecting and correcting memory errors on the fly. Scientific data collection and banking are two of many segments that can potentially benefit from ECC memory.
Error correcting can come at the benefit of speed, though that is not the reason we don’t list any ECC modules in our roundup of the best RAM for gaming. It’s because there is not much of a focus on ECC RAM in the consumer sector. And for that, Torvalds puts the blame squarely on Intel.
Torvalds responded to a comment in a mailing list thread about AMD’s latest Ryzen processors, which support ECC memory, but does not validate it (meaning it’s up to motherboard makers to determine support). A user in the mailing list commented that “ECC doesn’t really matter” on Ryzen systems, and that set Torvalds off.
“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,” Torvalds wrote.
“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,” Torvalds continued.
Those are some of his nicer comments on the matter. Torvalds goes on to opine that the arguments against supporting ECC memory in the consumer market “were always complete and utter garbage.”
His argument seems partially predicated on security exploits like Rowhammer, which target DRAM. Because of this, Torvalds says memory makers are using ECC internally on claims that it is about economics and lower power.
“They are lying bastards—let me once again point to Rowhammer about how those problems have existed for several generations already, but these f*ckers happily sold broken hardware to consumers and claimed it was an ‘attack’, when it always was ‘we’re cutting corners’,” Torvalds said. “How many times has a Rowhammer like bit-flip happened just by pure bad luck on real non-attack loads? We will never know. Because Intel was pushing shit to consumers.”
In no uncertain terms, Torvalds puts the blame on Intel for ECC memory not being widely adopted in the consumer sector, saying the standard was “literally killed by bad Intel policies.”
The good news for Torvalds and anyone who shares his opinion is that this will largely be a moot point when DDR5 arrives. That’s because on-die ECC is baked into the DDR5 standard. It’s likely AMD’s Zen 4 architecture will support DDR5, as well as Intel’s Alder Lake lineup, both expected to arrive by the end of the year.
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