64GB of RAM in a Laptop, and why I want it …

Well, the rumour mills have been well and truly circulating recently about the potential for high capacity DRAM chips which could allow laptops to have up to 64GB of memory. I was recently directed to this article (https://www.anandtech.com/show/7742/im-intelligent-memory-to-release-16gb-unregistered-ddr3-modules) from the ArsTechnica forums.

This article basically describes a new method of DRAM stacking (as opposed to the standard method of NAND stacking) which allows the production of 16GB SODIMMs chips. My current laptop has four SODIMM slots (like pretty much every other high-end laptop on the market) so with the current maximum of 8GB SODIMMs my laptop supports 32GB RAM. If I could use 16GB SODIMMs then I could theoretically swap those chips out for a straight 4x 16GB SODIMMs (i.e. 64GB of RAM).

The best news is that these chips could be on the market this year!

“Mass production is set to begin in March and April, with initial pricing per 16GB module in the $320-$350 range for both DIMM and SO-DIMM, ECC being on the higher end of that range.” (source: Anandtech article linked above)

Now, its not all champagne and roses time because one of the limitations at the moment is that most Intel chipsets don’t actually support 8Gb NAND chips (which are required to reach SODIMM chips with a 16GB capacity). This is slightly annoying because the use of 8Gb NAND chips is actually in the official DDR3 specification. The following quote from the article states this perhaps more clearly:

“However I am told that currently there is a fundamental non-fixable issue on all Intel processors [.. In their specifications for Ivy Bridge-E, Intel do state that 8Gb packages are supported (link, page 10), however this apparently has not been the case so far” (source: Anandtech article linked above)

What this really means is that you won’t be able to use the new 16GB SODIMM chips unless you have the latest Intel chipsets, and even then will probably need a BIOS flash. Now .. this doesn’t really surprise me at all, my old laptop was a first-generation Intel i7 laptop and the “maximum” supported RAM was 8GB (two 4GB SODIMMs). But after a BIOS flash it would quite happily support two 8GB SODIMMs … when it booted it said “0MB RAM Detected” which was kinda scary but Windows picked up all of the RAM and used it fine. So that is perhaps something to keep an eye on.

So why do you need 64GB in a laptop?

Well first off lets head off anyone who says “Why not run it in Azure / Amazon?” or “Why not just have a desktop / tower workstation?”. I travel a lot, and typically spend a lot of time on client sites and working from cafés and trains. I also have ultra shitty internet where I live (both broadband at home, and generally poor 3G signal when roaming) so for me a laptop is the only answer.

If you are working from a single office every day then absolutely, host this on some rack server, get a beefy workstation or host it somewhere in the cloud, but for some professionals (I imagine doing pretty much what I do) then a laptop just makes more sense. Also appreciate that my laptop has 1TB of Solid State and a quad-core i7 (with 8 “logical cores”which spends the vast majority of its time idling, so the RAM is really the only thing holding me back.

Regarding the “why do you need 64GB RAM?” question .. well, for a singular run-of-the-mill SharePoint dev environment you don’t, you can run it “all-in-one-box” on 24GB RAM and it is relatively happy. However, more and more I am doing larger distributed farms (either demos and speaker sessions involving Kerberos, Business Intelligence, Workflow Manager or Office Web Apps) and these basically consist of a lot of boxes.

Lets take a typical example with Server (RAM):

  • Domain Controller (1GB)
  • SQL Server (8GB)
  • SharePoint Web Server (8GB)
  • SharePoint App Server (8GB)
  • Workflow Manager Server (8GB)
  • Office Web Apps Server (8GB)

Just those boxes comes to 40GB RAM and this is without some of the other optional boxes you might need to demonstrate other processes (such as Kerberos to SSAS via SSRS)

  • SharePoint App Server dedicated for BI Components (16GB)
  • SQL Analysis Services (8GB)

Now bear in mind you don’t necessarily need to run them with this much hardware, you can get away with much less but it does have an impact (and quite frankly I’m tired of trying to run Excel Services and Analysis Services on 4GB RAM).

So .. I have a dream of a 64GB Laptop .. where I can run 8 servers at once for fully-distributed farms .. luckily it seems that dream may come true in 2014 🙂

  • Nigel Price

    I wonder if my Lenovo 530 will take the new RAM chips. I certainly need more than 32GB for the same reasons described above.

  • Martin Hatch

    Unfortunately not .. it appears that none of the existing Intel chipsets support the full sized 16GB SODIMM chips (although apparently the AMD ones do).
    I’m hoping the next generation of Intel chipsets will do .. so here’s hoping for a Lenovo W550 with 64GB 😀

  • Kai Steinbach

    2 more weeks for this 2014 prediction to become true … any success?

  • Martin Hatch

    haha .. Well the new 5th Gen Intel chipsets are expected to support it, but the mobile (i.e. laptop) ones aren’t now due out until Q2 2015 … so I’m still hopeful (bordering expectant) 🙂

  • Quantum Leap

    Any updates on this? I too would like a laptop that will support 64GB of RAM so that I can run a bunch of vm’s in a multi-host, clustered vmware environment (all running on the laptop)

  • Stephen Boesch

    Getting people to understand the value of 32GB (let alone 64GB) is a frustrating hassle. I get heckled on it. Apparently few persons have considered the approach to have a mini cluster on the laptop. For me it is not a luxury – it is required. A 64GB laptop would serve my purposes for another 3 years.