Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

The 4GB Maximum Laptop Myth

The 4GB Maximum Laptop Myth

  • Comments 14
  • Likes

image One of my blog readers just sent me a message about a recommendation for a machine. Let’s talk about the current state of the market.  It’s a pretty interesting time to be buying a machine.  Here’s the message I received:

how is it going..Love your webcasts by the way..I was wondering if you could help me out with a question. I am in the market for a new laptop..powerful enough to run VM's ...testing microsoft products...training etc.. I love the sony Vaio z570 however it is limited to 4gb max ram...Personally i think the new lenovos are not nearly up to the standard of the old ibm thinkpads..However i am asking for your opinion of what laptop you think is a solid machine.. Would you suggest a laptop that can handle say up to 8gb RAM or is 4gb enough..Also, do you suggest windows Vista Ultimatw or Business (64 bit or 32 bit).. I know windows 7 is on its way..not sure when the release will be and obviously it is on its way because of the poor marketpace attention vista has gotten...I am assuming it is basically a more stable vita...Also, would the upgrade from windows vista to 7 be easy in your opinion or should i want for 7 to be released.. I have looked at the Dell precision m2400 and the vaioz570. what laptop would you suggest given my RAM concerns processor etc.. Thanks for your help

There are a lot of questions and requirements in there so let’s answer a few of those so some objective decisions can be made.  First of all Brad indicates the Sony Vaio Z570 is limited to a max of 4GB of memory.  Says who?  Who has actually tested that and confirmed it?  That’s a really important point because it’s nearly impossible to test at the moment.  The specs in the data sheet and all available online documentation tell you it’s limited to 4GB but so does all of the information on the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I’m using right now.  And it has and uses 8GB.

Unless Sony specifically blocked using more than 4GB of memory in the BIOS, then the Z570 should be able to use up to 8GB if running a 64bit version of Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008.  Keep in mind I said should.  That is not a guarantee.  The Z570 uses the Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor P9500.  If you look at the Intel processor specs at http://www.intel.com/products/processor/core2duo/mobile/specifications.htm, you’ll notice a couple of interesting things.

First, there appears to be an error in the Sony data sheet specs.  Sony lists the processor speed at 2.53 GHz with a front side bus speed of 1066 MHz.  Intel says the processor speed is 2.60 GHz and the front side bus speed is 800 MHz.  I’m inclined to believe the Intel specs.  Second, the processor supports the Intel 64 Architecture.  This is a good clue that it will run and use more than 4GB of memory.  The Intel P9500 processor also supports Intel VT so it will likely run Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V.

The problem with this particular machine and most of the new machines on the market right now is the lack of available 4GB SoDIMM memory sticks for the 800 and 1066 MHz bus speeds.  Therefore you can’t order the machine with 8GB of memory, nor can you load it with 8GB of memory right when you get it.  That’s starting to change, but very slowly. This presents a problem.  You will run through your return period before you can actually test it.  For that reason, I would not buy a machine without some sort of assurance in writing from the maker.

So what do you do?

Good question.  Brad indicates above he is interested in the Dell Precision M2400, too.  When you take a look at the specs for that machine at http://www.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/workstation_precision_m2400?c=us&cs=04&l=en&s=bsd, it’s clear they support 64bit versions of Windows Vista and 8GB of memory is also listed.  Cha ching!!!  At least it appears you can buy it fully loaded and ready to go.

There are other machines on the market that you can purchase with a 64bit operating system, 8GB or more of memory, and ready to run.  Dell offers a whole bunch of different machine and I know Consultants in this company using some of the new Latitudes and Precision machines with Hyper-V.

I would not discount the quality of the Lenovo machines.  We have a bunch of people using them and the typical comment from people getting their hands on one is that it’s the best machine they’ve ever owned.  The Lenovo ThinkPad W500 is a really nice machine with a ton of power and can be ordered with a 64 bit version of Windows Vista and 8GB of memory.  It’s bigger than what Brad appears to want with a 15.4” screen, but the little brother ThinkPad T400 would be a great machine with a 14.1” widescreen to fit his needs.

But does Brad need the memory?

Does Brad need more than 4GB of memory?  I don’t really like to be judge and jury on that question but let me describe briefly how handy it becomes.  When my team had laptops with 3GB of memory, we struggled to run and demo the Microsoft server products.  We typically need to run 2-4 VM’s and sometimes more.  Some of those VM’s really like 1GB of memory or more.  As you can see by running the math, that means you end up needing a couple of machines to split the load.  We used to travel with two laptops.  What fun that was.

Now that we have 8GB machines, we have a lot more memory to work with and the VM’s perform MO BETTER!!!  If I am running a hungry Exchange or SQL Server VM, I allocate 1, 2 or 3GB of memory.  No problem.  But this is where it gets really dicey.  Many of our products are starting to ship as 64bit only products.  Windows Server 2008 R2 will be the product that really forces the issue on laptops.  There’s only one Microsoft product that executes 64bit VM’s today.  That’s the Hyper-V role of Windows Server 2008.  This is obviously a problem for folks like Brad because we don’t have a solution for him at the moment.  Until we have a desktop virtualization product that executes 64bit VM’s, he either needs to use Hyper-V or another product on the market like VMWare Workstation.  Hopefully we’ll have a different story soon.

So while Brad might not need the memory immediately, the 64bit path is guaranteed. The two machines he’s picked should be plenty powerful.  Ultimately it’s his decision.  I don’t have any personal experience with the Dell or Sony he listed, but at least the Dell has what he’s asking about in writing.  Let us know how things go Brad.

Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • I am one of those that is "Yells from the rooftops" that the Lenovo T61P is the best machine I have ever had or seen.  I have had several people ask me what machine to buy and I have sent all of them to Lenovo. With the experience I have had with lenovo, I would not buy any other brand.  Curious to know your thoughts of the W line of Lenovo's

  • I think you are confusing the P9500 with the T9500.  The P9500 is a low power (25W vs 35W) processor that Intel seems to be releasing in very low numbers - all the new MS spec laptops use it (see the Productivity laptops on pcweb), but it is hard to find in an off the shelf pc.  Lenovo used to list it for a short while, but doesn't anymore.  I believe it is 1066 FSB - http://ark.intel.com/cpu.aspx?groupID=35566

  • Great recommendations Keith. I would also like to add though that if you're looking for 64-bit Desktop Virtualization i've had good luck so far with Virtualbox (http://www.virtualbox.org/) by Sun Microsystems. It supports 64-bit Virtual machines, snapshotting, has many configuration options for tuning your VMs and best of all... it's free. :)

  • Oh!  You are right Brian. But the questions still remain.  Will the Sony unit really support 8GB of memory and does Brad need it?  I'd still be inclined to go with the known answers.

    Dave, regarding Virtualbox, I have seen a catostrophic failure reported from a Windows 7 user with that product.  Make sure you have a solid backup BEFORE you introduce something like that into your production environment.  The person that reported it lost the primary hard drive, an external hard drive, and all data.  The culprit has not been determined (that I am aware of), but you were warned.

  • One other point about the specs on the P9500 Brian brought to our attention. According to the specs at http://ark.intel.com/cpu.aspx?groupID=35566, the P9500 doesn't support Execute Disable Bit.

    I believe Execute Disable Bit (NX)is a requirement for Data Execution Prevention (DEP)in Windows Server, which is in turn a prerequisite for Hyper-V.  

    I am double checking that...

  • I'd love to find a list of laptops and inexpensive desktop computers which have been tested and found to work with Hyper-V.  I bought a new Dell PC a few weeks ago and was shocked that the processor didn't support Hyper-V.  Don't make me switch to VMWare!

  • Hey Gary,

    You're definitely right that it's a big disappointment with Dell not using processors supporting Intel VT technology in certain models.  FYI though - The comparable VMWare technologies have the same requirements as Hyper-V.  If you just want to virtualize without all the bells & whistles that come with HyperV, MS Virtual Server still does a great job (and it's free).  Best of luck!

  • OK, I've read a bunch of blog posts that say that Sony deliberately disables the VT capability in their laptops and you can't re-enable it without an unauthorized hack to the BIOS.  Are they still doing this?  Nowhere on the specs for the VGN-Z570N/B does it say it supports VT or Hyper-V (or Server 2008 for that matter).

  • If you look at the standard shipping memory vs. the max usable memory over the years on desktops, the ratio is not so good these days--desktops are commonly shipping with 4 GB (why not?  The cost difference is minimal), but the max still tends to be 8 GB.  That's not much headroom on a machine that will be kept 4-5 years or more!  I suppose perhaps a BIOS upgrade would allow for more, but most are still listed as 8 GB max.  

    I was just looking at Dells latest OptiPlex (960)--same issue.  This will probably be their new standard for about a year or so--it's conceivable that 8 GB could be the standard in the lifespan of this model.  Can you remember a time in history where the "standard" amount of shipping memory was the same as the max amount the machine could handle?  It seems crazy that you'd need to upgrade to a workstation-class machine to get more.

  • re: Gary's post - I have a Dell Optiplex 755 as my work desktop, and I couldn't get HyperV running on it at first, even after setting the correct settings in the BIOS.  Turns out you need to turn everything off then back on for some reason (see http://blogs.technet.com/11/archive/2008/04/23/running-virtual-machine-in-hpyerv-on-dell-755-box-with-e6550-processor.aspx)  It is working great now.

  • Hyper-V worked fine on a 755 mid form-factor i installed it on about a month ago. Not sure if it was the e6550 though.

    Hyper-V works like an absolute charm on our Dell 2950 w/ 16GB RAM and will likely be the hypervisor of our choice for the entire project we are about to roll out.

  • I'm using an acer aspire but when my brother bought a new Lenovo wow, it is so impressive. But it is very expensive but the quality is so amazing.

  • re: Ryan's post:

    Gigabyte for sure makes several motherboards that support 16GB of RAM out of the box.  I'm fairly sure there is at least one other mobo manufacturer that does as well.  One big plus in the BYOPC column, if you ask me.  PC manufacturers routinely seem to charge exorbitant prices when you get above 4GB of RAM (and sometimes even less).  When I can spec out a quad-core AMD system on Newegg.com for about $800, and get plenty of power, RAM (at least 4GB), and drive space (640GB or higher), what does that tell you about the big PC maker machines?

  • I bought a laoptop with a P9500 in april 2008. It does not support Intel VT and it will not run Hyper-V.