EC2 Instance Types Comparison (and how to remember them)

AWS offers a range of EC2 instance types optimized for various purposes. It’s great that they provide so much variety, but of course, it means one more thing that you have to learn. It’s worth taking the time to do so, as ⅔ of IaaS spend goes toward compute — that’s a lot of EC2.

Check out a brief breakdown in this video, which also compares EC2 purchasing options. Check it out here:

Or, read on for a look into each of the AWS instance types. Remember that within each type, you’ll still need to choose the AWS instance sizes that suit your specific needs. Additionally, older generations within each instance types are available for purchase — for example, c5 is the latest “c” instance, but c4 and c3 are still available — but as the newer types tend to perform better at a cheaper price, you’ll only want to use the older types if you have an AMI or other dependency. The differences matter for some users… but you probably already know who you are.

Note: a version of this blog was originally published in July 2018. It has been rewritten and updated for 2020. New EC2 instance types since our last writeup include A1, T3, z1d, high memory, R5, G4, and F1.

Quick EC2 Instance Info

If you’ve taken a look at AWS training materials, you may have seen a couple of overall acronyms to remember all of these — perhaps Dr McGiFT Px or FIGHT Dr McPX. Whether these acronyms are useful at all is perhaps a point of discussion, but to ensure that all the instance types above are in your list, we suggest:

  • Fight Czar MXPD
  • Fright Camp DXZ
  • March Gift PZXD

(and don’t forget high memory and Inf!)

General Purpose

t instance type

Make sure you also understand the difference between t3 and the older t2 — t3 are in “unlimited mode” by default, so instead of throttling down to baseline CPU when your instance runs out of credits, you pay for overages.

For each of the EC2 types we cover here, we’ll also add a mnemonic to help you remember the purpose of each instance type.

Mnemonic: t is for tiny or turbo.

m instance type

Mnemonic: m is for main choice or happy medium.

a1 instance type

Mnemonic: a is for Arm processor

Compute Optimized

c instance type

Mnemonic: c is for compute (at least that one’s easy!)

Memory Optimized

r instance family

Mnemonic: r is for RAM.

x1 instance family

Mnemonic: x is for xtreme, as in “xtreme RAM” seems to be generally accepted, but we think this is a bit weak. If you have any suggestions, comment below.

High Memory instance family

Mnemonic: we’ll leave this one up to you.

z1d instance family

Mnemonic: z is for zippy

Accelerated Computing

p instance type

Mnemonic: p is for pictures (graphics).

Inf1 instance type

Mnemonic: inf is for inference

g instance type

g4 is the latest family, and g3 are available as well.

Mnemonic: g is for graphics or GPU

F1 instance type

Mnemonic: f is for FPGA

Storage Optimize

i3 instance type

Mnemonic: i is for IOPS.

d2 instance type

Mnemonic: d is for dense.

h1 instance type

Mnemonic: h is for HDD.

What EC2 instance types should you use?

Looking for info on the other cloud providers?

Originally published at on February 21, 2020.

CEO of ParkMyCloud

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