Beginners Guides: Diagnosing Bad Memory
Having problems figuring out if your system is plagued with bad RAM or DDR? PCstats walks you though the steps to diagnose bad RAM. - Version 1.2.5
Windows-based PC crash for no apparent reason? Well OK, mine does too,
but does yours crash often? At random times? With Nasty blue Screens
of Death? If the answer is "yes", you may very well have a
memory problem. Faulty memory, or RAM, is often the cause of the dreaded 'flaky
PC' syndrome, those hard-to-replicate errors that get you nasty looks from
the store technician because "…nothing seems to be wrong with it. Sir."
In this short but sweet guide, PCstats will discuss the common
symptoms of faulty memory as well as looking at a handful of free memory testing
software programs which can help you diagnose your troubles.
When good RAM goes bad
it consists only of a handful of Silicon memory chips (called
DRAM) soldered to a small circuit board, computer memory is actually much more
resistant to failure than most other computer parts. Having said that,
it is also produced and distributed in more volume than any other computer
part so it sort of evens out.
Memory DRAM chips
are tested by their manufacturers before
they are shipped, and this weeds out virtually all the 'defect' chips prior
to sale. However, computer memory is also vulnerable to a variety of
situations that can turn your working sticks of DDR or SDRAM memory
Electrostatic shock from improper handling can damage
memory. Try to avoid stroking your cat while you install your new
1GB DDR module! Likewise, power surges or poor power supplies can also damage
your computer's memory, sometimes gradually. The same can be said for
raising memory voltage too high if you are overclocking.
If your computer is excessively dusty, or is
located in a humid environment the contacts between the memory module and the
memory slot can be interfered with or corroded. Heat, either from other components or the RAM itself can also cause
gradual damage. Obviously, careless handling can also damage computer memory by
causing physical harm to the circuit board or contacts. This is one of the
reasons why we advocate memory heat spreaders - they don't really do much in the
way of cooling sticks of DDR, but they do offer a nice level of protection from
factor to take into consideration is the possibility of defects in the
memory slots of your computer's motherboard. These can be damaged by
the same means as listed above, and can cause confusion, since any memory module plugged
into a defective slot will appear to be defective even though it really
Fortunately, as modern computer memory
is produced uniformly and has relatively few points of failure as compared to other
computer parts, manufacturers are able to provide decent warranty support.
Most 'brand name' memory purchased directly form suppliers like Corsair, Crucial or
Kingston carries a lifetime warranty, while 'white box' memory purchased from
resellers typically has a longer warranty than most equivalent products,
generally three years.
Signs of bad memory: 1. Starts Smoking, 2. Becomes Moody...
The indicators of faulty memory are legion, but
let's start with a few common ones. From the top:
- Blue screens during the install procedure of
Windows 2000 or XP. This is one of the surest signs of faulty memory.
- Random crashes or blue screens during the running
of 2000 or XP. Note that heat can also be a culprit in the case of general
flakiness like this, so you should test for that possibility too.
- Crashes during memory intensive operations.
3D games, benchmarks, compiling, Photoshop, etc.
- Distorted graphics on screen. This can also be
related to the video card.
- Failure to boot. This can be accompanied by repeated
long beeps, which is the accepted BIOS beep code for a memory problem. In this
circumstance, you cannot test the memory with diagnostic software, so your
only option is testing by replacement, either at home or at your computer