Diagnose PC Memory Problems

PC Memory Problems Developing

PC Memory moduleWhenever you suspect your memory modules to be bad because of system crashes, lockups, blue screens or unexplained regular reboots, it would be nice to know how to confirm your suspicions, as some of these symptoms also apply to other hardware problems.

This QBS PC Help article helps you to identify some of the common symptoms of memory problems so that you can decide what needs to be investigated.

The following list details the top signs pointing to a memory problem:

1. Blue screens during the install procedure of Windows. This is one of the surest signs of faulty PC memory.

2. Random crashes or blue screens during the running of Windows. Note that heat can also be a culprit in the case of general problems like this, so you should test for that possibility too (e.g. check fans are working and that excessive dust is not present).

3. Regular crashes during memory intensive operations such as playing PC Games and running image manipulation and optimisation programs like Autocad and Adobe Photoshop. Using Benchmarking software can produce similar results.

4. Distorted graphics on screen. This can also be related to problems with the graphic card itself.

5. 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 (see later) or at your local computer dealer.

6. Electrostatic shock from improper handling can damage memory.

7. 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 over clocking.

8. 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 memory module itself can also cause gradual damage.

9. Careless handling can also damage computer memory by causing physical harm to the circuit board or contacts.

Another 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 when you try to track down faulty memory modules, since any memory module plugged into a defective slot will appear to be defective even though it's not.

Memory Testing Tips

Before you run the testing program below, you should first determine how many memory modules are installed in your system. A good way to do this is use the Crucial System Scanner tool. This automatically scans your computer to find out what memory modules are already inside your system and suggests recommended upgrades.

Armed with all this knowledge, including how many memory slots are available, the types of RAM installed and their specifications, you can use a memory tester to check your computer's memory and will not even have to open the PC's case while conducting the test.

Memory Testing using Memtest86+

At QBS PC Help we use Memtest86+ as part of our arsenal of diagnostic software.

There can be a multitude of reasons for running Memtest86+, but foremost of all is to test whether a computers memory modules might be bad.

The program has basic and advanced testing modes, differing in the time they take and the thoroughness of the testing. The basic mode is usually sufficient to indicate any major problems with PC memory.

To use Memtest86+ first download either the pre-compiled floppy disk image or the bootable ISO CD image.

Unzip the downloaded file and create your bootable disk by either running the 'install' program (for the floppy disk image) or creating a CD from the ISO image by using a program like Nero or Easy CD Creator.

Reboot your computer with the floppy or CD in the drive to start the Memtest86+ program. It will automatically begin the basic test. Note the system information displayed to the left of the screen.

Memtest Display If your machine simply boots back into Windows you will have to configure your BIOS to boot from CD or floppy disk on startup, refer to your computer's or motherboards manual for how to do this.

The Way Memtest86+ Tests

Memtest runs indefinitely unless you stop it. It does however repeat the same tests over and over again. Memtest86+ contains a number of different tests which each take different approaches in trying to expose any errors in your memory. In the top right of your screen you can see the progress of each test in the lower of the two progress bars. The topmost progress bar shows the progress of a pass, each pass consists of all the tests in the memtest suite.

One successful pass of Memtest86+ will give you a pretty good idea that your memory is ok, only in rare cases will there be errors showing after the first pass. To be extra sure about your findings simply have the test run overnight or even for a couple of days depending on the level of importance of the system. Any errors in your memory will be listed at the bottom of the screen.

The (c) configuration key located at the foot of the Memtest86+ Display Window will open a menu that allows you to choose between the various test modes.

When you are done testing simply remove the floppy or CD and reset your computer (press ESC to reboot). If you wish to execute the test again simply reinsert the disk and start up your computer (or reboot if your PC is already turned on).

Tracking Down the Bad Memory

If Memtest86+ determines that your system memory modules are the likely cause of the errors you have seen, the next step is to pinpoint the problem areas.

If you only have one Memory Module

If you only have a single stick of memory move the lone memory module to another spare memory slot in your motherboard, since there is a possibility that the slot, or at least the contacts between the memory module and the slot, is damaged.

To do this first turn off the computer. Open the PC's case and locate the memory module. Pull back the two memory retention levers and remove the module. Insert the module into another memory slot and push it down firmly. The memory retention levers should snap into place. If they do not, you probably have the memory the wrong way round.release clips

Once both levers are locked into place, switch on your system and re-run the memory test(s). If you still get errors, you likely have a faulty memory module and should replace it.

If you have recently upgraded your memory and have now started experiencing errors, your recent upgrade is likely to be the source of your problems.

If you have more than one Memory Module

If you have more than one stick of memory in your system and you are experiencing errors, the next step is to determine where the problem lies. Any one or more of your memory modules could be faulty, as could one or more of the memory slots on your motherboard.

The first thing to do is remove all but a single memory module and retest using Memtest86+. Test each memory module by itself in the same memory slot. If you get an error with only one of the modules, you have found the memory problem. If you get an error with all of them, the problem probably lies with either the memory slot, the motherboard or the computers processor.

If you experienced no errors while testing each memory module by itself, but you did get errors when testing them all together the first time, there is the strong possibility that one of your other memory slots is defective. Try repeating the testing with single memory modules in all the other memory slots on your motherboard, until you find a combination that produces an error.

By carefully and patiently conducting these memory tests you should be able to track down your computers memory problem and fix it.

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