Diagnosing RAM


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Troubleshooting Memory - there are two types of memory errors: Hard and Soft which do you have?

Troubleshooting Memory (RAM) errors, did you hear any beeps?

RAM problems come in two forms, hard errors and soft errors.

Troubleshooting RAM techniques:

Hard RAM errors are the easiest to detect and repair because you get a immediate indication of hardware failure. Most of your troubleshooting of hard RAM errors will be done by the computer.

Your computer BIOS will give you an error code when you start your system or it will give you a beep code depending on the manufacture and bios publisher.

The only thing you have to discern is if you have more than one RAM module in the system, two or more modules and you will have to troubleshoot them by removing all but one and then put them back in one at a time to find the failed module.

When Troubleshooting Memory errors Observe ESD!

Soft memory errors are harder to detect and troubleshoot. The problems run the gambit of problems. From unable to write to the hard drive, system lockups, programs hanging, or extremely slow system response.

With computers you can also use the smaller condensed "Check list" to accomplish a single repair task.

Normally any of the above problems would point to a specific device but after troubleshooting the device, say a hard drive, and find that the device is not at fault then you would look at the memory.

To find a soft memory error some BIOS programs have an advanced feature you can turn on (the one that comes to mind is the IBM ThinkPad series of computers) called advance diagnostics. It will show any boot time (POST - Power On Self Test) errors that occur and will do a test of the physical RAM (Random Access Memory) in the system.

It is rarely used in systems that have a large amount of ram because the test can take up to five minutes or more to run. If you suspect a memory problem this is the best way to find out if one of the RAM modules is failing or is having a problem that would not cause a hard error when booting the system.

The Windows Operating System's System Information is some what helpful but it is not conclusive, it only lists memory ranges for system drivers, if the error is not in the range that the system drivers are loaded into this is of little or no use. The event viewer will list system errors if the program running can pass on the error to the event notification driver (and if it is enabled!).

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If you suspect that you are experiencing a soft memory error check the event log for errors. You will have to search Microsoft's web site for information to decode the error, they are quite cryptic.

For soft memory errors there are programs that will test memory while the system is running. The programs that run in the Windows environment are not that reliable unless they come from the motherboard manufacture.

Those that run in DOS are very reliable because they can access the hardware directly where as in a more complex Operating Systems like Windows NT through Windows 7 / 8 /10 the hardware layer is not accusable by user programs.

In conclusion hard memory errors will show when the system boots. Soft memory errors will be harder to find and diagnose.

The best way to test for soft memory errors is with a test program from DOS. This means you will have to get the program and then have a DOS boot device.

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