During the last few weeks Computer Repair Calgary has been focusing on RAM (random access memory or computer memory for short). We began by looking at the role of RAM within the computer system, likening it to a person’s short term memory. We then proceeded to look at the warning signs that your PC has faulty RAM; the most likely symptom being frequent, random crashes or error messages.
Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, it is generally difficult to determine whether a given computer problem originates from random access memory issues or not. There are several reasons for this. First, computer crashes can be the result of any number of circumstances (many of which have nothing to do with the current state of your memory). Secondly, the results of bad RAM can vary greatly. As long as your PC is using working portions of computer memory everything will run smoothly and you will have no problem. It is not until your machine makes use of a corrupted portion that it will begin to fall apart.
An obvious question springs forth from this brief discussion: what do the computer repair professionals do to accurately test a stick of RAM? Furthermore, what would you guys at Computer Repair Calgary recommend I use for testing purposes? Our answer here is, there are two methods you can use: a quick, inaccurate method and a slower, accurate method.
Computer Repair Calgary’s quick, inaccurate method to testing RAM
In order to make use of this method you will need to be comfortable opening up a PC and familiar with its internal components. If you are then follow these steps:
A) Shut down your machine, unplug the power chord, and open your PC’s case
B) Remove a single stick of RAM
C) Plug your computer back into the wall and turn it on
D) Use it for awhile and see if random problems persist. If they do then head down to step (E). If there are no more problems then this stick is likely faulty.
E) Place the RAM back into your computer and take out a different stick (repeat this step for each stick).
If you have managed to find a faulty stick of memory using the method outlined above then it is advisable that you find a second working computer (possibly a friend’s machine) and plug this faulty module into it. Verify that the second machine now starts to behave erratically.
Although this method is fairly quick and easy to perform it is merely meant as an initial check. In order to achieve any reasonable degree of certainty you are going to have to use the method outlined below.
Computer Repair Calgary’s slower, accurate method to testing RAM
In order to reliably determine whether or not a stick of RAM is faulty you will need to make use of a specially designed software application (created for this sole purpose). Although a variety of free applications exist, memtest86 (and its brother memtest86+) are considered the cream of the crop by computer repair specialists. So how does it work? Memtest86+ follows a fairly simple pattern. First, decide upon a particular sector of random access memory to test. Second, write a specific value to this sector. Third, read this sectors new value. Finally, ask: does the value written equal the value read? If the values are equal then this sector is likely fine. If the values are different then there is an error occurring somewhere so tell the user.
So, how do I use Memtest86+? We’re glad you asked
A) Grab an empty USB and plug it into your computer.
B) Head on over to the Memtest86+ homepage and click on “Download (Pre-built & ISO’s)”.
C) Click on “Download – Auto-installer for USB Key” and save the file to your desktop. Once obtained, double click on the file and then double click on Memtest86+. Hit “run” then “I agree”. Select your USB Flash drive from the drop down box and then hit the “create button”. At this point you now have Memtest86+ on a bootable USB.
D) Memetest86+ does not run within the Windows operating system since this would prevent it from checking much of your systems RAM. Therefore, you are going to need to boot off the USB you created in the previous step. To do this restart your machine and then, as your machine starts up, choose to access the boot menu. Once there, choose to boot off your USB drive.
E) Wait a few seconds as Memtest86+ loads up and starts to run.
As soon as it begins to run, Memtest starts its first pass through RAM. Basically it goes through each sector and sees if the values it writes and the values it reads are the same. If they are then everything is fine. If not, an error is listed (there is an error column on the right side of the screen which lists the number of problems found). Once the program has tested every single sector it begins a second pass using a slightly different technique. Once again, it does a read-write check and lists any errors it finds. This process continues on indefinitely until you choose to abort the process (using the “esc” key). So, how many passes should be completed before you abort the process? Generally it is sufficient to wait for a single pass to complete (wait for the value under the pass column to change from 1 to 2). Rarely will errors occur on the second, third, or forth pass, but not on the first.
If, after one or two passes, the value in the “errors” column is 0 then Memtest86+ has found no problems with your computer’s memory. On the other hand, if the value is greater than 0 then there is the possibility that your RAM is faulty. If this occurs it is generally best to isolate each stick of memory (take every stick out except for one) and run Memtest again. If errors occur when a certain stick is in your PC, but not when it is taken out, then you have likely found your culprit.
It is important to note that Memtest is not foolproof. Even if errors are detected it is not a guarantee that faulty computer memory is the problem. A problematic motherboard or a bad connection between components of a workstation can also cause problems. Computer Repair Calgary realizes that this can lead to extensive frustration. Therefore, if after a reasonable amount of effort you are unable to come to a conclusion with respect to your problem then we advise you to take your workstation into a technical support specialist.