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[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting and Repair Guide | The Troubleshooting Expert | Troubleshooting Specific Components | Troubleshooting the System Memory | Apparent Failure ]

I have an existing system that has not been recently worked on or upgraded and my system memory appears to have failed or is not working in general

Explanation: There is an apparent failure of the memory on an existing system. This usually is implied by troubleshooting procedures that have identified the memory as one possible cause of an unknown system problem.

Diagnosis: Outright memory failures coming up out of the blue on existing systems are unusual; most memory problems occur when a system is first installed or when it is upgraded. A failure on an existing system usually means that there is something wrong with the memory itself, because there aren't as many other possible explanations for the problem as there are with a new system. Overheating of the memory modules is a common cause of hardware failures.


  • One good first step to try when encountering apparent memory failures is to try running a comprehensive memory test. Using a diagnostic software tool, run a continuous loop memory test for a long period of time and see if it finds any problems with the memory. If it does, this may give you a suggestion of where the problem in memory is.
  • Overheating of the system is a common cause of sudden failures of previously-working memory. Read this section, which discusses different ways the system can overheat. If the system case or the memory itself is overheating, you will need to address this or the problem will recur.
  • If you have just installed a new 32-bit operating system where before you were just using DOS, this may bring a memory problem to the surface. When this happens, the bad memory was probably there the whole time, but DOS is much more forgiving of bad memory than Windows 95, Windows NT or other 32-bit operating systems are.
  • Make sure that your BIOS settings have not been changed. Double-check the ones that are related to the system memory and make sure that they are correct.
  • Something inside the PC may have come loose. Check for loose connections within the PC.
  • If the memory modules being used in the PC do not use the same metal (either gold or tin) as the sockets they are in, it is possible over time for a chemical reaction to develop that can lead to poor contact and eventually, memory problems. This will typically take months or even years to show up. If you suspect this problem, power down and unplug the PC and take out one memory module. If its pins are gold and the socket is tin (a silvery color) or vice-versa, this may be the problem. If so, remove all the modules and clean them and the socket.
  • There may be a problem similar to what is seen when new memory is installed; see the troubleshooting section for memory problems in new systems. Many of these ideas don't apply to an existing system because for example, if you use an unsupported memory type you normally won't get past the first boot of the PC without having a noticeable problem. However, some systems can react in strange ways and problems may not become noticeable until later on, in theory.
  • There could be something wrong the memory modules themselves. Note that bad memory will often pass the BIOS memory test at boot time, and will also often pass the tests performed by those small module testers that many vendors use. Those tests are very superficial and will not catch all memory problems. If you can, try the modules in another PC that uses the same kind of memory. If you have performed all the checks listed in the points above, and the memory works in another PC, the memory itself may very well be bad. Try to replace the memory and see if the problem goes away.
  • There could be a problem with the power supply. A bad power supply can cause strange memory errors that crop up because the memory is not getting enough power.
  • There may be a problem with a component on the motherboard, or another part of the PC. Try troubleshooting the motherboard.

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