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| Troubleshooting the System Memory | Apparent
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
- 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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