22 Feb 2015


What is RAM?

Random Access Memory(RAM) is a way for your computer to store temporary data that it is likely to need soon. Other ways that computers store data are through a cache or storage. Storage, often wrongly referred to as memory, is permanent data stored on a hard drive or solid state drive. A CPU cache is a small amount of memory that is stored right on the CPU chip. The cache is for data that is used very frequently. Both the RAM and CPU cache are temporary data stores that are cleared when your computer is turned off.

You could think of the cache as a paper in your hand that you need to constantly refer to, such as a list of names or zip codes. The folder, laying on your desk, full of papers you may need for your current task is similar to computer memory or RAM. The file cabinet full of folders for all your projects would be a good parallel to computer storage such as a hard drive.

Memory problems are less common than many other computer problems because memory sticks have no moving parts so have fewer points of failure. However, due to this many RAM problems are misdiagnosed. Memory usually will last longer than other computer components so manufacturers offer warranties longer than most other computer parts. If you buy brand name memory it will likely have a lifetime warranty.

Symptoms of a RAM problem

1. You turn on your computer and it runs fine. You go about your normal tasks and notice that your computer performance decreases. By lunch time the load times of a typical website seem to be measured in minutes. Does the problem occur not just with Internet websites, but also with running local programs? This type of gradual deterioration of PC performance, especially with memory intensive programs, may be caused by a RAM problem.
2. Does your computer restart randomly when you are in the middle of something? Your computer may just have booted and begins to load your desktop and then immediately reboots. It may freeze up sporadically. This could be a sign of faulty RAM.

3. Your screen flashes a blue screen with white text before restarting. Blue Screen errors can be one of the most annoying things to happen to your computer because you don't have a chance to read the error message. Many things can cause this problem and bad memory is one of them.
4. Have you found that files are randomly corrupted? This may happen with files that you frequently access and save. RAM issues can cause this problem or worse. The file structure of your hard drive may slowly go downhill and become unbootable.
5. Your attempts to install a new program repeatedly fail for an unknown reason. Could be a RAM problem. You try to reinstall the operating system, but keep getting odd error messages. If this follows number four above, it is almost a sure sign of bad memory.
There are certainly a variety of problems that could cause the issues above, but faulty RAM is often overlooked. If you have combinations of the above problems it is likely you have faulty memory.

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What sort of problem could have caused damage to your RAM?
  • Power surges can cause all kinds of problems to computer components including RAM. It is a good idea to plug your computer and other expensive electronics into a surge protector. Make sure you know the difference between a surge protector and a power strip.
  • Before you handle any parts in your computer, make sure you ground yourself by touching a piece of grounded metal to discharge static electricity. Electrostatic discharge can cause damage to many computer components.
  • Excessive heat can cause RAM and many other computer parts to wear out over time. Not just heat from each individual part, but heat from one component can cause damage to adjacent parts.
  • If you have overclocked any part of your computer incorrectly, it may cause damage in the form of excess heat as noted above.
  • Your memory module may have some fault that did not become apparent immediately or worsened over time. This is the most likely cause of damaged RAM.
It is also possible that the memory module is not the problem at all. One or more memory slots on your motherboard could have a defect that caused the RAM to not perform normally. The defect may even be so bad that it damaged the memory stick in some way.

Diagnosing the Problem

If the symptoms started after you recently added more memory the new module could be faulty. This seems obvious, but any time a problem begins occurring after making any change to your computer, first check to see if the change caused the problem.

Your computer may produce multiple beeps or a continuous beep when you turn it on. These beeps can indicate many different problems as well as possibly being a symptom of bad RAM. Beep codes vary by the manufacturer of your BIOS. You can look up the beep codes for your specific computer. This can help you eliminate other possible problems.

If you are not comfortable working on your computer I would recommend taking your computer to a local repair store to have them attempt to fix it. I would not take it to a big retail store to have it repaired, they are in the business of selling additional parts not fixing problems.
If you are an advanced user, there are diagnostic programs that can help you know if you have a memory problem. Your computer may have one pre-installed by the manufacturer or you can download a third party program such as memtest86. Microsoft also has a program to help you diagnose RAM problems. The Windows Memory Diagnostic is a good program to use if you suspect memory problems.

If the above programs indicate your memory sticks are functioning, but you still suspect a RAM problem or if you need to find which memory module is the problem you can try removing them and placing them in different slots. Memory modules are pictured in the image below. Memory modules are small circuit boards that will be perpendicular to your motherboard. Note that I removed many of the other components to make the memory more visible. If your computer has more than one module you should remove all of them except one and then run the diagnostic tests above or perform the task that normally causes the problem.
Installed RAM

What installed memory modules look like. 
RAM Slot Levers 

The levers for the memory slot are white in this example.

Fixing the Problem

To remove a RAM module you will need to press the tiny levers on each end to release it. When replacing a module, make sure the indention on the bottom is lined up correctly with the slot and then press it in until you hear the levers snap. Note that some levers do not make a snap sound.
Test each of your memory modules one at a time to find the one that is bad. It is possible more than one is bad. When you find the sticks that are bad you can order replacements. If all the memory modules appear bad, then the problem is likely with the memory slot itself. Try testing each memory module in all of the memory slots to find if one of the slots is faulty. To fix a faulty slot you would need to replace your motherboard. It is possible all the memory modules are damaged if your computer experienced a serious power surge.

Other possible causes of your problem
  • A hard drive problem can cause many of the symptoms listed above. You can run a utility called CHKDSK by pressing the windows button and the “R” button at the same time and then typing CHKDSK and pressing enter. Alternatively, you can click on Computer, right click the drive you intend to scan, click Properties, then the Tools tab, and click Check now. Note you will need to restart your computer. Also, be aware this may take an extended amount of time to finish running. If you hear your hard drive making lots of noise during normal operation, it may be the cause of the problems. Defragmenting your drive every few months is a good idea as well.
  • If the performance problems occur during graphic intensive programs such as games or rendering, it could be an outdated graphics driver. It is a good idea to always keep your drivers up to date.
  • If your computer becomes excessively hot it can cause a variety of problems. Also, if your power supply is failing it can cause random reboots. It is a good idea to clean dust out of your computer at least once a year. Possibly more often if you have a multitude of pets.
  • One additional cause could be a virus. Note that many people automatically assume any problem with their computer is caused by a virus. Many large retail repair stores frequently misdiagnose problems as viruses as well. Make sure you have a good anti-virus program and be sure to run scans on a regular basis.
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