Effective troubleshooting of any computer memory problem boils down to using a methodical approach that rules out common issues as you progress. It's tempting to skip steps, but taking any shortcuts will just lengthen the troubleshooting process if your hunches are wrong. Following all these basic steps can help avoid a more serious computer memory problem.
1. Back up your system. If your system is bootable but unstable, back up your data as soon as possible. Computer memory problems can result in data corruption, and you don't want to risk losing your data while you're troubleshooting the issue.
2. Check your hardware and system configuration. If you have recently installed computer memory, make sure the new memory modules are compatible with your system board and that you installed them in the correct slots. Check part numbers and confirm your system components match your documentation. Then check your motherboard and BIOS documentation to see if you need to enable any special settings before upgrading memory.
3. Reinstall the computer memory modules. Remove the memory modules from the system board, examine them for damage, examine the system board for damage and reinsert them. While the modules are removed, use a soft cloth to clean the contacts of the module using a cleaner called "FluxOff" or a similar product. Use compressed air or a PC vacuum to remove dust from the memory socket. After reinserting the modules, make sure they are the same height to ensure correct placement.
4. Swap or replace the computer memory modules. Swapping the position of the memory modules on the system board, reinstalling identical computer memory modules or installing modules in another identical system can be useful in determining if the issue is a bad module or socket.
5. Update the system BIOS. Don't assume your BIOS is functioning properly if you're having issues related to system memory. Upgrading your system BIOS will refresh the system information, may resolve known compatibility issues or even provide more in-depth troubleshooting information.
6. Test the memory modules. There are a number of software and hardware-based memory testing tools available. Some of my favorite software-based programs are Memtest86, GoldMemory and Microsoft's Windows Memory Diagnostic tool. Hardware-based testing solutions such as RAMCHECK, from Innovations Inc., are more comprehensive, but are also more expensive. Testing the modules will help you rule out if the source of your problems is really a faulty memory module or if there are other issues.
7. Check online support sites for known issues. If you are receiving error codes from the system BIOS, an application or the operating system, and you haven't already checked with an appropriate support center, you should check now. Operating system bugs and poorly written software can lead to computer memory leaks, page faults, and other errors. Major bugs and issues should be easy to locate on support Web sites or search engines by typing in the specific error codes. In many cases, patches are available from either the software vendor or Microsoft.
8. Run updated antivirus software. This is a long shot, but a few malicious programs masquerade as system memory errors or cause computer memory issues themselves. Running an updated antivirus sweep may identify these programs and resolve the issue.
9. Look for additional causes: If you've completed the previous troubleshooting steps, you have effectively ruled out faulty computer memory as the root cause of your system errors. Faulty motherboards, failing power supplies, deteriorating hard drives and environmental issues can cause similar symptoms and should be investigated as alternate sources for system crashes, data loss and instabilities.
Troubleshooting Computer Memory Problems Learning Guide
How to tell your computer memory is faulty
Why a Windows system's computer memory fails
How to troublehoot computer memory problems
How to prevent computer memory problems
Bernie Klinder, MVP, consultant is a technology consultant for a number of Fortune 500 companies. He is also the founder and former editor of LabMice.net , a comprehensive resource index for IT professionals who support Microsoft Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 and BackOffice products. For his contributions to the information technology community, Bernie was selected as an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) by Microsoft.