Diagnosing Bad Computer Memory
Sometimes when your computer starts acting "funny" it can be a sign the memory is damaged. The good news is memory for computer systems is inexpensive and easy to replace.
Why Does Memory Fail?
When compared to other components, memory for computer systems has a very low failure rate. It has no moving parts, unlike a hard drive, and isn't subject the heat stresses the processor or video card are. However there are a number of problems that can damage memory.
Static electricity is a common culprit. If you were in there replacing some component and forgot to discharge static from your hand just one time, you might have sent an electric shock too weak to feel but strong enough to damage the delicate microcircuitry. However even if you have never had the case open, there are other possible causes.
A power surge can damage memory for computers. Some people expect a surge will be dramatic, with sparks and smoke, but in fact it can cause subtle damage that may take days to show up. Even if you have a surge protector, you still might have "dirty" power, which is electricity with unsteady voltage. This is especially true in older buildings. Finally, dust can get inside the case and short out memory contacts.
Signs of Bad Memory
Trying to diagnose computer problems can be frustrating since there are so many components that could be the cause. Software, viruses or a faulty Windows installation could be at fault as well. Failure of memory for computer systems has some distinct symptoms that stand out.
The infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) is often a sign of hardware problems. If your computer locks up with a blue screen containing cryptic messages, this is a BSoD. If it happens just once then it may just be a fluke, but if it happens repeatedly that points to serious problems. Spontaneous reboots or system freeze can also indicate hardware problems.
An important question is when it happens. If it happens only when playing certain graphic-intensive computer games, that could be a sign of a memory problem. BSoDs or reboots during other memory intensive operations such as compiling software, video editing or viewing large images also are symptoms of memory problems.
Testing and Fixing The Memory
There are a number of utilities that can confirm the existence of memory errors, such as Microsoft's Windows Memory Diagnostic. By running a memory test utility, you confirm the error is actually in the memory and not some other component. By removing all memory modules except one and testing each one in turn, you can isolate which module is the problem.
Once you have confirmed the memory problem, replace the damaged module. Reseating the memory module may fix the problem, but this is often temporary. If the module is damaged, it should be replaced. Memory for computer systems in inexpensive, so don't take the chance a damaged module could corrupt important data.