Troubleshooting Memory Problems
Aside from trying to find an intermittent error on a motherboard (main board), troubleshooting memory problems can be one of the most difficult diagnostic issues you may face when trying to figure out why a computer begins doing things that it shouldn’t be doing, or for that matter, not doing what it should. Understand that these troubleshooting techniques are not to be misconstrued as a replacement for a thorough diagnostic inspection of your PC by a fully qualified technician.
On the contrary, these techniques should only be used by those who are reasonably familiar with computer components and have an immediate need to get their computer back up and operational to finish a task or safeguard data before taking the computer to a qualified technician for service. We take no responsibility of any type with respect to any person following the procedures and techniques outlined herein. By following these techniques or procedures, you acknowledge that they were provided to assist you with an emergent problem and that you are performing them solely and completely at your own risk!
First some Do’s and Don’ts!
Make sure that your work space provides sufficient room for you to work on the computer without allot of clutter.
Your work area should also have enough room to place tools where you can reach them as well as enough room for any components you may need to remove.
Make sure the work space is well illuminated.
Make sure that you have all of the tools you need to do the job correctly before you start. We have provided a list of the basics below.
Here’s a list of things you will need: (or should have)
- Small Flat bladed Screw Driver
- Small to Medium Sized Phillips Screw Driver
- Cotton Swabs and/or Q-Tips (electronics stores have stick type Q-Tips that work!)
- Clean Red School Eraser
- Contact Cleaner (VCR Head Cleaner or Nail Polish Remover will work!)
- Clean Cloth (old T-Shirt would be great)
- Small Can of Compressed Air (This can be purchased at most electronics stores)
- Small Flashlight
- Anti-Static Wrist Strap
- One Jumper wire 3′ long with alligator clips on both ends
- MS-DOS Boot Disk (you can download one by clicking here)
- Why all of these things? Simple, you will need the screw drivers to open the case as well as possibly moving components out of the way. You will need the Q-Tips and cloth to clean surfaces with the contact cleaner, including the contact edges of the memory modules. The cloth will enable you to clean contacts without touching them with your fingers. Oils from your skin can damage contacts and cause shorts. The compressed air is used to blow out dust and debris found in the case when you open it. The reason for the flashlight should be obvious. Static electricity is a major problem when working on any type of electronics, and even more so with computers. A static electricity discharge can rendered many of your computer components such as the motherboard, CPU and memory useless. An anti-static wrist strap will prevent you from transmitting static electricity from your body and clothes to you PC. A Jumper wire is good to ground your PC to the house ground. The small screw that holds the receptacle cover plate on at the wall is grounded! Lastly, many memory diagnostics need to be done at the DOS level rather than within any of the Windows interfaces, therefore a MS-DOS boot disk is helpful to have.
Don’t place any plastic covering of any type on your work space, and make sure there are no plastic bags, sheeting or coverings near the computer. Plastic transmits static electricity!
Don’t ever work on a PC unless you have first grounded yourself. A wrist anti-static strap is best, but if one is not available, touch the outside metal PC case before touching any electrical components. Extremely dry environments create static electricity, as do certain types of carpet when you walk across them.
Don’t ever work on a PC that is still plugged into its power source. Always unplug the PC before you you even begin to remove the cover.
Don’t ever touch the contact edges of electronic components. Human skin oils are acidic which can cause deterioration of the contacts.
Don’t work on a PC without having the correct tools. You wouldn’t conduct brain surgery with carpenter tools would you?
- Don’t force anything. If you have to force it, you’re doing it wrong!
Where to start:
First, don’t panic! Try and approach the problem logically, as difficult as that may be to do. Generally, memory problems can be placed into two broad categories.
Your computer has been acting normally until this problem arose:
You haven’t added or changed any hardware. There may have been a brown out, power outage or a possible lightening strike to a local power line or telephone line near or at your home or place of business. Someone may have improperly shut off the computer, or you may have had internal electrical problems in your home or business. A virus or two may have invaded your computer. Your computer is five or more years old and has never had the case opened or the interior cleaned and inspected.
Your computer has not been acting normally since you:
Purchased it. Added or changed memory. Added new hardware items internally to the computer. Added new hardware items externally to the computer. Added new software.
Follow this link if your memory problems fall into Category 1.
Follow this link if your memory problems fall into Category 2.
For other memory related issues, you may want to follow these links:
Memory, Evolution or a Revolution?
How Memory Speeds Are Determined
How to Identify PC-133 Memory Modules
Frequently Asked Questions About Memory
Megabyte (MB) vs. Megabit (Mb)
Memory Trends in 2001
How Much Memory Do You Need?
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