RAM often comes after software issues and hard drive fragmentation in terms of what we blame when there’s problems. But how do you check whether your PC has bad RAM? There are a couple of ways to perform a memory test, though, as is often the case, you’re likely to glean more info from third-party software than Windows’s handy but relatively simple in-house methods. We show you in this guide how to check your RAM health in Windows.
Symptoms of RAM Problems
Before doing any of this, you want to know that you’re barking up the right tree, so here are some telltale signs that your RAM might be having issues:
- PC beeps one or more times as it’s starting
- PC slows down the longer you keep it on
- PC keeps crashing
- Problems accessing files
- PC showing less RAM in System Information than you have added
How to Check RAM with Windows Memory Diagnostic
The quickest but least in-depth method to check your RAM is to use the Windows Memory Diagnostic. Click Start, type
mdsched.exe, then hit Enter. Restart the computer when prompted, and it will boot to the Diagnostic tool.
Press F1, then choose whether you want to run the Basic, Standard or Extended tests, which change how long it takes as well as the effectiveness of the tests. Windows will reboot automatically when you’re done, and you’ll receive a notification of whether errors were found when you re-enter Windows.
HCI MemTest is a rigorous – yet simple – RAM testing tool that you can leave running for several hours, a day, even several days. If your RAM is healthy, then it shouldn’t detect any errors – no matter how long you leave it running.
It’s very simple to use. Just download it, extract it, then open it. Your only option is to manually set how much RAM you want to test. You should set this between 2GB and 3.5GB, as it’s unlikely that your PC will be using more RAM than that when idling.
This memory testing tool can put a bit of strain on your CPU and RAM, so you’ll want to have all programs on your PC closed, make sure it’s well ventilated, then leave it to perform the RAM test for a few hours.
HCI MemTest is very direct in how it presents information. If you get a message saying “Memory error detected,” then you know you have a problem and will need to look into your BIOS or even physically check your RAM sticks to make sure they’re plugged in properly.
The longer you run HCI MemTest, the more accurate it will be. With that said, if your RAM is in bad health, then within an hour it may detect dozens of errors. Repeat the test to check your RAM health again, but if this happens, then it may be time to replace your RAM (or stop overclocking it!) on your Windows machine.
If the memory diagnostic doesn’t bring up any errors, but you’re still convinced that RAM might be an issue, then you may well be right, and it’s worth trying this more detailed tool to find out. This long-lived tool was once used mainly for PCs with 32-bit processors (hence the ’86’ in the name), but these days it’s just as useful testing memory on more recent 64-bit machines.
Download MemTest86, selecting the “Image for creating bootable USB Drive” option (or CD if you want to be old-school about it).
Extract the ZIP file to your hard drive, then double-click the “imageUSB” file to open the image creation tool. (You’ll need a USB flash drive you don’t mind wiping for this.)
Select the USB drive to be processed in Step 1 of the tool, then the current location of the “memtest86-usb” file in Step 3. (It’ll be where you extracted it earlier.)
Finally, in Step 4, click the “Write to UFD” button. Once it’s done, reboot your PC, and it will boot to MemTest86.
Once in MemTest, you can press anything, and it’ll automatically run a detailed memory test after about ten seconds. This may take a while, but by the end, you’ll know whether there are errors in your memory.
Physically Checking the RAM
So how do you then solve these errors that were turned up with your check of the RAM health on your Windows machine? Replacing the RAM is obviously the extreme option, but it’s also worth checking to see that it’s properly slotted into your PC.
Try removing the RAM sticks from your PC one by one and running the MemTest each time to see if the errors disappear. That way you can work out which stick (or which slot) was causing the problems.
If you find that errors pop up each time you have a certain stick in, it’s a problem with that stick. If there are problems each time there’s a RAM stick in a certain slot, then that slot could be the issue, at which point you could be looking at a motherboard replacement.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is RAM?
RAM stands for Random-Access Memory. It is used to store short-term information on your PC.
2. How do I keep my RAM healthy?
As with many components in your PC, the best way to keep your RAM healthy is to keep it cool. It doesn’t get as hot as your CPU or GPU, but it still generates its own heat, and you want to make sure you have good air circulation going through your case to cool it down. Or you could even look into a dedicated RAM cooler.
3. Is Overclocking RAM Safe?
If you’re thinking of overclocking your RAM, then it’s worth knowing that the gains of this are typically smaller than overclocking your CPU or GPU, and it can shorten the life of your RAM. Instead, if you have an XMP profile in your BIOS, you should enable that.