RAM often comes after software issues and hard drive fragmentation in terms of us pointing the finger of blame at it. And that’s a reasonable way of approaching it because RAM exists far at the hardware end of your PC, and if there are problems with it, then there’s little you can do via your PC that will fix it.
But how do you find out if your PC has bad RAM? There are a couple of ways, though as is often the case, you’re likely to glean more info from third-party software than Windows’ handy but relatively simple in-house methods. Here’s how to check your RAM health on your PC.
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:
- your PC beeps one or more times as it’s starting
- your PC slows down the longer you keep it on
- your PC keeps crashing
- problems accessing files
The Windows Method
The quicker but not as in-depth method 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.
Here you can 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 upon getting back into Windows regarding whether any errors were found.
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 is just as useful at 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 now 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.
So how do you then solve these errors? 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.