Nowadays, the latest versions of Windows are stable. A BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) because of a bug or a software problem is a rare event unlike the Windows 9x days. The chances are good that errors are hardware related if problems exist in Windows 2000 or XP.
One of the recommended steps to diagnose a problem with a PC that is crashing or unstable is to test and diagnose memory because memory is one of the more likely hardware components that can fail. Faulty memory can cause many problems even if the PC continues to operate.
It’s been running fine for a year so the memory can’t be bad!
Memory can “break”. Faulty memory can sometimes cause only certain programs to crash. Sometimes faulty memory can prevent the computer from booting. Memory errors, not prevalent during default settings, can sometimes inhibit overclocking ability.
It’s brand new so how can it be bad?
Memory can be brand new and be faulty. It also can function normally for a period of time then, unpredictably, fail or exhibit errors.
Okay, so you want to test your memory. One of the best programs out there is called Memtest86+. The original program, Memtest 86, was written by Chris Brady and the “+” version is its legacy by other members of the x86-secret team.
Memtest86 (the original) worked great but wasn’t updated very often to reflect changes in chipsets or processors. Memtest86+ is updated quite often (sometimes monthly) and generally supports the latest hardware.
Before you begin
The first thing you must know is that Memtest86+ does not run in Windows. It uses a tiny version of Linux as its OS, just enough to run the program and generate a display a simple GUI. It is a small program and can easily extract to a floppy disk or can be run from a bootable USB
key or CD.
Create a bootable disk or USB device.
Sound difficult? It isn’t.
First, pick what you want to boot off of. I generally use floppy since it’s the fastest and I don’t have to waste a blank CD. Of course, many people don’t even have floppy drives, so they’ll need to go with CD. I wouldn’t recommend USB because it actually is more complicated and if you don’t have a floppy or CD burner then chances are you are already an advanced user and don’t need this guide.
Now, get the boot disk maker. Go to www.memtest.org/#downiso. You’ll see the latest version of the boot disk maker at the top of the list. Memtest has made downloads available that do most of the work.
On the Memtest page there are a few choices and they can look confusing:
# Download – Pre-Compiled Bootable ISO (.gz) – 42.9 KB – MD5 Hash : c037b736e8f9f1e3d9f3ceb09e6f4dda
# Download – Pre-Compiled Bootable ISO (.zip) – 42.1 KB – MD5 Hash : d9619ba72b6edc0b41317e43cb6afc3f
# Download – Pre-Compiled Bootable Binary (.gz) – 40.3 KB – MD5 Hash : 5fbebc789dcbce8b58d48f960c13ed52
# Download – Pre-Compiled Bootable Binary (.zip) – 40.8 KB – MD5 Hash : eb2e227284c7eb248ee2dfa2231596eb
# Download – Pre-Compiled EXE file for USB Key (Pure DOS) – 40.5 KB – MD5 : 6793019315f25505e2ba93722f6fb422
# Download – Pre-Compiled package for Floppy (DOS – Win) – 62.2 KB – MD5 : fb61d0166435976c31399ed68d90ff16
To create a bootable CD then choose Pre-Compiled Bootable ISO (.zip)
To create a bootable floppy then choose Pre-Compiled package for Floppy (DOS – Win)
Download the appropriate choice. The files are not linked due to the frequent updates to Memtest 86+. It’s best to check the main download page at www.memtest.org/#downiso.
Step 2: Creating a bootable floppy or CD
Making the floppy
Unzip the file and run the “runme.bat” file. It will run a batch program that prompts for a blank disk. Insert a blank disk and it will (very quickly) make a bootable floppy with Memtest on it. All you need to do is boot off of that floppy and memtest will start to run.
Making the CD
There’s an ISO file inside of the downloaded zip file. You can use many popular CD burning packages such as Nero or Roxio to burn the ISO to a blank CD-R. Remember that you need to burn this iso file as a disk image. DON’T write the ISO file onto a blank CD as that will do nothing. You need to consult your particular CD burning program’s documentation to learn how to burn a CD image on to a disk. Basically, the ISO is a “package” of what the CD looks like compressed into a file for easy transport. It contains the boot sector and the directory tree of the disk, so you can understand why it needs to be “extracted” and written to the disk.
In NERO an image file can be burnt by choosing BURN IMAGE in the RECORDER menu.
Once the floppy is created or the ISO image burned then the computer can boot off the CD or floppy and memtest will automatically start to run.
Step 3: Memtest 86+ is running
The running program will look something like this depending on the size and number of ram modules installed.
The upper left area is basic information about your CPU, processor, and approximate memory bandwidth. The following image is the actual test progress area.
This will show the progress of the test. It can take a while. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes on a very fast computer to over an hour on a computer from a couple of years ago. In the basic test, there are seven different tests. The “Pass” line shows you the overall progress of the test. The “Test” line is the progress of the current test. The “Test#” line shows which of the seven tests is currently running.
The following image is the test results area.
The most important item here is the “errors” line. If you see ANY errors, even one, then you have bad ram. If you see any other number than “0” in the “pass” line then your memory is good. It’s that easy!
What to do if Memtest 86+ says there are errors?
If you have errors then there are a couple of things to check first.
First, if you have multiple sticks of ram, test each one at a time by physically pulling all RAM except for the module you wish to check. Test each good ram module in every slot to confirm if you have a faulty module or a faulty DIMM slot. Yes…DIMM slots can fail too.
If the memory is under warranty then it can be RMA’d to the supplier or manufacturer. It’s a good idea to note any of the Memtest results in the RMA form.
If you are overclocking then too high FSB settings can generate memory errors as can under-volting RAM. Try backing down your OC or bumping the voltage to your RAM to see if that clears up the error.
Enjoy one of the most useful free programs out there!