Troubleshooting memory problems

Troubleshooting memory problems


When you have a problem with memory, the cause is usually one of three things:

1.       Improper Configuration:
You have the wrong part for your computer or did not follow the configuration rules.

2.       Improper Installation:
The memory may not be seated correctly, a socket is bad, or the socket may need cleaning.

3.       Defective Hardware:
The memory module itself is defective.

The fact that many computer problems manifest themselves as memory problems makes troubleshooting difficult. For example, a problem with the motherboard or software may also produce a memory error message.

This article is designed to help you figure out if you have a memory problem, and if so, what kind of problem it is, so you can get to a solution as quickly as possible.


The following basic steps apply to almost all situations:

1.       Make sure you have the right memory part for your computer.

At the manufacturer's Web site you can look up the part number. Many memory manufacturers have configurators, which indicate the compatibilities of your module.

If not, phone the memory manufacturer, or refer to your computer manual.

2.       Confirm that you configured the memory correctly.

Many computers require module installation in banks of equal-capacity modules.

Some computers require the highest capacity module to be in the lowest labelled bank.

Other computers require that all sockets be filled; still others require single-banked memory.

These are only a few examples of special configuration requirements.

You can also contact technical support for your memory or computer manufacturer.

3.       Re-install the module.

Push the module firmly into the socket. In most cases you hear a click when the module is in position.

To make sure you have a module all the way in the socket, compare the height of the module to the height of other modules in neighbouring sockets.

4.       Swap modules.

Remove the new memory and see whether the problem disappears. Remove the old memory, reinstall the new, and see whether the problem persists. Try the memory in different sockets.

Swapping reveals whether the problem is a particular memory module or socket, or whether two types of memory aren't compatible.

5.       Clean the socket and pins on the memory module.

Use a soft cloth to wipe the pins on the module. Use a PC vacuum or compressed air to blow dust off the socket. Do NOT use solvent, which may corrode the metal or prevent the leads from making full contact. Flux Off is a cleaner used specifically for contacts.

You can purchase it at electronics or computer equipment stores.

6.       Update the BIOS.

Computer manufacturers update BIOS information frequently and post revisions on their Web sites.

Make sure you have the most recent BIOS for your computer.

This applies especially when you have recently installed new software or you are significantly upgrading memory.


When the problem occurs is a clue as to the cause. For example, your response to a memory error message depends on whether:

1.       You have just bought a new computer.

2.       You have just installed new memory.

3.       You have just installed new software or a new operating system.

4.       You have just installed or removed hardware.

5.       Your computer has been running fine and you've made no other recent changes.


If you have just purchased a new computer and it is producing memory errors, the problem could be related to anything, including a bad computer board. In this case, you need to troubleshoot the entire computer, including memory. Because the computer dealer will have configured memory and run system tests before shipping, they can best help.


If you have just installed new memory, the first possibility is that you installed incorrect parts.

Double-check the part numbers. Confirm that you have configured and installed the memory correctly.


Newer software or operating systems tend to push memory harder than older operating systems.

Sometimes memory that worked fine prior to a software installation begins producing errors once it runs memory-intensive software. New software also has bugs, and beta versions are notorious for producing memory errors. In these cases, your first step should be to ensure you have the latest BIOS and service patches for your software. Otherwise contact the memory vendor.

A technical support representative may have experience with other software incidents and can walk you through more-detailed troubleshooting.


If you have just installed or removed hardware and suddenly receive memory error messages, the first place to look is in the computer itself. A connection may have come loose during the installation or the new hardware may be defective; in either case the errors are manifesting themselves as memory problems. Make sure you have the latest drivers and firmware.

Most hardware manufacturers will post updates on their Web sites.


If your system has been running fine, but suddenly starts to produce memory errors, and crash or lock up frequently, the chance of a hardware failure is more likely, since configuration and installation problems show up as soon as the computer turns on.

Sometimes you can get memory problems if your computer is overheating, if you are having a problem with your power supply, or if corrosion has developed between the memory module and the socket, weakening the connection.


Here is a list of the most common ways the computer informs you of a memory problem. The following translations help you understand what the computer means when it gives you one of these signals.

1.       Computer won't boot, merely beeps.

Every time the computer starts, it takes inventory of its hardware. This inventory consists of the computer BIOS recognizing, acknowledging, and in some cases, assigning addresses to, the components in the computer. If the computer won't boot, its because the CPU is unable to communicate with its hardware.

The cause can be improper installation or failure of the BIOS to recognize hardware.

Follow basic troubleshooting, paying special attention to whether the memory module is completely installed and that you have the latest version of the BIOS.

2.       Computer boots but doesn't recognize all the installed memory.

When the computer boots, a part of the process is counting memory. On some machines the count appears on the screen and on others is masked. If the count is masked, go to the computer set-up menu and see how much memory the computer thinks it has. If the computer lists a number less than the memory you installed, the computer hasn't recognized all the memory.

Sometimes the computer will recognize only part of a module. This is almost always due to using the wrong kind of memory.

For example, if your computer accepts only single-banked memory and you have installed dual-banked, the computer will read only half the memory on the module. Sometimes the computer will accept only modules containing memory chips with specific organizations. For example, the VX chipset doesn't work well with 64 Mbit chips.

In many computers the maximum amount of memory the computer can recognize is lower than the maximum amount you can physically install. For example, your computer may have three sockets, each of which can hold a 128MB module. If you filled every socket with 128MB, you would have 384MB of memory.

However, your computer may recognize a maximum of 256MB. In most cases you can avoid this problem by consulting your computer manual or a memory configuration Web site before purchasing memory. .

3.       The computer boots but the screen is blank.

The most common reason for a blank screen is a dislodged card, memory not fully seated, or memory the computer doesn't support. Confirm that the memory is installed properly and that other components in the computer were not accidentally disconnected or dislodged while you installed memory.

Double-check that you have the right part number for the computer. If you have nonparity memory in a computer that requires error-checking memory, or SDRAM memory in a computer that supports only EDO, the screen may be blank at boot up.

4.       The computer reports a memory error.

Memory mismatch error:

This is not actually an error. Some computers require you to tell them that it's OK to have a new amount of memory. Use the set-up menu to tell the computer.Follow the prompts, enter the new amount, select Save, and exit. 

5.       Computer memory or address errors:

All of the following errors, and those similar to them, indicate that the computer has a problem with memory:

* Memory parity interrupt at xxxxx

* Memory address error at xxxxx

* Memory failure at xxxxx, read xxxxx, expecting xxxxx

* Memory verification error at xxxxx

Typically, the computer will perform a simple memory test as it boots. The computer will write information to memory and read it back. If the computer doesn't get what it was expecting, then it will report an error and sometimes give the address where the error occurred.

Such errors normally indicate a problem with a memory module but can sometimes indicate a defective motherboard or incompatibility between old and new memory. To verify that the new memory is causing the problem, remove the new memory and see whether the problem goes away. Then remove the old memory and install only the new memory. If the error persists, phone the memory manufacturer and ask for a replacement.

6.       The computer has other problems caused by memory.

The Computer Intermittently Reports Errors, Crashes Frequently, or Spontaneously Reboots:

Because of the large number of causes, these problems are difficult to diagnose. Possible causes are ESD (Electro-static Discharge), overheating, corrosion, or a faulty power supply.

If you suspect ESD damage, contact the memory manufacturer and ask for a replacement.

If you suspect the power supply, you will have to do overall computer troubleshooting with a focus on the power supply.

7.       Registry Errors:

Windows writes a large portion of the registry to RAM. Sometimes defective memory will cause registry errors. Windows reports a registry error and prompts you to restart and restore. If the prompts repeat, remove your newly installed memory and restart the computer. If the errors disappear, ask the memory manufacturer for replacement modules.

8.       General-Protection Faults, Page Faults, and Exception Errors:

The most common cause is software.

For example, one application may not have released the memory after quitting or occupies the same memory addresses as another.

In these cases, rebooting should solve the problem. If the computer suddenly displays general-protection faults, exception errors, or page faults after you have installed new memory, remove the new memory and see whether the errors stop.

If they occur only when the new memory is installed, contact the memory manufacturer for assistance.

9.       The server system manager reports a memory error:

Most servers ship with system managers that monitor component utilization and test for abnormalities.

Some of these system managers count soft errors in memory. Soft errors have been corrected by ECC memory.

If the rate of soft errors is higher than specifications, however, the system manager issues a pre-failure warning.

This warning enables the network administrator to replace the memory and prevent system downtime.

If the system manager on your server issues a pre-failure warning or other memory error, ask your memory manufacturer for a replacement. If the system manager continues to issue errors after memory replacement, make sure you have the latest BIOS, software service patches, and firmware. The chance of receiving two bad memory modules in a row is low. Contact the memory manufacturer for compatibility troubleshooting.

Sometimes the server does not work well with certain types of memory chips or certain memory designs.

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