070: Troubleshooting your System Memory/RAM with MemTest86

Hey there do-it-yourself technicians! If your computer is crashing, glitching or rebooting then this episode might be for you.
Today we look at some tools for troubleshooting system memory or RAM.

Windows 10 comes with its own memory tester. The windows memory diagnostic utility, which you can start by pressing the Windows key and then typing ‘Windows memory diagnostic’ and then pressing enter. In the box that pops up click the link that says ‘restart now and check for problems’ the system will reboot and do a basic check of your system memory. That may be enough but sometimes you need a specialist tool, and that specialist tool for me is memtest 86. There are a couple of versions available for purchase but all we really need for today is the free version which you can get from the link here. Before we download though, there’s something we need to check. Because the test runs in its own environment outside of Windows we need to work out how your system boots, to work out which version of the mem test program we need. In Windows click start and then type ‘system information’ and press Enter. This should run the system information utility built into Windows. We’re looking for a line that says BIOS mode which will look like this for a legacy system, or this for the newer UEFI systems. Without going into detail this is the system that runs before Windows starts, we either have BIOS the basic input/output system or the newer unified extensible firmware interface also known as UEFI. Older systems will run a BIOS, newer systems will run UEFI.

The reason we need to know this is that the legacy or BIOS version of memtest uses the version 4stream while the new UEFI version uses the current version, version 8. As you can see here the current version -which is version 8.2 at the date of this recording- will be used for UEFI machines and you can download that by clicking the green button at the top of the screen. For legacy versions, you’ll have to come down a bit further and you can download different options for burning onto a CD, booting from a USB stick, or even booting from a floppy drive! so pick the version that’s right for your machine and download it.

Once you’ve downloaded it, you’ll need to open the zip archive and extract all of the files, to get to the Installer. Once you’ve extracted the files, you’ll need to run the imageUSB.exe assuming you’re using the USB version which is all that’s available for the UEFI version. I won’t cover the CD and floppy versions here for the legacy one but the legacy USB version is exactly the same. So run the executable, you’ll need to plug in a USB drive of at least probably one gigabyte will be enough, which is tiny so just about any old USB drive will do, but be warned it will completely wipe the contents of this drive so choose carefully. If the USB drive wasn’t in when you started the program you may need to click the refresh disks button over on the right then tick the drive you want and click the write button,First you need to confirm that yes you do want to write it to this USB, then in confirmation that this USB will be completely wiped, and then it will write the USB which will only take a minute or two usually. Now we can just click OK.

For the UEFI version the easiest way to get it started is to hold the shift key down while you click the start button, and then the power, and then restart. The system will bring up this screen allowing you to choose a startup device, and from there reboot and start into the testing. This is what the UEFI version looks like as it runs, and then it will get to the end and tell you whether you’ve got any issues or not. For the BIOS version you’ll have to restart the computer normally, and as the motherboard screen splashes up press the f12 key to choose a boot device, maybe f10 on some machines but it’s pretty standard that at f12. Then select ‘removable device’ and this will allow you to boot from the USB, and start up the mem test 86 program.

The BIOS version looks like this but runs basically exactly the same through to the end. If there are any errors in the RAM on your machine it will display big red warning labels on them. In the end, you’ll get a finishing screen and all going well you’ll know that your machine is free from memory errors. Now testing can take some time, a single pass took half an hour and it recommends four passes, so you’re looking at at least two hours on this machine which has 12 gigs of ram. The machine I was testing the bios version on only had four gigs of ram but still took about 40 minutes to do a single pass,obviously, it’s slower Ram. This version will just keep going looping through and through until you turn it off.

If you do strike errors then we have the next challenge, what do we do about them? If you have multiple sticks of RAM you can shut the Machine down and take them out so that there’s just one left in there and test each individual stick at a time to work out which one’s faulty, and then either return it under warranty if your machines still under warranty, or just buy a new stick. Now might be a great time for a ram upgrade.

I hope that was helpful, please leave a comment down below if you found it useful.

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