12 Irritating Signs of Bad RAM [FREE Tools to Fix Them]

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Signs of Bad RAM

The cause of bad RAM can be a pain to diagnose. This is partially because memory modules rarely fail. And mostly because such crucial components never conk out at a good time. But in what follows we’re going to show you 12 warning signs that your RAM is about to fail. And let you in on some possible fixes. You really shouldn’t shrug off any of these signs because – like a car – when one-part malfunctions it’s only a matter of time before it wreaks havoc on other segments of the system. That’s what happened to one of our laptops. Roll up your sleeves! We fixed it and so can you.

Signs of Bad RAM

Before we dive in, if your computer is still under warranty. We STRONGLY recommend letting the manufacturer look at it.

1. The BSoD Flashes Like a Beacon of Doom

This one’s chilling, but simple to identify and remedy:  When you have RAM issues, the Blue Screen of Death pops up and you might even get some flashing error messages before the system automatically reboots itself.  A BSoDs is an annoying warning sign because the text flashes so fast, you can hardly read the error codes.

But this could just be the result of a resource heavy app monopolizing the system memory.  Try closing each app you’re using until you isolate the one causing the BSoD.

2. The Amount of RAM Displays Incorrectly

Why on Earth would the OS report less RAM than what’s seated in the motherboard?  You’ll need to know how much memory your computer should have to fix this one.  But checking the amount of RAM your system thinks it has is easy on Windows and Mac:

On Windows, type “CONTROL PANEL” in Cortana.  Click SYSTEM AND SECURITY, then SYSTEM.  On the next screen you’ll see your computer’s statistics, including RAM. 

On Mac, navigate to Apple > About This Mac > Overview tab.  This number should reckon with the amount of system memory your machine ought to have.

If something different displays, you can easily fix this by making sure the RAM modules are properly seated on the motherboard.  Or by switching the slots the RAM sticks are seated in. 

3. Sporadic Freezes

Your keyboard and mouse suddenly become unresponsive.  No warning.  The PC just freezes.  Then the system reboots automatically.  And the worst part, you haven’t saved in fifteen minutes.  (Yup, happened during grad school.)

4. Random Reboots

While you’re in the middle of a task, your computer randomly restarts.  Irksome, we know.  But this isn’t always an indication of a RAM issue.  Random restarts could also be the signs of a hard drive or SSD is going bad.  Innocently, too, computers just sometimes restart.  But if restarts happen frequently-especially after your desktop initializes-this could be an indication of RAM failure.

5. Corrupted Files

Files and documents-especially the ones you use regularly-suddenly won’t open.  Or, they’re inexplicably corrupted.  We can already feel the beads of cold sweat forming just thinking about this one. 

Unfortunately, friend, this is an iron-clad sign that your RAM is on the brink of total failure.  The best part… if you don’t take care of this now.  Problems will worsen over time. 

Act fast:  The file structure of your hard drive is slowly degenerating to the point where you’ll no longer be able to boot your machine.  Another unmistakable sign is excessive uploading/downloading of files you didn’t change.

6. Attempts to Install New Programs Fail

Possible symptoms are:

  • The program you’re using suddenly stops. 
  • Or throws up an error code without any obvious cause.
  • As you try to install a program, you keep getting odd messages. 
  • A small program hangs on the loading stage for longer than normal.  
  • You even try reinstalling the operating system and receive error messages.

You’ll discover many reasons for this.  But faulty RAM could be the underlying issue.

7. Frequent Crashes

This one may point to another stumbling-block other than a faulty RAM module… 

  • Are the crashes consistent in any way? 
  • Does the computer crash every time you try to install something new? 

If the crashes occur without warning, the RAM may be about to go.  However, if the computer crashes every time you open a certain app, you’ve found your culprit.

8. Beep Codes

A major thing to listen for are beeps coming from the machine when you first turn it on.  Usually, you’ll hear a beep or a sequence of beeps.  They indicate different problems, including RAM.  Beep codes vary by the manufacturer of the computer’s BIOS, which you’ll have to look up to find what they mean.  Keep reading to learn more.

9. Video Card Fails to Load

This usually results in a series of audible ‘beeps’ as the system boots up.  They let you know that the video and media hardware was found and booted.

Macs produce 3 successive beeps signifying a RAM error was detected.

Windows, however, has a single beep signifying the computer’s video and media hardware have been recognized and booted.  Here, no beeps, and an on-screen warning message as the OS attempts to boot that indicates bad RAM.

As you can see, keeping in mind that different manufacturers have different beep codes is important; only a few signify RAM issues.

To eliminate much of the guess-work, Indiana University has kindly put together a list of the most common BIOS start tones for PCs and Macs to assist us all.

10. No Sound

We’re talking when you boot your system or bring it out of sleep mode and the familiar chime isn’t audible.  Or you load a sound file.  And in lieu of the beats you’re anticipating… silence.  On Macs, this could be anything from a bug to problems with NVRAM.

You can fix these nuisances like this on Mac machines.

And like this on Windows computers.

11. RAM Isn’t Recognized by the Computer

Improper installation.  This happens more often than computer manufacturers like to admit.  Nevertheless, they happen.  And you just purchased this system oblivious that the RAM module isn’t seated properly in the slot provided on the motherboard. 

Before you make that understandably irate call to customer support, try this…

Make sure the memory sticks are properly seated in their bay.  And be sure the OS accepts the RAM installed:  a 4GB maximum for 32-bit Windows installation, and 512GB maximum for 64-bit Windows OS.  Check that the BIOS has been properly configured to receive the memory.  If not, it may need an update.

12. Diminishing Performance

And finally, your system boots up normally.  But as the day progresses, things flag down to an unusable crawl.  It’s enough to make the vein in anyone’s forehead pulsate with indignation. 

In our experience, this could just be another memory hungry app like Photoshop slowing things down.  Try restarting your computer without running any apps.  If symptoms persist without running any apps, your computer will require new RAM.

Defective Hardware Could Also Be the Cause of RAM Failure

If RAM troubles aren’t caused by software complications.  Then your woes are from a hardware problem manifesting itself as failure with memory.  What makes this next process easy is that hardware difficulties are almost always signaled by a BSoD error.  Researching a blue screen error message does a lot of the legwork for you.

As well as going over different hardware issues.  We’ll also discusses some of the causes of hardware issues and show you how to EASILY fix them yourself.

Hard Drive Issues 

They can look as though you have memory problems.  The S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) feature helps a hard drive monitor itself. 

The way S.M.A.R.T. works is by providing you with advanced notice before the drive completely fails.  Use the SMART analysis tools to view the health status information reported by the hard drive.

S.M.A.R.T. may report no problems when one exists.  Alternatively, run CHKDSK by pressing the Windows button and R simultaneously.  You can also run this utility by typing CHKDSK in Cortana and pressing ENTER.  You’ll need to restart your computer. 

The program can take quite a bit of time to finish this process.  You could also click COMPUTER, right-click the drive you want to scan, click PROPERTIES, then TOOLS tab, and CHECK NOW.  Defragmenting your hard drive regularly hard drive troubles at bay.

A Bad Stick of Memory

We focused this guide on signs of bad ram.  So, it comes as no surprise that we should mention that memory modules wear out over time.  What makes issues with this piece of hardware difficult to instantly diagnose is that not all RAM modules fail at once. 

But some symptoms we’ve found useful to tell if one or all the memory sticks need to be replaced are:

  1. OS freezes regardless of what application you’re using.
  2. Data on the screen looks garbled or displays incorrectly.
  3. Automatic reboots (in conjunction with other problems).
  4. Corruption of files especially on the ones you’ve used recently.
  5. You hear a series of beeps you’ve never heard before during system startup.
  6. The insidious BSoD pops up even though you haven’t installed anything new.
  7. Performance issues like PC slow downs, which are often misdiagnosed as viruses or malware. 
  8. Files aren’t saving properly, and you’ve run diagnostics to eliminate the hard drive as the culprit.

These symptoms are maddening.  But don’t pull out and replace all your RAM sticks yet.  You need to diagnose them the way we’ll show you to find out if the memory sticks are really the problem.

Causes of a bad memory module are:

Soft errors which can happen due to heat, magnetic interference, electrostatic discharge, power surges and microscopic flaws on the stick of RAM.  They’re known for read/write errors and crashes.  Soft errors are correctable through memory tests (which we’ll also show) or reboots. 

Hard errors happen when two soft errors in the same stick of RAM result in physical damage.  When the affected memory cell gets accessed, you get hardware or software crashes.  Hard errors happen due to extreme temperatures, incorrect installation, incompatibility issues, and power surges.  Hard errors are not correctable.

Flawed RAM modules sometimes pass quality assurance tests.  Microscopic material defects no matter how hard manufacturers work to sift them out can be passed on to you unnoticed.  Fortunately, most RAM manufacturers stand behind their work and will gladly replace defective memory modules, no problem. 

GPU Artifacts

Graphics card errors have been known to lead to a misdiagnosis as RAM issues.  Problems with graphics processing units (GPUs) often lead to distorted graphics.  This is the main chip in a dedicated or integrated graphics card responsible for the actual drawing of images on the screen.  GPU artifacts are anything that makes your display look unrecognizable. 

The number one cause of GPU artifacts overheats.  A simple solution is to check to make sure the fans in your PC are free of dust and spinning properly.  Another common cause is a GPU chip that’s been overclocked or can’t run at stock speed.  Try backing off a bit to see if that corrects the issue.

Bad RAM Slot Symptoms Resulting in Boot Failure

Most motherboards have two to four slots for RAM.  If one of these slots fail, your PC won’t see the RAM stick installed resulting in a boot failure.  You’ll need to check each slot to find which one has the problem (we’ll also show you how to do this in just a moment). 

Memory Slots can become damaged by:

  • A short circuit on the motherboard.
  • Forcing the stick of memory in the wrong way.
  • Metal touching the electrodes while the power is on.
  • Trying to push the wrong size RAM into the wrong slot.
  • Incorrect amperage of power sent to the motherboard.
  • Using a physical device like a flat head screw driver in the slots.
  • Deterioration of the motherboard naturally or by liquid and/or dust.
  • Touching the motherboard without discharging static from your fingers.

You can fix this complication by:

First:  Diagnose the memory modules to determine if this truly is the problem.  You can do this using either your computer’s built-in memory diagnostic tool or other free tools.

Second:  If no problem are reported, power down and remove all RAM sticks.  Take a stick of RAM you know for sure has no issues.

Third:  Place it into the first slot and boot your PC.  If the computer starts with no problems, then you know that stick and slot are good.

Fourth:  Power down and repeat this process with the remaining slots.  Then try the other RAM sticks starting with the first slot and the same process.

Fifth: Finally, try each stick of RAM in the faulty memory slot for confirmation.  If none of the sticks of RAM work in that slot, then you know which slot has the problem. 

Unfortunately, damaged RAM slots are un-repairable.  But you can work around it by compensating with larger gigabyte(GB) memory modules in the working slots.

Motherboard Issue

Many variables at stake make this a challenging one to diagnose.  But YOU CAN do it.  The problem is made easier knowing that a motherboard either works or doesn’t with no in-between. 

Signs of a failing motherboard…

  • No POST or Power-On Self-Test.
  • Longer than normal bootup time.
  • Some or all peripherals appear to stop working for a few seconds.
  • Frequent, random freezes.  First, be sure that this isn’t the result of any software you’re using.
  • Physically damaged parts on the motherboard.  Look for bloated or damaged capacitors (which are those black cylinders in the image above).  These are the result of overheating, material defect, or aging.
  • Unusual burning odor that smells like melted silicon.  Usually an overheated component of the motherboard caused by plugging in incompatible hardware like RAM or a video card.
  • BSoD.  This isn’t automatically the fault of the motherboard.  A BSoD could be triggered by other hardware failure, or a bad driver.  Take note of the error code.  Research it on-line looking for anything about motherboard failure.

Possible causes for motherboard failure are:

  • Aging
  • Smoke
  • Fan failure
  • Overheating
  • Power surges
  • Unstable voltage
  • Too much dust in the system
  • Shocks to components due to accidental system drops

Free Diagnostic Tools to Check if RAM is Working or Not

As you can see, troubleshooting computer problems is a process of elimination until you get down to the root cause of the headache.  Below are FREE tools we’ve used to diagnose RAM issues.  They’re effortless to implement and don’t cost a thing.

Windows FREE Diagnostic Tool

Windows comes with a memory diagnostic program aptly named:  Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool.  It’s a powerful built-in software that does a credible job of diagnosing memory problems.

To open the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool to check for memory errors:

STEP 1:  Type ‘Windows Memory Diagnostic’ into Cortana and press ENTER; it will pull up immediately. 

Signs of Bad RAM: Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool

STEP 2:  Select RESTART NOW to run the test or select to run next time you boot up.

Signs of Bad RAM: Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Step 2

STEP 3:  You’ll see a blue screen.  Use the default Standard memory test.  Let the test proceed until finished (the time it takes depends on the speed of your PC and available RAM). 

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Step 3

OPTIONAL:  Press F1 and select Extended test for more comprehensive information.  You’ll need A LOT of time to leave WMD running to completion.

STEP 4:  The Windows Memory Diagnostic tool will show you the results once complete.  Any errors will be written in the Windows Event Log.

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Step 4

As wells as what the test found, WMD will show the RAM stick causing hiccups.  From here you can simply remove the faulty memory module and replace with a new one. 

For due diligence, we like to run the test again after replacing the faulty RAM module.

Mac FREE Diagnostic Tools

Apple computers have their own built-in tool to check for faulty RAM.  Restart the system and hold down the “D” key to load the diagnostic suite.  This will take you to the diagnostics screen, which varies depending on the age of your Mac and OS.

STEP 1:  On older systems, the diagnostic page will have a blue background.  Select Hardware Tests, which is the middle tab.  Then put a tick next to Perform extended testing and hit the Test button.

Apple Hardware Test

On newer systems, the test begins automatically with a grey or black background.  If the program doesn’t pull up, hold down OPTION + D.  Your Mac will look online for a set of tests to download.

STEP 2:  When the tests are complete, the diagnostic tool will tell you if there are any problems with memory.

We recommend trying more than one RAM-checker and compare results for further confirmation.  One tool can miss a problem that another will detect.

If the memory sticks need replacing you should know that some older models of Macs allow you to access the RAM modules while many new Macs do not. 

If your machine is still under warranty, we HIGHLY recommend taking it in to an Apple store.  Otherwise seek the help of a professional, unless you feel comfortable working on it yourself.


MemeTest86 is Another FREE Program That’ll Run RAM Diagnostics on Your Computer

This is by far the best RAM diagnostic tool.

It’s a FREE open-source program that will run RAM diagnostics on your computer.  It’s been around since the 90’s owing to its status as the industry standard for memory diagnostics.

We like that it works on PC, Mac and Linux operating systems.  It takes longer than the Windows Memory and the Apple diagnostic tool to use because the tests run are more exhaustive and accurate.

Note: Depending on how much RAM is installed on your computer, or how severe the RAM issues are.  This can take several hours to complete.


STEP 1: 

Download the (FREE) version of MemTest86 or MemTest86+ from the Internet and burn it on a CD or USB drive.

STEP 2: 

Next, you’ll want to perform this test on one RAM module at a time to easily identify which one has the issue.

STEP 3: 

With one memory stick inserted in the RAM slot, reboot your computer using either the CD or USB drive. (The utility should immediately load and start running.)

STEP 4: 

Then, configure MemTest86 to do a deep testing and multiple loops.

STEP 5: 

Let it run and log results for as long as possible.  (Overnight if you can.)

STEP 6: 

When examining the log, note the addresses where errors occurred.

STEP 7: 

Finally, repeat this process with the remaining memory modules.

If the errors occur at the same or nearby addresses, the stick of RAM is defective.

But if the errors seem to occur at random addresses, more than likely the problem is power supply or higher than normal operating temperatures.

Higher system temperatures could be the result of running resource heavy programs, like gaming or graphics software which run the CPU and video card flat out.

How to Check if RAM is Bad Before Replacing It

So, you’ve ran the diagnostic tools, and all the tests return inconclusive results.  Before running out and purchasing new sticks of RAM.  Try this behind-the-scenes approach we’re sharing with you to go one step further in diagnosing temporary storage module obstacles.

How is RAM being used?

First, find out how each program uses system memory.  Memory dilemmas could be solved by simply deleting pointless programs and apps instead of buying more RAM.

To find out how much RAM each program you’re running uses in Windows 10 with Task Manager

STEP 1:  Right click the Task Bar and select Task Manager to call up the Run Command.

Task Manager Step 2

STEP 2:  Click the Performance tab to see how much RAM each program your running uses.  If one program appears to be using more RAM than the others, close or delete it to see if that solves the problem.

Find out how much RAM each program runs using Activity Monitor on Mac

STEP 1: 

Using Spotlight, press Command + Space bar.

STEP 2: 

Click Applications folder > Utilities folder > Activity Monitor.

STEP 3: 

Use the five category tabs up top to see how processes are affecting your Mac’s memory.

Activity Monitor Step 3

If everything looks okay, you’ll want to find out how much RAM your system uses.  Memory issues could be caused by the simple fact that your system doesn’t have enough memory for all the processes being performed.  Easily solve that problem by just adding more RAM.

To find out how much RAM you’re using on Windows 10 using msinfo32.exe

STEP 1: 

Press Windows and R key at the same time to access the Run command.

STEP 2: 

Type msinfo32.exe and click OK.

STEP 3: 

Then scroll down to find Installed Physical Memory (RAM) and Total Physical Memory.

To find out how much RAM you’re using on Mac using Activity Monitor

STEP 1: 

Open a new Finder window and navigate to Applications folder.

STEP 2: 

Open the Utilities folder.  Then, double-click Activity Monitor.

STEP 3: 

Then click System Memory tab to view the usage and different components of your Mac’s memory.

You Can Also Use a Simple RAM Speed Test Tool

Few people know this.  But to gain additional insight into the health of your computer’s RAM, you can use a benchmark tool for memory. 

They’re designed to test several factors so you can measure your RAM’s performance against other similar brands to find out if the one in your computer operates below standard and needs replacing.

Use them NOW by clicking on the name of the tool below, which will take you directly to the website where you can download the app.

PassMark Memory Benchmarks lets you compare the performance of RAM in your system against the results of others for a baseline of where you should be operating.

Maxxmem2 is a freeware app for the Windows operating system designed to help you measure memory performance.

AIDA64 uses a set of 64-bit benchmarks to measure how fast your computer performs various data processing tasks to analyze system RAM bandwidth.

Geekbench 4 measures your hardware’s power to give you the strength of your computer system.

How to Fix Bad RAM by Replacing the Memory Module

Fortunately, RAM is one of the least expensive pieces of hardware to replace on your computer.  Pick up a stick of 8GB DDR4 RAM for your laptop on Amazon for less than $50.

Replacing RAM modules will require opening your machine.  We only recommend doing this if your comfortable working on your computer yourself.  If not, PLEASE take it to a professional.

Melanie Pinola from Laptopmag.com has a great step-by-step on how to upgrade the RAM on your laptop.

Daniel S. Evans provides a tutorial on how to upgrade the Memory on your desktop.

Again, we STRONGLY recommend contacting the computer manufacturer’s customer support if your machine under warranty.  If it’s expired, take your system to an expert computer technician.

Wrapping Up

Congratulations on making it this far. This was a lengthy post. But you made it through to the end because you’re over the signs of bad RAM that dare plague your laptop, and you’re determined to find resolutions. We know first-hand how frustrating this issue can be, which is why we dedicated hours to this guide in hopes that you can tackle this problem like an IT boss. Armed with this information we’re confident you can easily pinpoint the memory headaches devouring your machine and solve them. Now, go save your laptop! It’s counting on you.