Wednesday, January 10, 2007

[Computers :: Hardware] Bad RAM? Maybe Not.

It has become more and more popular to blame computer problems on bad RAM—poor RAM. While it's certainly possible to have a RAM module with a problem, it's not as common as people would have you believe. In the past few years with the release of various RAM testing apps, there has been a surge of comments to the effect of "test your memory", "you've probably got bad RAM", "you need to replace your RAM" in response to posts about computer problems. It is just so easy to blame the RAM since it's one of the only things that can successfully explain intermittent or unexplainable problems. The snafu is that even when the RAM is at fault, it's not necessarily because the RAM is bad, it could—and usually is—because the connection is bad.

There are three common ways that RAM can be the cause of a problem. The way that everyone is raving about is a defective RAM module, that is a problem in a RAM chip or circuitry. This would render it useless (for all intents and purposes) and require just chucking it and getting a new one. Another problem could be the contacts on the edge of the RAM module could be dirty or have a patina on them, which impedes contact with the socket. In this case, the RAM may or may not be detected and could work partially or not at all. Finally, the RAM socket itself could have a problem. It could be that the contacts are dirty or the pins/pads are bent. Fortunately the contact problems are more common and easily fixed.

If the contacts on the RAM module are dirty, then simply using a little water to dampen a small sponge can be used to clean them. There are fancy patina cleaners, but all you really need to do is to clean those little pins on the edge. Pretty much anything will do, even alcohol or solvents, as long as you don't let them dissolve the metal, just clean them and wipe it off. The best solution of course is to use some good old soapy water and some toilet paper.

The RAM socket is a little more tricky. If the pins are dirty, an effective solution is to lightly wet a used toothbrush, and gently scrub the socket up and down with it. This will do a good job of cleaning it.

If the pins on the socket are bent, then it may not make proper contact with the RAM module and will be a problem. More often than not, you will have to abandon the socket or even the whole motherboard, but with a little dexterity and the right tools you can fix it. You will need a long, find-tipped object, like a dentist pick, or something. It must be long enough so that your hands don't obstruct your view, and pointy enough so that you can work with the tiny pins. You will probably need two so that you can grasp them and bend them back. You will also need good lighting and perhaps a magnifying glass. Take a good look at the socket and locate the bent pin. Examine it carefully to determine exactly what the problem is and which way you need to bend it to fix it. Use the tools to carefully bend it back to match the others. Plug in the RAM and give it a test. Be aware however, that they are metal and can only be bent so many times before snapping.

In conclusion, don't throw away your RAM just because someone told you that it's the cause of a problem or because a testing app said there's problem(s). Before heading to the store, clean the RAM edge and run it through the test app. If that doesn't fix it, clean the socket. If that doesn't fix it, check for bent pins. If that doesn't fix it, then go to the store.

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