Testing Computer Memory

The RAM in your computer is the place where the computer does the bulk of it's work manipulating numbers (which is really all a computer does at its most basic level - it computes). If your RAM starts to go bad - and like any other hardware, it can - you may get erratic behavior such as reboots or blue screen errors on a Windows computer. Of course, crashes and the like could be due to other things, but the integrity of the system RAM is easy to check and gives you somewhere to start troubleshooting.

On recent versions of Windows, you can do this with a built-in memory diagnostic tool - see instructions here for Windows 7 and here for Windows 8. Note that a complete "pass" of the test can take some time on a system with a lot of installed RAM. 

For Mac users, you can use the Apple Hardware Test, or the utility Memtest 86

For Windows XP users, the built-in test is not available, but you can also use Memtest 86 or a bootable version of Windows Memory Diagnostic.

If you do see errors during the testing - the actual test will usually comprise of several different sub-tests - it's possible the actual RAM chips (or "memory modules") have become not fully seated in their slots - this can happen over time after many heating/cooling cycles. You can try unplugging them and reinserting in their slots (with the computer powered off) and then try the RAM test again.

This would be more difficult with a laptop, and for a Mac or newer PC or laptop you should probably take it to the store you purchased it from if you see errors, to avoid voiding any warranty.

Also, its a good idea to let any memory test complete at least a couple of passes - the reason being that you may only see errors after the system has "warmed up".

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