When Memory Goes Bad

badram(Picture courtesy of The Brothers Root Blog)

Recently I noticed, when returning home after a long day, or waking up in the morning, that the display on my Dell Dimension 8400 desktop was black. I tried changing the display type, changing between DVI and VGA cable, powering the monitor off and back on. Northing worked. I had to turn the computer off completely, then back on. Even that was problematic. Being impatient, I turned the computer back on within seconds of it turning off. The computer would go into an infinite loop of reboots. I learned that I had to keep the computer off for about 30 seconds before turning it back on. That at least worked to get back to Windows … until the next crash.

Eventually I witnessed a crash rather than discovering it after the fact. There was a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). However, the BSOD only appeared briefly. Then back to the Black Screen of Death. Black and Blue about summed up how I felt.

I googled the symptoms. The results pointed to the video card. This confirmed my suspicions. Often a BSOD is caused by a bad video driver. Additionally, I told you in Improving My Vista Experience that I “upgraded” my video card to ATI/AMD’s Radeon HD 2600 XT. Good ideas, like good deeds, are duly punished. Additionally, ATI/AMD’s Vista (the OS of my desktop) drivers are infamous for being as stable as Charles Manson on crack.

But it turns out the culprit wasn’t the video card. Instead, I had some bad RAM. Actually, my RAM hasn’t changed since I upgraded my RAM about 7 months ago as reported in Improving My Vista Experience. So I guess my RAM went bad.

How did I discover this? I went through the Event Viewer and examined the errors. There were a lot of them. Some led me down false trails. But one consistent one was: “The hardware has reported an uncorrectable memory error. Event ID 1801.” Googling that, the two principal culprits were the BIOS and the RAM. I quickly eliminated the BIOS as the culprit. That left testing my RAM.

I used Vista’s built-in Memory Diagnostics Tool. I also used three free third-party tools, Memtest86, its new and improved version, Memtest86+, and MemScope. All reported errors.

RAM, unlike time, is cheap, so I just replaced all of the RAM with “genuine” Dell RAM. Problem solved. Though not before many hours of troubleshooting. What do “normal” people without tech skills do?

2 Responses to “When Memory Goes Bad”


  • yeah ram is important, i love to play games so i have ti use a fast and reliable memory so i bought 4 gigs of dd3 fatality memory which runs at 1333 mhz, it doesn’t matter what you use your pc for in our state a cooling system is a must, during hot days a temp of my graphics and cpu went over 90c, so i installed a water cooling system and h20 air cooling system from dell which i know low, temp doesn’t go over 30c, so better keep your pc cool unless you want it to melt

  • Good point on a cooling system. Actually, in my bad RAM situation, I did use some software to see if overheating was an issue. It wasn’t this time, but there are other situations where it is.

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