Random and without warning are four words that you do not want to hear used with computing terms like “shutdown” and particularly and ironically not together with the words “Random Access Memory” or RAM.
Just recently my computer has started occasionally rebooting spontaneously without perceivable cause. My motivation for fixing this problem is based on Van Haelen’s 3rd proposition, which, as you are no doubt aware, is based on premise that this reboot will happen right before you have saved your work and right after you have entered some critically important data, which will now be gone. The well known rider to this proposition is that the random reboot will never happen when you are playing Spider Solitaire or similar. Here’s my experience with diagnosing the problem and replacing the faulty RAM.
- Operating system: Dual Boot — MS Windows XP SP3 Pro / Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
- Intel Dual Core 2.3GHz
- RAM: 2GB DDR2 400 MHz
- Windows on 250GB Samsung Drive
- Ubuntu on 1TB Samsung Drive
- Networked with Laptop running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and HP Printer
It’s important to know that there are other factors that may be the cause of random system reboots. Before testing RAM you need to get these two issues out of the way:
- Malware that attempts to address protected memory space can cause a system to reboot. If you are confident with your anti-virus protection, it may be enough to update with the latest virus definitions and do a full scan. Alternatively, download and run a good free anti-malware program like this one from malwarebytes to scan your system with the latest technology.
- Look for potential driver issues. Corrupt or missing Drivers can be the cause of random rebooting. The first place to look in is Device Manager. Driver problems will show up here first.
Once you have taken reasonable steps to address the above issues it is time to start leaning into the direction of RAM. If malware has been ruled out, and it’s not a driver issue, then the random reboots point convincingly at ‘RAM’ as the main suspect.
A second indicator that your issue may be RAM related is this error message that may pop up even when a randomly rebooting system is not one of your symptoms:
This error message shown in Fig.2 can stem from a multitude of issues, some of which may or may not be RAM related. Therefore it is entirely within the bounds of possibility not to have faulty RAM and still see this error message.
Drilling down on the error message shown in Fig.2 will open up a dialog that contains an error code. This can be used to mine google for information.
Next use Event Viewer to take a look at the System logs. Look for error messages just prior to the reboot event. Double-click the error log to open up a dialog that contains an event number, a category number and an error code as shown in Fig.3. Yes, google’s your friend.
The next step is to see what you have available to you in the way of Memory Diagnostic Tools. Most computer systems have the Memtest 86 diagnostic testing utility accessible at boot-up, as seen on the boot menu shown in Fig.1 at the top of this article. So this program will be the first of two RAM diagnostic utilities to be run. Why run two tests? All RAM tests will occasionally show false positives. So it is good practice to seek a second opinion. Or even a third if you are inclined to be thorough or obsessive. Hey, nothing wrong with that.
The first test: In the screen shown at right Fig.4 Memtest 86 RAM Diagnostics shows a flood of errors in red. Note that red on this screen is bad. This test can be run for a few minutes, as in my case, or potentially overnight if initial results come up clean. It is best practice to run Memtest 86 for 12 hours or even 24 hours to thoroughly test RAM components.
The last thing that remains to be done is to confirm Memtest 86 test results with another RAM diagnostics program. I found this free Windows Memory Diagnostics program and it’s available from Softpedia. The easy to follow guide will enable you to use the resulting iso image to create a bootable memory diagnostics disk, a useful tool to have. Then boot from the disk to run the diagnostic test in a testing environment that is independent of possibly compromised components.
The second test: To run this test you need to boot your computer off the CD that you created in the previous step. You will need to check if your system is set to boot first off CD, or not. If you need to change the boot order, enter the BIOS menu to make the adjustments.
Now insert the CD and boot up. The resulting screen will look like the one shown below in Fig.5. Note that several errors are shown in red. They jump off the screen at you. Anything red is not good. If the initial passes come up clean it is best practice to thoroughly test RAM components by running the test for 12 hours or even 24 hours. In my case the test took minutes to provide me with all the confirmation that I need. The replacement RAM will be a little faster, 2GB DDR2 running at 800 MHz for 350 ZAR. The 400 MHz version seems to be unavailable. That’s progress, right?
This post has explored some methods of Diagnosing faulty RAM. Part 2 is a walk-through of the process as new RAM is installed on the motherboard.