Microsoft

Investigate RAM problems with Vista's Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool

Microsoft included the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool in Windows Vista so that you can test the RAM chips in your system. Greg Shultz shows you how to launch and use the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool.

If you're encountering application failures, operating system faults, or Stop errors in Windows Vista, you could have defective or failing RAM. Microsoft included the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool in Windows Vista so that you can test the RAM chips in your system.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to launch and use the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool.

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.

Launching the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool

There are actually several ways that you can launch the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool. The method you will use will depend on your situation.

If you are experiencing intermittent problems but can still boot into Vista, you can launch the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool by clicking the Start button, selecting Control Panel, and clicking the System and Maintenance icon. When you access the System and Maintenance window, select Administrative Tools. Then, click the Memory Diagnostics Tool icon.

Alternatively, you can click the Start button, type Memory in the Start Search box, and then click the Memory Diagnostics Tool icon. Either way, you'll encounter a UAC and will need to respond accordingly.

When you see the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool dialog box, shown in Figure A, click the Restart Now and Check for Problems option. When you do, the dialog box will close and your system will automatically restart.

Figure A

To start the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool, click the Restart Now and Check for Problems option.
If you are experiencing problems booting up Vista, you can run Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool from the Windows Boot Manager menu. Press and hold down F8 while the system starts up. When you see the Windows Boot Manager menu, shown in Figure B, use the arrow key to select the Windows Memory Diagnostic option at the bottom of the screen and press [Enter].

Figure B

You can start the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool from the Windows Boot Manager menu.
If you are experiencing major problems booting up Vista, you can run Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool from the Windows Vista DVD. Boot the system from the DVD and follow along until you see the Install Now prompt. When you see the prompt, locate and select the Repair Your Computer option. Once the System Recovery Options menu appears, select the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool option, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You can start the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool from the Window Vista DVD.

Running and the tests

Regardless of the way you launch it, once the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool's white-on-blue screen appears, the test will commence. As the test advances, you'll see the progress marked as a percentage and a progress bar, like the one shown in Figure D. As it works, the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool performs its test by repeatedly writing values to the memory and then reading those values from memory in order to verify that the data has not changed.

Figure D

Once the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool's white-on-blue screen appears, the test will commence.
By default, Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool runs a standard test, but you can run two other types of tests. To change the test type, press [F1] to access the Options screen, shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool's Option menu allows you to choose a Basic as well as Extended type of test.

In the Test Mix section of the Options screen you can chose the Basic mix, which runs a limited number of tests, or the Extended mix, which runs an exhaustive set of tests. In fact, the Extended mix is so exhaustive that it will often run for eight or more hours.

Each test mix has default cache settings, which should be optimal to that particular test mix. However, you can press [Tab] to access the Cache section and choose a custom cache setting. In the case of these tests, the cache being tested is cache on the microprocessor that is used to hold data retrieved from memory modules. While some tests use the cache, other tests disable the cache in order to force the processor to access all the data from the memory module.

Each test mix will repeat two times by default. However, you can press [Tab] to access the Pass Count section and choose the number of times that you want the test to repeat. Once you make your selections, pressing [F10] will save the settings and start the test mix.

As the tests run, the Status area will let you know if problems are found. However, you don't have to stay glued to the screen as Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool can identify and avoid using the problem section of the chip and allow the Vista to start up without crashing. The test results report will be available from the notification area when the system restarts, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

A pop-up from the notification area will allow you to display the test results report.

You can also find the test results report in the System Event Log under the Source name MemoryDiagnosticsResults and Event ID 1201.

What's your take?

Do you think that you may have bad RAM chips? Have you used the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool to troubleshoot RAM problems before? If so, what were the results? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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