Windows

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.

18 comments
froggyswife
froggyswife

A week ago, I ran the Diagnostic tool and got an Event ID 1202 - hardware errors, contact manufacturer. I searched the web for more information, and came across this blog today. I ran the tool again, and got Event ID 1201 - no problems found. Now I'm more confused than ever. Should I replace my RAM chips, or is something else at work???

jacsharon
jacsharon

I have don't all 3 kinds of test and windows still cannot open...what's the problem and how can i get it to boot ?

burnsea
burnsea

How do I stop the diagnostic tool? Everytime I boot up the diagnostic tool wants to run, after each time I run it, it tells me that it found no memory errors. But the next time I start my computer it wants to run again?

g0dFather
g0dFather

...this is handy being built directly into the OS without having to install anything. I have to say that I hated Vista when it first came out. But ever since SP1 plus all the little built-in extras, I can almost finally let go of XP. I didn't say TOTALLY let go. Let's not get crazy now! :) Thanks for the info, Mark.

rajgopalhg
rajgopalhg

Is it free from Microsoft? Or Need to purchase?

JandNL
JandNL

Is there anything like this for WinXP? We are having low-RAM problems almost constantly and need to resolve them!

FXEF
FXEF

I use the memtest86+ option that is on the Ubuntu LiveCD. Works great on all PCs. Not sure about Intel Macs. Here's how to perform a memory test on Ubuntu LiveCD. 1. Boot with Ubuntu LiveCD. 2. Use the arrow keys to move to the entry labeled Ubuntu, memtest86+ 3. Press Enter. The test will run automatically, and continue until you end it by pressing the Escape key 4. Allow the test to run for at least one full pass

epiovani
epiovani

Only do not use it to diagnose Intel Mac machines; it will give you false positives more often than not.

ads31a
ads31a

i recentley bought 4GB of corsair DDR2 (Matched Pairs), when i installed the Ram my system went belly up, my supplier, seemed to be indifferent to my calls for help and i eventually emailed Gigabyte who were great. there answer was try each individual pair until you find you cannot boot. it worked out ok and i found that 1 of a pair was faulty. i have never experienced this type of failure before and in this case your method of testing the Ram would not even got past first base. My thanks go to Gigabyte and there technical help line. alexanderd

flausher
flausher

Is it included on the home version of Vista as well? tbh I only use vista on my home comp as thats what it came with. XP's on all my work machines, and we're skipping straight over to 7 whenever it comes out (assuming it isn't a pile of ***t like Vista is) Vista's got some good idea's but just doesnt work very well in all honesty. I only kept it on my home machines so that i could learn to use it so i could support friends/family that had Vista on their machines...

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

The RAM voltage is probably adjustable in the BIOS.I can turn a RAM chip into a ROM chip if the refresh or erase voltage doesn't erase the file.This is like a flash drive or memory stick.I see that every memory chip has to have a BIOS and pre-BIOS to work.The chip has to know how to be digital.Pre-BIOS is the CMOS recording process itself.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

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?

ppoindex
ppoindex

I just spent an hour or more trying to run the Memory Diagnostic test with no luck at all. I even dug out the OS disc and could not get the option to run the memory test. When I did it per the article I continued to get a black screen saying the "Selected entry was not located because the application is missing or corrupt. Does it NOT come with the Vista Home Premium system by default and you have to download it as you suggested? I know this in not a tech support forum but thought you might know.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

how to be digital is a slick trick, BALTHOR. Been working on that all my life.

LarryD4
LarryD4

Any analyst who supports more than 50 PCs should have a true memory tester. Suck as the one here.. http://www.memorytesters.com/ Software based testers are simplistic in their results. The hardware version give a much better indication of quality of the RAM.

bus66vw
bus66vw

Tools like this I need, thanks for the info, but why does Microsoft dump their OS out in the world without telling the user about features like this? Okay, I'm just deterred by this lack of information from Microsoft.

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk

I have always believed that it would be better to use hardware to test memory. It is a pain to remove and reinstall the modules, and the retainer clips on the MB sometimes break. I have used Doc Memory and other software solutions. Don't you agree that for a quick check, Vista's native memory diagnostic is OK?

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