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How do I Perform a Memory Test on my Computer?

Harry Husted
Harry Husted

Every computer has a place that stores programs to be used at a later time, known as random access memory (RAM). RAM can be found on small rectangle chips that slide into slots on the motherboard. Just like any other piece of equipment, memory can fail. A memtest procedure is the first step toward performing a memory test on your computer.

Computer technicians replace memory chips all the time when working on computers. This is why a memory test needs to be done on a regular basis, to make sure memory is good. If a memory chip should fail, it may prevent your system from booting or running.

A stick of RAM, a type of memory.
A stick of RAM, a type of memory.

When performing a memory test, you will find that most computers have a memory tester built into the PC's basic input-output system (BIOS). The BIOS is also on a chip, known as read-only memory (ROM). You can access the BIOS by means of a set up program. This program is usually accessed by hitting the F1, F2, Delete, or CTRL, ALT, ENTER keys, depending on the type of system you have.

Two flash memory chips.
Two flash memory chips.

When you turn on your PC, the BIOS will run the tester program automatically and scan the RAM. This is also referred to as a memtest procedure. After the memtest is completed, the computer may beep once or twice to warn of any problems, with an error code popping up on the screen. If there are no problems, the boot up process continues until the operating system loads and the desktop is reached.

It is usually best to burn a memory diagnostic utility program onto a bootable CD or DVD.
It is usually best to burn a memory diagnostic utility program onto a bootable CD or DVD.

Memory is always tested this way, but there are diagnostic utility programs available that can be more aggressive in performing a memory test. You can find many PC memory testing and diagnostic utility programs on the Internet. Some of them are free while others cost money.

If you do download one of these programs, it is best to burn the program on a bootable CD or DVD, and restart your PC, keeping the CD or DVD in the player. When your PC reboots, the CD or DVD will run and boot the testing program. Most programs will run diagnostic procedures that will aggressively test the computer's memory. The program will read and write the RAM several times to make sure that the RAM can hold the data. If there are no problems, the program reports no errors, and either returns control back to you so you can remove the disk and reboot the PC,or the PC continues in its boot process.

During the memory test, if a chip is found faulty, the program will stop and report its findings. At that time you will have to replace the defective chip. If the defective chip is not known, you may need to swap out one chip at a time, until you find the faulty one.

Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - You can download computer memory test software for your video memory as well. There are a number of good freeware programs that you can find. These programs will run complete diagnostics and show you benchmarks for your graphics card.


@Charred - I’m getting vertical lines on my monitor and am wondering if I have problems with my graphics card. It’s not a RAM issue—I’ve already tested that, with good results. How do I run a video memory test?


@Charred - Yes, even new memory can be bad. This is one of the first things I do when I buy new memory. The memory test freeware programs are as good as some of the stuff you have to pay for. These are the same kinds of tests that technicians will run when you take the computer to the shop for repair.


A couple of years ago I bought some new memory for my computer. I believe they were 2G RAM sticks at the time. I noticed that after I installed them I was having some problems with the computer—the picture would freeze, the mouse would jump, etc. At first I didn’t make the connection to the memory sticks because they were new. I thought I had a virus and ran every virus-scanner under the sun, with no results.

Finally I wondered if it was the memory. I downloaded one of those free memory test programs. I ran it off a floppy disk (it was that small) and did a “burn in” of my RAM. Sure enough, those two memory sticks were bad. I didn’t think new memory could be bad but it was. I returned it, got some good memory, and lived happily ever after.

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    • A stick of RAM, a type of memory.
      By: Mykola Mazuryk
      A stick of RAM, a type of memory.
    • Two flash memory chips.
      By: Scanrail
      Two flash memory chips.
    • It is usually best to burn a memory diagnostic utility program onto a bootable CD or DVD.
      It is usually best to burn a memory diagnostic utility program onto a bootable CD or DVD.