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What is a Memory Error?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated May 16, 2024
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Random Access Memory (RAM), or memory, is the term used to identify internal data storage areas in a computer. Data is stored on memory chips either in internal storage chambers inside a computer or on external devices, such as hard disks or data sticks. A memory error results when something either goes wrong with the memory chip itself or something disrupts the interpretation of the data held on the chip.

Memory is made up of bits that have a value of either zero or one. The digital system in the computer knows how to interpret the values and turn them into information that is readable to people. When there is an error with the values, the computer either recovers the value internally, correcting the issue, or reads it wrong, which results in an error. The error can take the form of an error message or a malfunction of the computer.

All electronic storage devices have the potential to have memory errors. If something happens internally to change the information from the form that was used when the data was initially stored in the memory, an error can occur. For example if a computer is exposed to too much radioactivity, dust, or dirt, the internal systems can be corrupted, which in turn causes errors.

A memory error can come in different forms. A repeatable or hard error is an error that tells the computer user that a piece of hardware is broken, causing the computer difficulty in reading the data. Loose internal chips, motherboard defects, or loose memory modules are common causes for hard errors and are easy for computer technicians to diagnose. These types of errors will continue to occur until the source of the problem is found and corrected.

Soft, or transient, errors are more difficult to diagnose because they stem from a problem with the internal language of the data being read. If the error is not corrected before output, it results in a memory error message. Static shock, radioactivity, poor quality internal hardware or settings that are incorrect are common causes of soft errors. These errors are difficult to detect and are often thought of as just simple or random glitches.

A memory error can occur on any computer system. The error and the damage from the error can range from mild and correctable to damaging and irreversible. If the color of a computer screen changes without prompting, this can be the result of a mild internal memory error that probably has no effect on the user’s ability to continue using the computer. On the other hand, if a computer hard drive defragment is being run and an error states that files are corrupted, this is a much more extreme memory error that will prevent the computer from running as it should.

Many memory problems come from poor quality parts and poorly designed internal systems. It is not likely that a user is the cause of memory errors but rather an internal system issue is the problem. Purchasing systems that are quality made and come with preinstalled software to detect and correct memory errors is the best prevention. Memory detection or correction protocols can be purchased and installed to a computer from damage from memory errors.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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