Problems After a Memory Upgrade

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Upgrading random-access memory (RAM) will increase computer performance, but you must do so carefully to avoid potential memory, processor and motherboard clashes. Researching your components' capability is not that difficult and can eliminate compatibility issues. But complexity is not the only problem. Affordable SDRAM prices entice us to upgrade. But just knowing your system is compatible with, say, PC2-6400 becomes only half the battle. Let's see how to avoid some common issues when upgrading memory.

Quality

  • Manufacturing quality control---basically, a simple you-get-what-you-pay-for proposition---bears directly on the memory's performance. Often, when a memory is performing well but suddenly stops, the culprit is low-quality manufacturing control. Stick with proven brand names like Kingston, Patriot, Crucial, Corsair and OCZ, among others, for their better quality control.

Compatibility

  • Since mixing different brands will almost always lead to compatibility issues, it's safer to upgrade with a 2- or 4-gigabyte (Gbyte) memory kit than with individual sticks of RAM.

    Chip-set compatibility is an issue with memory upgrading. Why? Because this is associated with the features and capability of the CPU and operating system. A 32-bit Windows operating system cannot address memory larger than 4 Gbytes. A 64-bit Windows OS can address more than 4 Gbytes but that is chip-set-dependent. Lastly, only newer, feature-rich CPUs from Intel and AMD can address memory over 4 Gbytes.

Installation Tips

  • Static electricity can damage your memory, so grounding straps are included in some memory kits. Touch the metal chassis of a powered-down but plugged-in computer to discharge static electricity from your body. In addition, stay off carpet when installing RAM to keep yourself grounded. New RAM as well as any sticks in storage should remain in static-proof sleeves until you need them.

Undesirable Effects

  • Another problem noticed after a memory upgrade is under-reported amount of memory in both Windows XP and Linux operating systems.

    The total amount of memory is not shown due to memory remapping. Memory is reserved for system hardware like legacy video support. PCI and PCI Express alone can reserve up to 768 megabytes (Mbytes). This remapping is controlled in part by the Intel chip set as well as the features of the CPU and the operating system.

    Other issues with memory upgrades include a shorter life cycle and abrupt failure of components, failure of the computer to boot (or booting and then just hanging) and erratic performance of the video display. Excessive CPU temperature will shut down your system; rising ambient heat can damage other components.

Error Messages

  • Among the error messages you might see are four common ones: "Hardware Malfunction," "Parity Check/Memory Parity Error," "Channel Check/ IOCHK" and "Bus Timeout." These messages (see References) result from hardware malfunction and are common after memory installation and upgrade.

Solutions

  • Know the features and ability of the components in question. Familiarity is the No. 1 way to avoid problems associated with memory upgrades. If you have a newer system, maybe all issues can be solved in the BIOS. Switching and reseating memory sticks can make an error go away. Flash the BIOS with the latest revision from the manufacturer. Revised configs for the BIOS happen all the time.

    If your system is not so new, start your investigation at the CPU. Then check out the chip set's ability to address memory space.

Insights

  • Research existing and contemplated components. Choose matched memory kits and know how the operating system reports RAM. Unusual effects and error messages indicate your upgrade still needs attention. Gather as much information as possible from the manufacturer of the memory and the motherboard. Affordable pricing on RAM is great on your pocketbook but could be hard on your system. Go for quality as well as pricing.

References

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