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Troubleshooting Hardware, Driver, and Disk Issues : How to Use Built-In Diagnostics (part 3)

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5. How to Use Windows Memory Diagnostics

Memory problems are one of the most common types of hardware problem. Memory problems can prevent Windows from starting and cause unpredictable Stop errors when Windows Vista has started. Because memory-related problems can cause intermittent failures, they can be difficult to identify.

How It Works: Memory Failures

Because of the massive number of memory chips hardware manufacturers produce, and the high standards customers have for reliability, memory testing is a highly refined science. Different memory tests are designed to detect specific types of common failures, including:

  • A bit may always return 1, even if set to 0. Similarly, a bit may always return 0, even if set to 1. This is known as a Stuck-At Fault (SAF).

  • The wrong bit is addressed when attempting to read or write a specific bit. This is known as an Address Decoder Fault (AF).

  • A section of memory may not allow values to change. This is known as a Transition Fault (TF).

  • A section of memory changes when being read. This is called a Read Disturb Fault (RDF).

  • One or more bits lose their contents after a period of time. This is known as a Retention Fault (RF), and can be one of the more challenging types of failures to detect.

  • A change to one bit affects another bit. This is known as a Coupling Fault (CF) if the faulty bit changes to the same value as the modified bit, an Inversion Coupling Fault (CFin) if the faulty bit changes to the opposite value as the modified bit, or an Idempotent Coupling Fault (CFid) if the faulty bit always becomes a certain value (1 or 0) after any transition in the modified bit. This behavior can also occur because of a short between two cells, known as a Bridging Fault (BF).

Given these types of failures, it’s clear that no single test could properly diagnose all the problems. For example, a test that wrote all 1s to memory and then verified that the memory returned all 1s would properly diagnose an SAF fault where memory was stuck at 0. However, it would fail to diagnose an SAF fault where memory was stuck at 1, and it would not be complex enough to find many bridging or coupling faults. Therefore, to properly diagnose all types of memory failures, Windows Memory Diagnostics provides several different types of test.


Fortunately, Windows Vista includes Windows Memory Diagnostics, an offline diagnostic tool that automatically tests your computer’s memory. Windows Memory Diagnostics tests your memory by repeatedly writing values to memory and then reading those values from memory to verify that they have not changed. To identify the widest range of memory failures, Windows Memory Diagnostics includes three different testing levels:

  • Basic

    • MATS+

    • INVC

    • SCHCKR (This test enables the cache.)

  • Standard All basic tests, plus:

    • LRAND

    • Stride6 (This test enables the cache.)

    • CHCKR3

    • WMATS+

    • WINVC

  • Extended All standard tests, plus:

    • MATS+ (This test disables the cache.)

    • Stride38

    • WSCHCKR

    • WStride-6

    • CHKCKR4

    • WCHCKR3

    • ERAND

    • Stride6 (This test disables the cache.)

    • CHCKR8

While the specifics of each of these tests is not important for administrators to understand, it is important to understand that memory testing is never perfect. Failures are often intermittent, and may only occur once every several days or weeks in regular usage. Automated tests such as those done by Windows Memory Diagnostics increase the likelihood that a failure can be detected; however, you can still have faulty memory while Windows Memory Diagnostics indicates that no problems were detected. To minimize this risk, run Extended tests, and increase the number of repetitions. The more tests you run, the more confident you can be in the result.

After Windows Memory Diagnostic completes testing, the computer will automatically restart. Windows Vista will display a notification bubble with the test results, as shown in Figure 3, and you can view events in the System Event Log with the source MemoryDiagnosticsResults (event ID 1201).

Figure 3. Windows Memory Diagnostics displays a notification bubble after logon.


If you do identify a memory failure, it is typically not worthwhile to attempt to repair the memory. Instead, you should replace unreliable memory. If the computer has multiple memory cards and you are unsure which card is causing the problem, replace each card and then rerun Windows Memory Diagnostics until the computer is reliable.

If problems persist even after replacing the memory, the problem is caused by an outside source. For example, high temperatures (often found in mobile PCs) can cause memory to be unreliable. While computer manufacturers typically choose memory specifically designed to withstand high temperatures, adding third-party memory that does not meet the same specifications can cause failure. Besides heat, other devices inside the computer can cause electrical interference. Finally, motherboard or processor problems may occasionally cause memory communication errors that resemble failing memory.

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