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Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 3) - Performing Windows Memory Diagnostics

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3/26/2011 6:06:54 PM

Performing Windows Memory Diagnostics

Modern operating systems such as Windows Vista rely heavily on the use of system memory to speed up common operations. Random access memory (RAM) chips are a very reliable component of the computer’s architecture. Because they have no moving parts, they’re not as likely to fail as other components such as fans or hard disks. However, memory-related issues can cause a variety of problems on the computer. Symptoms can range from application crashes to a complete shutdown or restart of the operating system. The results could include data loss and reduced system reliability.

During normal operations, Windows Vista attempts to detect memory-related errors. For example, if an application has crashed or an operating system feature stops working correctly, the detection process might determine that physical memory is a potential cause of the problem. In this case, Windows Vista displays a notification icon in the system tray, recommending that the user run a diagnostic test.

Starting the Memory Diagnostics Tool

The Memory Diagnostics Tool is designed to test the physical memory installed in the computer. Because the analysis process requires direct access to memory hardware, you must run this utility before you start the operating system. There are two main ways to instruct the system to perform a memory diagnostic test. The first is to choose this option during the boot process (see Figure 7). To access boot options, press F8 prior to the system startup process. When the boot menu appears, the user can select the appropriate startup menu option to launch the utility. To access that option, press the Tab key, select Windows Memory Diagnostic, and press Enter. This method is most appropriate when the operating system is not running (or will not boot), and you suspect that the root cause of the issue is the physical memory in the system.

Figure 7. Launching the Memory Diagnostics Tool during system startup

In other cases, you might currently be running Windows Vista and either receive a memory-related alert or want to perform a memory diagnostic. In this case, you can launch the Memory Diagnostics Tool by using a shortcut in the Administrative Tools program group or by searching for it using the Start menu. Figure 8 shows the available options.

Figure 8. Scheduling the Memory Diagnostics Tool to run during the next reboot


Both options have the same effect: they instruct Windows Vista to boot into the Memory Diagnostics Tool automatically when the system restarts. The first option automatically performs a restart immediately, whereas the second option specifies that the diagnostics should run whenever the computer is restarted.

Performing Memory Diagnostic Tests

Regardless of the method used to launch the Memory Diagnostics Tool, the system boots to a text-based user interface. A standard memory test begins to run automatically, as shown in Figure 9. Two test passes are executed, each of which runs many different operations to verify that the system’s physical memory is working properly. For the majority of cases, the default test options are appropriate.

Figure 9. Using the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool

If you want to run specific tests or change diagnostic settings, you can press F1 to access memory diagnostics options (see Figure 10). Use the arrow keys to make settings changes within a section and the Tab key to move between the sections.

Figure 10. Changing Windows Memory Diagnostics options

The available options include the following:

  • Test Mix (Basic, Standard, or Extended) These settings control which tests the tool runs to analyze physical memory. The Basic test runs more quickly than the default (Standard) option, and the Extended test takes more time but performs a more rigorous diagnostic.

  • Cache The Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool can use memory caching options to improve performance. Various operations in the selected test mix might automatically enable or disable cache settings. Therefore, the Default setting enables each test to use its recommended settings. You can also choose to enable or disable the cache for all tests, regardless of the default settings.

  • Pass Count The final option specifies how many test passes the Windows Memory Diagnostic process executes. Because memory-related problems can be intermittent (that is, they might occur relatively rarely), you might want to configure the tests to run many times to be reasonably sure that the system memory is performing adequately. The available values are 0 to 99. The value of 0 specifies that the memory test runs continuously until you manually interrupt the process.

When you have chosen the options that you wish to use, press F10 to apply the settings and start running the tests.

Viewing Memory Diagnostics Results

You can view the progress of the memory test as it is running by using the text-based user interface. The Status section reports any errors the tool finds. The Memory Diagnostics Tool automatically restarts the system as soon as it completes testing. The next time a user logs on to Windows Vista, a notification is displayed providing the results of the last memory diagnostic test (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Viewing the results of a successful Memory Diagnostics test


If the system did detect a problem, the Memory Diagnostics Tool might provide additional details. In general, any errors that are indicated will be based on a physical hardware problem. To resolve the issues, users should contact their computer manufacturers or technical support personnel for information on how to resolve the issue.

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