Testing RAM In-Place

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Infrastructure

  • monitor
  • keyboard
  • power

Justifications

Assuming incoming boxes are mostly working, we could test the RAM which they contain without removing it -- just boot the existing box into memtest86 from either ethernet or CD-ROM drive. The problem is whether blown capacitors can affect RAM test results. If they can, then, to prevent false negatives, we would have to first check the box for blown caps. Doing so without removing RAM, cards, and drive bays is very hard -- one is very likely to miss an out of sight cap. Removing the cards to get a clear view of the motherboard puts the box in a non-bootable state (or at least non-configurable), which defeats the whole idea of postponing the dismantling step until after RAM has been tested.

This procedure must occur as part of the computer evaluation stage.

Instructions

  • Take a whole computer from the inbound pile.
  • Remove its hard drive(s) and put them in the unclean drives cabinet.
  • Attach a monitor, keyboard, and electrical power.
  • Either attach the box to the LAN with an ethernet cable or, if the computer has a CD-ROM drive, insert an Ubuntu live CD.
  • Boot into memtest86. To select the "test memory" option on an ubuntu CD, press F6 as the livecd is booting, right after the legacy style text screens clear.
  • Let memtest86 run until pass 3 is completed (a couple of hours).
  • Check whether any errors were reported (they are displayed in red),
  • Power down the workstation.
  • What if there were errors on only one stick? How do we teach a volunteer to figure out which of the sticks was at fault?