BSOD Update

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In my Laptop Spring Cleaning post, I mentioned that Lois had been suffering from daily BSOD’s (the infamous Microsoft Blue Screen of Death crashes). I also mentioned that after the spring cleanup, she went five days without a crash. That joy was short-lived, as the crashes returned.

Some days, the machine wouldn’t boot. You could hear the drive spinning, but the Post (what the BIOS shows while it’s starting up) was blank. The only reliable fix was disconnecting the battery for a minute, or worse, disconnecting the hard drive cable, and reconnecting it. Clearly, both painful solutions, since I had to open the bottom of the case to get at those devices.

On Monday this week, neither of the above tricks worked! Oh oh, I couldn’t get Lois’ machine to boot, and this was not a happy situation. Then, I got a partial Post screen (it still hung), but I saw that the number for the amount of RAM in the machine was wrong. Lois has (or had) 1GB of RAM, two sticks of 512MB each.

The machine was now showing 512MB. So, I assumed that one of the sticks went bad. I searched online for 1GB RAM prices, and the newer DDR2 chips are so much cheaper. I didn’t care if they would run slower than they are capable, as long as they ran as well as the more expensive correct memory would.

I decided to write to the owner of the company that I bought the laptop from, PowerNotebooks.com. I have a ton to say about them, and have been procrastinating writing a long post for weeks. I’ll get that out at some point (probably next week). I asked him whether the PC5300 sticks would work in my PC3200 machine. He cautioned me that they might not and gave me a very good suggestion on how to find out.

But, much more importantly, he told me that it could just as easily be a bad RAM slot (rather than a bad RAM stick). Honestly, that never occurred to me (I don’t know why!). At the end of the day, I removed one of the sticks from Lois’ machine, and it still wouldn’t boot. I moved the stick from one slot to the other, and the machine booted instantly.

I switched the chips and the machine booted instantly. I inserted the second chip (yes, I’m using chip and stick interchangeably here) and the machine refused to boot. Voila, Mr. PowerNotebooks was correct, the slot was bad, not the stick!.

This morning, it occurred to me that when we ordered Macs for almost everyone here at Zope, we ordered the memory separately (way cheaper than from Apple!) so we had extra 1GB PC5300 memory chips that we pulled from the Macs. I tried one in the good slot, and it doesn’t fit. The small slit that fits around the small plastic protrusion (forcing you to put the stick in correctly) is a drop smaller than on the PC3200 sticks.

Oh well, at least I now know all of the answers and mysteries of the universe (or at least of Lois’ laptop!). We ordered a single 1GB PC3200 stick today to get Lois back to where she was on memory. She’s been running for the past two days with 512MB, with zero crashes. Of course, we’ve gone a few days in a row before without any BSODs, but I’m betting that this bad RAM slot was deteriorating all along, and was causing intermittent (irreproducible!) errors. At least I’m desperately hoping so!