Can you have too much RAM?


The simple answer, after 3 days, is yes you can! (almost sounds like a political slogan)

Let me start from the beginning. Some time last week our desktop PC at home started crashing for no apparent reason, and intermittently, sometimes on its own, sometimes after certain programs. There was no clear way to replicate the problem. Now the machine has been stable for the last, almost 8 months, no hardware changes. The setup:

  • Intel Core2Duo 2.3GHz CPU
  • Gigabyte GA-G33M-DS2R/S2 motherboard
  • Samsung DVD RW
  • Western Digital 250GB drive
  • Gigabyte GeForce 8600GT 512MB video card
  • 6GB physical RAM

All smoothly running Windows XP, until recently. I even booted with a disk with MEM86 to check all the RAM to make sure none of the chips were faulty – test ran through in a few hours with no faults. I even ran scan and repair on the drive to check for possible bad sectors on the drive – nothing, clean as a whistle.

Oh well, I thought to myself, time for a clean install and rebuild. No worries, backup my data to another machine, pop the Windows XP bootable install disk in the ROM drive and boot up. Follow the prompts, repartition the drive, reformat the partition and begin the install. 

Plain sailing you’d think, nope. About 60-odd percent of the way into copying files from the disk to the hard drive the screen goes all funny and between the lines I can make out it cannot find a specifc file. I let it retry, to no avail. So I give in and let it skip it. It carries merrily along only to find more files it can’t find. WTF? I even took the disc put it in another machine and scanned the contents as well as the CAB files for the alleged files it couldn’t find – they were there!

Mmmm I thought to myself, what now? Okay Windows XP SP2 has been out for a long time now and maybe the built in drivers didn’t recognize some of my hardware. Let me download nLite quickly and make a slip-streamed bootable install disk with SP3 (it should have latest drivers to pick up my hardware). 

Right, disk created, popped it in and rebooted. Went through the same process again and round about the same place, same errors again – cannot find drivers and other files.  I’m at my wits end now, so I power down the machine, unplug all the peripheral devices, whoopdeedoo, one video card. Reboot, go into the BIOS and disable all that I can, onboard LAN, firewire port, USB, etc. Back to basics, follow the above procedure again. Only to find the same problems. The one or two times it DOES manage to get past the file copying and into the actual install it blue-screens at random places or hangs at the famous 34 minute mark while detecting devices and installing drivers. 

Maybe it’s the SATA drive – I rip it out and replace it with an old 40GB IDE drive and try to install again. Same problems! Arrrgghhh! 

Give up, leave it for a day or so.

Another day, a few more bright ideas. I take my drive, pop it in another machine – completely different hardware and try to install from there. Whoa, it works, smoothly – all the way to the end where I can log in and see my desktop!

Note: this is the WRONG way to try and install your system on different hardware to the system it will be running in.

So I take the drive out and put it back in my machine – no luck, crashes after I log in. Okay, I expected that. So I thought maybe it’s my ROM drive acting up? So I replace mine with one from the other machine. No joy, same problems as above.

And this, ladies and gentleman, is where I get to the title of my post. All this time, I’d been trying to install Windows XP with 6GB of physical RAM installed. Apart from pulling out the actual CPU, the only other thing I’ve not pulled out is the RAM. But MEM86 ran through all tests without any hiccups? Just try it, damnit!

So I pulled out 2 of the 6GB and tried again. No luck, same problems. Come on! So I pulled the rest out, leaving only a single 2GB RAM module. This has got to work, right?

And here I am, typing away at this post on my laptop, while looking at the finally installed Windows XP on my desktop machine with the default Windows desktop staring back at me!

So, take it from me, save yourself a few hours/days of frustration at swapping hardware, turning off features and functions, swapping drives and disks, and take out the extra RAM before you do a clean install of Windows XP!

Oh and before I get flamed in the comments as to why I’m not using Linux or Vista (puke) it’s because as of now it’s the only operating system that I can use all the software my wife and I want to/need to/know how to use. I might take the old 40GB and put it in to install Windows 7 which I got recently. I was almost at a point of installing Windows 7 instead, but didn’t since it’s only still in beta and will expire in August.

Hope my experience can help someone out with the same problem.

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7 Responses to “Can you have too much RAM?”

  1. Right at the start of this tale of woe I was VERY tempted to place the blame firmly on your Western Digital HD…! Of all the e-waste we get in, the Western Digital HDs get scrapped without a second glance, as they’ve never given us anything but problems.

    But that’s just me.. I’m biased 🙂

    • @Michelle – I too was worried it might be the drive but all tests always came up clean. I would have thought WD would have gotten their act together by now on the hard drive front – I remember back in the 90’s you almost NEVER wanted a WD drive as they almost always gave problems or died unexpectedly – listening to your experiences with recycling PC parts, it may not be the case.

  2. Deems, I suspect I may soon become an expert in “what not to buy”! 🙂 There are certain items that turn up all the time, like P4s of the faster variety. They seem to love to crash and burn!

  3. ya, I think XP (or 32-bit Windows in general) is only built for a max of 3gb of RAM? what are you doing with 6gb of RAM anyway??? 😛

    funny you should mention this though, I’ve been getting random blue screens quite frequently for the past month or so. pretty sure it’s a RAM problem.. planning on running MemTest and hopefully that gives some answers!

    • @Mike – yeah while the OS is running XP won’t use more than 3.5GB of RAM, one would think that would not stop the installer! MemTest however ran through an exhaustive test and didn’t find any problems with the RAM. LOL, had 2 x 1GB modules originally, saw the special on 2GB modules and thought the price was so good I bought two 🙂

  4. […] or Google just doesn’t come up with the right answer. Or maybe you’re fed up at reinstalling the OS over and over again, to no […]

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