Friday, March 04, 2005

Memory fails

At least part of my ongoing problems with the laptop (a Dell Inspiron 8200 that I use as my primary work machine at the kitchen table) can be chalked up to a bad RAM module. I discovered that Wednesday when the laptop refused to boot Windows except in safe mode. A little research and experimentation later, I had the laptop do a "thorough" check at startup, where it reported...

"Memory address line failure at...
The computer automatically shut down the offending module, leaving me with a now-working computer but one with only 128MB of RAM.

For reasons I don't understand in retrospect, I tried calling Circuit City and Best Buy to see whether they carried RAM that would work in a Dell, and whether one of their techs could do it for me. I'm sorry - but not surprised - to report that in both cases, after going through voicemail hell I ended up with service representatives who obviously did not have American English as their mother tongue and both of whom were reading from knowledge base scripts (that is, "If the customer says, 'My computer doesn't work', ask, "Have you tried pressing the 'on' button?' Go here if the answer is "Yes." Go here if the answer is "No."

The Best Buy rep - who was actually a "Computer Geek" rep since Best Buy has apparently outsourced support to them - was particularly egregious, ignoring my increasingly strident demands to "Listen to my question! I already know what the problem is. What I'm asking is whether Best Buy carries the RAM I need, and whether someone there can install it?"

It took over 5 minutes with the CC guy and nearly 10 with the BB/CG guy, but both finally admitted that they didn't have an answer to either question, and I would need to bring the laptop in to find out.


Having finally wised up, I did what I should have done in the first place, and went back to the Web, where I quickly found, in order:

Crucial Technology, which I highly recommend. It took me less than five minutes to walk through their wizard, determine the RAM I need, buy it, and have it shipped for next-day delivery. I ended up buying a 512MB module based on the Wizard's rec's for $93.

The Dell Inspiron 8200 User Guide, with everything you need to know about replacing parts, including memory.

The memory came late yesterday, I installed the new 512MB module this morning, and after some mucking around to get it seated correctly (my biggest problem), I then identified the offending old bad module, tossed it and re-installed the (so far) good 128MB module, giving me a total of 640MB. There may be some issues with that, I haven't bothered to check about whether the new/old process at different speeds, yadda, yadda, which I've seen warnings about. But, I'm working at the laptop even as I write this, and everything is working, and I'm the proud owner of a laptop with 640MB of RAM for a total cost of around $105 dollars and about 30 minutes of my time. As usual with these things, if I had to do it again, it would go much more quickly as I know what I'm doing now.

Dell replaced the CD/DVD drive when I dropped the laptop shortly after buying it, which I think was in the late Fall of 2001. The machine actually bounced off the hardwood floor, the CD drive tray opening in mid-air, and snapped off as it hit for the second time.

In 2002 the hard drive began clicking, and ultimately failed altogether. As with the RAM, after frustrating phone calls with both Dell and some local shops, I went to the Web, found a replacement hard drive, and walked my way through pulling the bad one, installing the new one, and transferring as much of the contents from the old drive to new as I could get.

I suspect the fan will go next, as Bear has the inappropriate, but cute, habit of falling asleep against the warmth of the back of the computer, smothering the fan in the process. I move him when the fan's whine gets particularly high-pitched. It's possible, even probable, that overheating is what caused the RAM to fail, as the drop may have eventually contributed to the hard drive failure, but who knows? I've never used a computer as much as I have the laptop, often on it for 8 to 9 hours a day, five days a week, and Peg uses it regularly over the weekend.

So, are all problems solved? Dunno. I read hints on the web that all the various failures we've seen over the past few weeks could be attributed to bad memory, so it's possible I've fixed it all in one fell swoop.

We'll see.

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