Memory Diagnostics Shootout – Round 2

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Introduction and Round 1 Recap

In Round 1 of this shootout, there were eight diagnostics that were used to identify the errors in nine known defective SDRAM modules. Five of the contenders identified every module as defective, while the other three failed to detect at least one of them. Of these five finalists, four were from the same company – Ultra-X, Inc., which has some of the best professional diagnostic products in the industry. The other product was an excellent freeware program called MemTest86, which is fairly well known in the Do-It-Yourself marketplace.

Within several weeks of publishing the results of Round 1, support people and hobbyists from various parts of the world emailed with requests that I test their favorite memory diagnostic. It was also suggested that the tests should be a bit more rigorous to see if one clear winner could be declared. This would mean some additional modules, and perhaps some particular configuration that had a known, but very difficult to detect, problem.

Of the requested products, I was able to acquire demo versions of five of these. Some of them are actually full system diagnostics, of which memory testing is only a small part, while others are dedicated memory tests. Since this shootout only tests the memory portion of the system diagnostics, it would not be fair to judge the overall value of the full system diagnostics on the results of this comparison.

First, let’s review the products tested in Round 1, and the results:

DocMem – This is a freeware utility put out by CST, Inc., a company that manufactures hardware memory testers. Whether by design (so as not to affect the hardware sales) or otherwise, DocMem failed to get past the first round by not detecting errors in several of the modules.

BCM Diagnostics – This is a full system-level diagnostics suite from BCM, Corp., of which memory testing is only a piece. As mentioned above, please do not use the memory results to judge the overall effectiveness of the entire suite of tests, however it did perform very poorly in this area by detecting even fewer errors than DocMem did.

Burn-In Test – To be fair, this is not really a diagnostic suite, per se, but a system burn-in suite intended for integrators and system builders. However, the intent of a burn-in program is to identify any system level errors that might exist before shipping to the customer. As such, I would expect that the more easily identified problems would be detected – but that was not the case here. Burn-in test performed the worst of all the products by not detecting even one of the nine defective modules (except for the one that wouldn’t even allow the system to boot – which cannot be credited to this product).

PHD PCI, QuickTech Pro, RST and RST Pro – as mentioned above, these four finalists are from Ultra-X, Inc. PHD PCI is a low-level hardware diagnostic tool that plugs into a PCI slot and takes over the system after POST (and also acts as a POST card). QuickTech Pro is a system level diagnostic program that tests multiple components. RST is a software memory diagnostic while RST Pro is a PCI card that performs low-level memory diagnostics and allows editing of various PCI registers. For a recent review of RST Pro, see this Lost Circuit’s article.

MemTest86 – This surprising freeware memory diagnostic tool performed just as well as the Ultra-X products with the modules tested. For the DIYer or home user, this would be the utility of choice… but is it good enough for the professional?

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