Ask the Doctor

Kaya Systems

This month the doctor tackles ram errors, RAIDing different drives, and more

Errors on the RAMpage?

Five years ago, I built a computer that has performed without problems. I put in an Intel DP965LT 775 motherboard, Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor, EVGA GeForce 8800 GTS videocard, two Western Digital 500GB drives, two Toshiba DVD drives, and two sticks of Crucial 1GB DDR2/667 memory. By today’s standards, the machine is ancient, but it has been fine for my needs.

Don't let this go on a RAMpage

Earlier this year, I decided to boost my memory by adding two 2GB Crucial DDR2/667 sticks to bring my system memory from 2GB to 6GB. The system showed that I had 6GB of memory. Then I started to notice that even though it was noticeably faster, I was having system problems. Thinking my problems might be related to heat, I started running SIW (System Information for Windows) and found the core temperatures to be (in my opinion) high. Most readings are between 58 and 65 C, with an occasional peak of around 80 C. (This is an air-cooled system with stock fans.) I then removed the two new sticks of memory and dropped the system memory back to 2GB. The problems went away, but the temps remained in the 58 to 65 C range. I then took out the original two sticks (2GB total) and put in the two new sticks (4GB total) and the problems returned. Thinking my problem might be the new memory, I ran Memtest86+ overnight twice, with no errors reported the next day. But the problem only occurs with the two new sticks.

I’m running Windows 7 and the problems I’m encountering are that the MMC or Windows Explorer or Windows Desktop stops working, or I can’t start Outlook 2010. This happens within one to four hours after a cold boot. Most times it’s within the first hour. If I then do a reboot, there are no more problems until the next cold boot. I have run the system many days after a reboot without an error. My question is, do you have any ideas what is wrong and how I can fix this problem? I’m guessing it’s not a temperature issue since it will run without problems for days after a reboot.

- Howard Lewis

The Doctor Responds:

Although most motherboards should be fine with any RAM of the right form factor, speed, and capacity, you should always check the RAM you use against the motherboard’s Qualified Vendor List if you’re having memory issues. The Doctor isn’t sure what model of Crucial DDR2/667 you’re using, but your motherboard’s QVL does list several 2GB DIMMs from that manufacturer at that clock speed, so they should work. Intel also specs the board to run up to 8GB of RAM, so capacity should not be an issue.

Given your trouble, though, it sounds like the new RAM is the problem. You haven’t said whether you’re running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows, but given the age of your system it’s likely you’re running 32-bit, which can only address a maximum of 4GB RAM, with some of it consumed by the address space for devices. Running 6GB with 32-bit Windows 7 is bit of a waste but shouldn’t be the problem.

You’ve tried running the old RAM alongside the new RAM, as well as just the new RAM, but you should also test each individual new piece of RAM to determine if just one stick is bad. If the RAM checks out, it’s very possible that the BIOS on the board isn’t reading the RAM’s Serial Presence Detect chip correctly. The SPD tells the board what frequency, voltage, and timing to run the modules at. Normally when you mix and match RAM, the board will set all the RAM to the speed of the slowest RAM you have installed, but it’s possible it’s just not reading it correctly. The Doc has seen that numerous times on boards of the LGA775 vintage, but usually on motherboards that play RAM-timing settings fast and loose. Intel boards tend to err on the side of stability, but an old BIOS might misconfigure the RAM. Consider updating the BIOS—with only the two old DIMMs in place. If you are still having issues, go into the BIOS on your board and manually set the RAM timing, voltage, and frequency.

As for your temperatures, they look within reason for an E6700 with a stock cooler.

RAIDing Dissimilar Drives

Is it OK to set two SSDs in RAID 0 if they’re using different controllers? I have an older Vertex 2 120GB SSD using the SF-1200 controller and I would like to add a second, more for the extra space for my boot drive than for the performance increase. Would there be any issue using a newer SF-2281 SSD for this? Some people say you should always find an identical component, some say it doesn't matter. I’m looking for a more informed opinion.

The Doctor Responds:

Technically, you can do it. Should you? Nope. Different SSD controllers utilize their storage in different ways and have different speeds, so we recommend only RAIDing drives with the same model, capacity, and firmware. Since any drive failures in RAID 0 cause you to lose the whole array, why add more potential problems? In your case, rather than buying another old Vertex 2, we recommend you get a higher-capacity 6Gb/s SATA drive to use as your boot drive and put the Vertex 2 to use as a games or programs drive.

LGA1155 or LGA2011?

Doc, my box currently uses a 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo with 8GB of RAM and RAID 0 1TB hard drives. I want to upgrade, but should I build on LGA1155 or LGA2011?

I play games at the highest settings and do some photo and video editing, as well. I expect to up the video editing soon, as I’m expecting a baby boy in December. Ideally, I would like something I could upgrade later with a new processor and videocard. My budget is under $2,000.

The Doctor Responds:

First, congratulations. The birth of your first child will be the happiest day of your life. Second, you seem like a good candidate for LGA2011 and with your budget of $2,000, you can build a very nice rig, like the Performance PC from our Blueprints section. This lets you drop in a hexa-core Sandy Bridge-E chip down the road or even an Ivy Bridge-E chip when they are expected to hit the market early next year. The GTX 670 is a heck of a card for gaming, too. The Doc will say that the current LGA1155 Ivy Bridge chips are very good processors and quite capable of handling video editing chores. If you actually split your gaming/content creation at around, say, 70/30 percent, you would be absolutely fine building a machine using a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor. The only real disadvantage to building on LGA1155 is that next year Intel is expected to introduce the CPU code-named Haswell on a new LGA1150 socket, which will be incompatible with LGA1155. As the Doc said, at least LGA2011 gives you one more processor upgrade in its life. But will you really want an Ivy Bridge-E chip—even with six cores—if Haswell can slice and dice it? Ah, the eternal tech treadmill…

A Sandy Bridge-E machine like our Deluxe rig is a good sub-$2,000 rig for gaming and video editing, and is upgradeable to hexa-core later.

Note: This feature was taken from the December issue of the magazine.

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