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June 30th, 2016

Linux Under the Hood: Silence of the RAM

The continuing adventures of a new open source tinkerer who finds his diagnostic acumen sorely lacking during what should have been a simple RAM installation — thereby leaving the rest of us grateful he didn’t pursue a career in the medical field.

The Linux Gadabout

Perhaps Fred Sanford’s negative assessment of my intelligence was a bit hasty last week. As it turns out, this antediluvian Sony Vaio doesn’t so much object to an upgrade of mismatched RAM as it does to RAM that plain doesn’t work. Replacing an underinflated tire with a flat tire, so to speak, doesn’t help anybody.

Here’s how things went down.

It began when FOSS Force reader Jeff wisely suggested the upgrade. “That laptop has an open RAM slot that you can fill with up to 512 MB, for a total of 1 GB,” he said — and even kindly provided a link to the memory I’d need. This still rings true as excellent advice; any hiccups I’ve had between then and now are purely of my own making and, as you’ll see, the oft-persnickety nature of technology. Jeff is in no way to blame for any resulting trials and tribulations this Vaio and I have endured, and I continue to appreciate his suggestion.

But instead of actually opening up the machine and getting visual confirmation of one open slot and one filled with 512 MB, I went ahead and ordered a 512 MB chip. The reality, not discovered until the new chip arrived: a pair of 256 MB chips filled both slots. As most of us know, documents — no matter how official and reliable — aren’t always up to date with how a machine actually ships.

sony vaio ram upgrade

The K stands for kwality. Klearly.

In spite of only upgrading the RAM inside one of my older machines many years ago, I went into the project of bringing this Vaio up to speed with confidence. After all, I could always look up a helpful video or ten on YouTube to guide me along instead of relying on some encyclopedic manual like I’d done in ages past. And while I could patiently await a second 512 MB chip, I figured mixing this one with one of the 256 MB chips was worth a try in the meantime.

When the machine failed to boot, I shrugged my shoulders and blamed it on the mismatch. I ordered a second dose of 512 MB and smugly awaited its delivery by the lazy postman who likes to launch packages up the stairs from one floor down instead of dropping them at my front door and ringing the doorbell like a reasonable human being.

When the second 512 MB chip arrived (with a doorbell introduction! Must’ve been the aforementioned postman’s day off), I eagerly installed it next to its twin, assured the Vaio would boot with vim and vigor not experienced since its youth. Instead, I was slapped across the face with a black screen and a whole lot of nothing upon reboot — just like when I had the new mismatched with the old. Drat!

Convinced that maybe I’d misread RAM specs and mistakenly picked up chips that were completely incompatible with my laptop, further research assured me that I’d chosen correctly — on paper (well, screen), at least. It was a head-scratcher for sure. The chips certainly snapped into the Vaio’s empty slots easily, and they were snugly in place with no crooked edges peeking at me from the darkness.

Another round of research led me on an escapade of potential solutions. There was yawningly mundane advice, like: “Wipe the contact points of your RAM with a cloth to make sure they’re clean” — which seems as efficacious as blowing on a misbehaving Atari cartridge in the ’80s. Then there was advice that seemed downright dangerous — basically: “Torture the BIOS in ways that might guarantee obedience or turn the entire system into a molten, smoking shell of its former self — try your luck!”

There wasn’t even a way for me to manually change the RAM capacity in the BIOS because, as we discovered at the beginning of this whole adventure, the BIOS that came with my Sony Vaio is extremely limited in options.

It wasn’t until I’d exhausted an entertainment of the more complicated advice that I decided to give the old mismatched team another college try. Not knowing which 512 MB RAM chip had been the first to arrive, it was purely by chance that I installed what must have been the second one, because — lo and behold — the Vaio jolted to life with no trouble at all. Conclusion: the first 512 MB chip I bought is a no-good bum — but this wasn’t immediately apparent.

The next course of action seems to be returning the lousy layabout 512 MB chip to whence it came and requesting a replacement, at which point — provided said replacement isn’t yet another bad apple — I will soon enjoy my Sony Vaio at its maximum RAM capacity. For now, the 768 MB currently humming along under the hood is better than the 512 MB it’s had for the majority of time I’ve made its acquaintance.

Now that I see the events of the last week chronicled clearly in front of my very eyes, maybe the disparaging old junk man was right after all. I’m shameless enough to admit my own idiocy as long as it leads to learning from my mistakes. Maybe Linux isn’t rocket science, but installing RAM was sure beginning to feel like it.

"Bob" Fogarty was the editor-in-chief at Chris Pirillo's LockerGnome.com for nearly 12 years, and has written for ReadWrite.com and TheArtofCharm.com. He lives in San Diego with his wife and a medium-sized menagerie of beasties great and small. Follow him on Twitter: @Fogarty

16 comments to Linux Under the Hood: Silence of the RAM

  • tracyanne

    Standard fault finding procedure would be to remove all the RAM cards, then try each one, one at a time, placing each tested working one in one box, and any that fail in another.

    After that, only after that, start testing them in pairs. If a pair fails, leave one in and test it against each of the remaining in turn.

    Rinse repeat.

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    Yep, tracyanne! Sharing the way I do things backwards with everyone who already knows better is how I live and I learn.

  • I just can’t wait for the awesome comments Tracyanne has.

    It’s like Tracyanne sits and waits for something new to post a comment…….F5 page……..F5 page….

  • CFWhitman

    I have to admit I was expecting something like this. That’s why I asked if you had tried the 512MB chip by itself. I double checked all the specs, and I knew the RAM you ordered should work, so my next thought was, ‘Bad RAM?’ Tracyanne outlined the testing procedure already.

  • Isn’t this great? We’re all learning from Robert’s mistakes while being highly entertained. Life is good.

  • Randal

    Put the notion in the basket.

    When you get the other ram, I would even go as far as testing it in both slots.

  • Somewhat Reticent

    Would it be best to test both slots with known-good RAM first?

  • A Sane Person

    What a pointless article.

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    Boringoldme: As long as the comments are good, I’m never going to complain if they’re also prolific!

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    CFWhitman: I now see what you were saying, but I wasn’t really understanding what you were saying. Now it’s crystal clear!

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    Christine Hall: “Funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?”

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    Randal: I test new RAM in the machine, or else I get the hose…ageen?

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    Somewhat Reticent: I knew both of the chips that came with the system were working fine, so the slots were never suspect — in this case, anyway!

  • Robert Glen Fogarty

    A Sane Person: You just read it. I lived it. I think that makes you the winner.

  • tracyanne

    @Boringoldme I only get to post first because where I live is morning while for you it’s still sleepin time. The email arrives, I check it out, if I have something to say, I post. Glad you liked it.

  • tracyanne

    @Somewhat Reticent yes testing both slots with known good RAM would certainly help