What’s worse than having your RAM randomly fail on you? Having it die on you when you’re in the middle of an important project!
A RAM kit’s lifespan can vary, and significantly so. I, for one, learned this the hard way.
Of course, this isn’t to say that it will happen to you, nor is it likely. It’s just that sometimes, knock on wood, RAM goes bad.
Will it happen in the first few minutes, in the first 6 months, or after ten years?
It all depends on whether the RAM has any inherent faults, how well it is handled, and in what environment it operates.
What’s important here is that some of these factors are controllable, so through proper care, you can prevent any damage to your memory.
In this article, we’ll go through what can compromise RAM integrity, how to diagnose memory issues, and find out how long RAM lasts.
What Factors Can Compromise the Lifespan of RAM?
First things first, you want to make sure that you limit any factors that may damage or degrade the integrity of your RAM.
What are these factors, you ask?
Well, here are a few:
- Bad Physical Handling – Static Electricity
- Physical Wear and Tear
- Power Surges
- Bad Power Supply
- Extreme Overvolting or Overclocking
- Poor Environmental Conditions
- High Temperatures – Thermal Degradation
- Manufacturing Defects
- Short Circuits
Let’s take a closer look:
Bad Physical Handling – Static Electricity
When building a new PC, it’s always wise to wear an anti-static wrist strap/bracelet and work in an anti-static working space.
Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) can cause permanent damage to RAM and other PC components, and it can manifest immediately or after an extended period (weeks to months).
Physical Wear and Tear
Plugging the RAM stick in and out of the DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) slots too many times may cause scratches in the pins and/or connectors.
Of course, this also depends on how clean your setup is.
Plugging and unplugging RAM modules when dirt or grime is present increases the chance of any physical damage.
This is perhaps one of the biggest causes of RAM failures. It is also the best argument for why you should definitely invest in a surge protector.
Though inexpensive and easy to find, it will guard your components against sudden power surges.
Bad Power Supply
Power supplies are usually the last component to be upgraded, but an old, lower-end PSU can do significant damage to your PC’s internal hardware.
Modern PSUs come with several protective measures like OPP (Over-Power Protection), OVP/UVP (Over/Under-Voltage Protection), OCP (Over-Current Protection), SCP (Short Circuit Protection), and OTP (Over- Temperature Protection), among others.
These are what will protect your memory modules from being fried due to potentially dangerous fluctuations in power.
Extreme Overvolting or Overclocking
But overclocking is so sweet! It gives you enhanced performance with just the click of a few buttons.
Indeed, but like most good things, there is a downside.
That downside is the heat generated by an increase in input voltage, which can cause a myriad of issues: from solder joints falling apart to electromigration (atom movement based on the flow of current).
If you plan on overclocking your memory to anything past recommended XMP levels, it may be a good idea to invest in a RAM cooler. That said, professionals should steer away from aggressive memory overclocks for a more stable workstation.
Poor Environmental Conditions
This includes humidity, static electricity, high environmental temperatures, excessive dust, poor cable management, and cramped components.
High Temperatures – Thermal Degradation
And speaking of components being cramped together, heat is the main source that will shorten the lifespan of your RAM.
This is pretty much the argument with overclocking.
If you have a Small Form Factor (SFF) case and have no option but to have the GPU (which typically runs hot) near the RAM, the only thing you can do is invest in the best possible cooling fans for intake and exhaust.
Otherwise, the chances are – it will affect your memory’s lifespan.
These can appear immediately or after an extended period of time (due to the stress of use).
This is pretty much a guarantee that they’ll only need to be replaced when they become obsolete.
When high current density stress degrades basic atomic structures, it causes defects like voids or hillocks.
Voids cause a reduction of connectivity, while hillocks cause shorts.
Another segue! Indeed, like any device with electrical circuits, RAM can also be affected by short circuits.
At least you can rest assured that short-circuited memory will most likely not affect any other components in the process.
The motherboard provides voltage to the RAM through a converter, which will cut power to it if a short is detected.
How Can You Tell That Your RAM is Failing?
If you’re reading this article because you’re already experiencing issues (and want to know if its the memory causing them), here are the most common symptoms of RAM failures:
- Random stuttering or crashing – including Blue Screens of Death (BSOD).
- Unprompted restarts.
- Files becoming corrupt.
- RAM storage is missing from your diagnostic tools.
- RAM or GPU failing to load on boot, or debug LEDs appearing.
- Drastically decreasing performance, including slowdowns.
Do note that some of these issues could be caused by other hardware components as well.
That is why it is best to test your RAM to confirm whether that’s the part causing the issues. Tom’s Hardware has a great guide on how to do so.
How Long Does RAM Physically Last?
According to Sr. principal engineer at DELL EMC, Mark Farley, if your RAM lasts for the initial 6 months of operation, it will last for the next 20 years or more.
After this time frame, the silicon will begin to degrade. However, this process of silicon degradation is not something you typically need to worry about, as RAM tends to become obsolete far before it physically fails.
Of course, if you’re not careful about some of the aforementioned factors (to a reasonable degree), RAM can falter well before its average lifespan.
Should You Buy New RAM if Your Old RAM Still Works?
Sometimes, you’ll want to replace your RAM, even if it works perfectly fine.
One such case is when you want to upgrade your RAM capacity.
Memory kits are factory-tested to ensure that they work at their rated speeds and timings together. Unfortunately, this is not the case for any additional kits/modules you purchase, even if they’re the same brand and clock speeds.
Mixing RAM won’t cause any issues most of the time, but if you want to be safe, it’s always best to purchase all your memory in a single kit.
Clock Speed Upgrade
If mixing identical RAM from different kits can be problematic, you can see how troublesome mixing RAM with different clock speeds can be.
If you want to upgrade your RAM’s frequency or timings, you’ll want to do so with a clean slate.
In such cases, you can always try and sell your previous RAM kit. You can also keep them in case you build a second PC to use for other purposes like rendering or streaming.
However, if you do mix and match and you don’t run into significant issues, all modules will run at the lowest kit’s speed. For example, if you already have a 3200 kit (2x8GB) and add a 3600 kit (2x8GB) to your PC, barring any other compatibility issues, the modules will run as 4x8GB 3200 MHz kits.
DDR Generational Upgrade
One instance where we must say goodbye to our perfectly good RAM is when we’re upgrading to a new generation of DDR memory.
Though it’s usually best to wait for a new generation of memory to improve technologically (and in price) before purchasing, the performance gains they promise can be too good to pass by.
The leap from DDR4 to DDR5 will see a 50% to 100% upgrade in bandwidth, better power and memory efficiency, and higher capacity DIMMs (16 GB vs. 64 GB).
Not immediately jumping on this hype train would be impossible for those after the very best performance.
How long does RAM retain data when powered off?
RAM is a form of volatile memory. When power is removed from such memory, all data is instantly deleted.
Does RAM get slower over time?
Some factors that compromise the integrity of RAM are also responsible for its degradation.
But regardless of these factors, memory does age, depending on its use. This aging, in turn, can translate to slightly lower speeds.
These slowdowns will be unnoticeable for most users, but if you are working with a server or a workstation that uses RAM intensively, a minor degradation in speed is inevitable over several years.
To sum things up, if you take care of your RAM, your RAM will take care of you. And it will do so for the better part of a decade, or until you replace it with newer-generation memory.
Make sure you thoroughly test and check your memory kit when it’s new. If you’re not running into any stability issues or any other indications of a RAM failure, you’re good to go for several years.
When it comes to getting the most out of your RAM kit, it’s all about planning.
Choosing the right amount of storage for your workloads and the best frequency and timings to match your CPU. This will prevent you from mixing RAM, unnecessary physical handling, and/or other factors that can shorten your memory’s lifespan.
Over to You
Has your RAM ever failed on you? Are you having any issues with your memory and aren’t sure how to proceed? Let us know in the comments below!
Also, if you feel like you’re experiencing a common issue, and want to see how others have handled it, make sure to check our expert forum. You’ll find a plethora of users to interact with and find answers to the most sought-out PC-related questions.