Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Could my power supply be causing memory errors?


My machine locked up sometime overnight, and when I rebooted the memory test
took forever. I thought it had frozen at that point, since it wouldn’t even let
me into the BIOS, but eventually did boot into Windows. Prior to this I had run
a memory test program, and it had, in fact, shown errors, but those went away
after I re-seated the memory cards on my motherboard. Someone mentioned that
the power supply might be the cause, is that possible?


Most folks think a power supply failure will be catastrophic … bright
lights, flashes and smoke followed by no power; or just the sudden “no power”
part without all the excitement.

The reality is often more mundane, and, for lack of a better word, at times
even sneaky.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Power supplies can fail in a number of ways, and the catastrophic failures I
mention are certainly possible.

What happens more frequently, though, is that the power supply slowly begins to not
be able to provide enough power to run the machine. That can happen for
a number of reasons, the most common being adding more hardware to the machine
that causes the entire machine to require more power than the supply can

Power supplies can also fail gradually over time. Perhaps it’ll slowly drop
the voltage it’s supplying; the expected 12 volt output will start dropping to
something less than that. How much less gets worse and worse over time until
something finally gives.

What might fail actually depends on the tolerance of the various components
in your computer. Many are quite tolerant and will run with an amazingly
off-spec voltage, and others not so much. Sooner or later the component with
the least tolerance may start to show errors, which themselves could be
anything from incremental hiccups and crashes to a sudden catastrophic

“If you’re not comfortable guessing, it might be time to
call in a technician …”

It appears that it’s often the memory that shows the symptoms first (though
not always). Reseating the memory could have temporarily improved the
connection allowing the memory to get just enough more to be ok for a while,
but if the power supply continues to get worse, that’s not a permanent fix.

So if it could be the power supply, but it could be the memory, or it could
be something else, how’s a person to know what to do?

When it happened to me some time ago, I guessed. I replaced the power supply
in a machine that started misbehaving, and sure enough it began to work
reliably again. My guess was an educated one, though, as I had added hardware
to the machine, increasing its power requirements, so when I replaced the
power supply I made sure to replace it with one with a higher wattage

If you’re not comfortable guessing, it might be time to call in a technician
who can actually diagnose where the problem really is. Determining with any
certainly exactly what’s contributing to broken behavior is not easy. In fact,
many times even the technicians will simply swap parts until things start
working. In effect they, too, are guessing.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

3 comments on “Could my power supply be causing memory errors?”

  1. Check the capacitors on the motherboard – if any of them show the top popping up (the top is normally flat with a cross inscribed), you have or will have a power problem on the motherboard. Ultimately, the computer will fail, in any of several ways.


  3. This reminded me of a situation I had years ago. My desktop was performing poorly. I’d had it for a few years and the performance quality had dropped significantly. I called in an on-site tech. He checked things out and advised me to get a UPS with a voltage regulator. I did, and the performance quality was good again. I had moved to a different apartment not long before this, and apparently the voltage fluctuations in the different part of town were just enough to wear on the components. I troubleshoot DVRs at work, and every time a customer calls in having had to replace theirs 3 times in a year or so, I recommend they get a voltage regulator. I still use the same UPS, but I was wondering if computer manufacturing has improved to where voltage regulators are included in the systems.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.