Ubuntu 20.04 LTS Server Edition
Running memtest86 On Hardware

Updated 28 July 2021

One of the tasks I do when installing the OS onto a freshly-purchased computer is to run memtest86 on it. This action detects any bad DRAM in the hardware, which can save plenty of headaches later on. Unfortunately, Canonical didn’t see fit to have memtest86 as an option on its installer boot menu.

Why is this important? For one thing, it tests more than just the DRAM. It also ensures that the system functions as a whole. Case in point: I purchased a computing appliance. I ran the memory test, then tried to install Ubuntu LTS 20.04 server edition. The DRAM test ran fine; the install crapped out when the appliance went dark. Long story short: infant failure of the power brick. Got a replacement, and everything then ran fine. Lesson learned the easy way. Can you imagine how I would have felt if I put this appliance in production, only to have it fail?

You will need to download a copy of memtest86. Write the image to a USB drive

NOTE: Passmark makes available a Pro version of memtest86. At the time of this writing, the Pro version is US$44 for a single license – you must buy a license for each concurrent use. The Site version is US$2640 – this might be worth the investment for large shops because it offers use on an almost unlimited number of servers, extensive support, booting over the network (via PXE), and management console integration.

To run the free version:

Suggest you turn off the monitor to minimize burn-in, turning it on sporadically (like every few hours) to check progress.

It’s recommended strongly that only one CPU be active. The IEEE algorithm doesn’t work well when you have two CPUs modifying and reading memory at the same time.

In one instance of testing a fanless computing appliance, it took 5 hours 27 minutes to test four passes over 4 gigabytes of DRAM. Your mileage may differ.

Comments, suggestions, and error reports are welcome.
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© 2021 Stephen Satchell, Reno NV