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Testing Mac Memory and Drives

Last updated 2010-09-06 - Send Feedback
Related: backup, diglloydTools, hard drive, how-to, memory, RAID

Your new Mac has just arrived. Here’s what to do.

First, install all extra hard drives and memory. It’s best to do this right away, after all, you want the system as a whole to work, so doing things piecemeal just adds more work. If you do encounter a problem, you can back out memory and hard drives to the minimum and start from there.

Do not forget that static electricity can ruin memory or hard drives; don’t wear a wool shirt while fiddling with the innards of your computer! Choose a well-lit surface for installation, and take your time. I recommend avoiding dinner, beer and children for this phase! Distraction from children once caused me to insert two screws into the DVI port on my MacBook Pro, which proved impossible to remove.

Testing hard drives

Using DiskTester, verify that you are getting the expected performance out of your drives. Do not assume hard drive speed is optimal, especially with RAID — sometimes there are performance issues; these vary with drives and SATA cards, etc. DiskTester is the best tool available for verifying hard drive performance, and the only one for seriously testing reliability. For added confidence, run DiskTester’s test-reliability command overnight on all your volumes (more than one DiskTester can run at once on different volumes). The fill-volume command is also excellent for viewing whole-drive performance.

Double-check that you’ve set up your RAID partitions, etc in a sensible way with appropriate sizes, etc. You can always redo things later, but it’s a hassle.

DiskTester fill-volume in progress

Testing memory and system stability

There is always a risk that memory could be bad, but with quality memory this should be in he 1-2% failure rate range. Always buy from a reputable vendor, and don’t try to save a few bucks on “deals”. Parts are graded by quality, and buying memory from the reject bin will lead to no end of headaches.

Run MemoryTester to stress test your system and memory. A successful run tests not just memory, but also shows that the system operates reliably under demanding use.

MemoryTester stress test in progress

Backup strategy

Consider your backup strategy, and make adjustments now if necessary. That means an absolute minimum of one external backup, and preferably offsite backup as well. Apple’s Time Machine can also provide a convenient half-solution: be sure to dedicate a backup disk for it should you choose to use it.

As the last step, install your applications and get to work! By investing effort in the previous steps, you know that any flakiness you encounter is likely the result of buggy software, not flaky hardware.

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