When troubleshooting machines, I was trained to routinely reseat every board and every chip in the case. Especially if there was nothing visibly wrong with the machine, it was amazing how often that worked. So why does reseating RAM work? Why does reseating anything else work?
Reseating works because it improves conductivity. Connectors can get dirty or oxidized, and if that interferes with conductivity, it causes malfunctions.
Why reseating RAM helps
Actually there’s a third reason reseating memory and other components works. Sometimes the connection is just loose. This is probably the least common reason but it’s still plenty valid.
Aside from battery damage and the associated bad traces, bad connections are probably the most common problem I find in old computers. Fortunately they’re also the easiest to fix.
Reseating loose connections
Sometimes the problem is a component being too lose in its connector. The first PC I ever fixed was that easy. The guy down the hall from me moved his PC and it stopped working. After I checked all the cables and couldn’t find anything, I opened the case. I immediately saw the problem. His BIOS chip was clearly up and out of its socket. I pulled the chip out, reseated it, then turned the PC back on. It roared back to life.
Reseating dirty connections
If the connection has become dirty, reseating the component can sometimes be enough to scrape off enough dirt to restore connectivity. If the part is visibly dirty it’s better to clean it, but reseating just takes a minute to try.
Reseating oxidized connections
Frequently, reseating is enough to remove enough oxidation to make a part work again. Oxides conduct electricity poorly, and in environments where the air is humid, even the corrosion-resistant metals used in computers can oxidize a bit.
Going beyond reseating
While reseating is a good troubleshooting step, once I isolate which component has a problem, I like to go a step beyond to provide a repeat failure. First, clean the pins on the component with a very mild abrasive. A U.S. dollar bill, believe it or not, is ideal. The paper in a US dollar is abrasive enough to remove dirt and oxide but not remove any metal. I don’t know if they still teach this trick, but I learned this trick in the late 90s in a computer support class. I’ve lost count of how much stuff I’ve brought back from the dead with it.
Next, I like a bit of conductivity enhancer on the connector on both the component and the motherboard. Deoxit D5 is outstanding, and it doesn’t take a lot. Deoxit helps break down any remaining corrosion, keep new corrosion from reforming, and compensate for any pits or other imperfections in the metal surfaces. Deoxit is controversial because if you use too much of it, it can cause problems. But used sparingly, it’s a miracle worker.
Always clean first, then use the Deoxit. If you use the Deoxit first, it will interfere with any abrasive action you try to do, cleaning-wise.