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What will happen if I remove the RAM while the computer is on?

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i would tag this "crazy-experiment" :) – akira Jun 14 '10 at 14:38
try it and let us know! – user33788 Jun 14 '10 at 15:16
just joking, but I'm sure that nothing would happen to the components. If your carefull not to touch other components all inputs are buffered and should be fine, if you have a running OS it will crash and the results of the crash would be unpredictable. BUT I WOULD NOT DO IT ANYWAY! – user33788 Jun 14 '10 at 15:19
really this is about the same as… ... – quack quixote Jun 14 '10 at 15:28
a black hole is created, sucking in life as we know it.... as a side note, the LHC will be moot – espais Jun 14 '10 at 15:30

5 Answers 5

Nothing good.

You're likely to fry the memory chips as well as the motherboard.

If the system isn't hot-swappable, there's likely some electric interaction between the RAM and the motherboard. Removing the RAM while the current is flowing will be very likely to create sparks and strong currents that will wreak havoc on your system.

If you're lucky enough not to cause any physical damage, the system will likely hang. During power-up the BIOS determines how much physical memory is available and sets up the system to use the resources accordingly. The memory is likely to be allocated to some piece of software, either BIOS, OS or some user software. When you remove its memory, that software will lose some of its code or data, which is not healthy either.

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"Nothing good" - now there's an understatement. At the least I would expect fried memory and possibly even fried motherboard, which could then lead to damage to CPU and even hard drives. – ChrisF Jun 14 '10 at 14:33
As someone who has worked in Hardware and building PCs, I can tell you that you’re likely to fry the memory and maybe the board. It happened to me. I fried 16MB (yes MB) of Ram in a Win NT 3.51 once. The display accidentally disconnected and the screen went blank. I thought it was turned off and I removed (it was upgrading to 32MB!!) the old chips. It was very expensive back then (1992 I think). – Martín Marconcini Jun 14 '10 at 17:01
"Nothing good" - perfect answer in 2 words! – Mart Jun 15 '10 at 18:39
I also would strongly caution against reaching inside your computer while it's on. If you're careful, you'll be fine. But there can be an enormous amount of current running through there so the risk of electrocution is not something to wag a finger at. – Ben Richards Sep 23 '11 at 17:18
The voltage outside the power supply is not high enough to cause a serious electrical shock. – xpda Feb 5 '12 at 6:59

I just tried it, nothing fried, no sparks or electrical arcs or explosions. My memory still works and my motherboard isn't fried as I sit here typing this on the same computer. I got bored and yanked out a 2 GB stick, weeee!

Windows 7 did crash, though, in a fantastic array, reminiscent of the 8-bit graphics of yore, colorful lines and blocks strewn across my screen.

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I just did it thinking it was off, it sparked and now nothing. It will not boot up, I changed the RAM and still nothing it sounds like it booting up but the monitor does not detect the PC.

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I happen to be in the process of selling a bunch of memory modules and setup a Memtest station consisting of two desktop PC's, but only sharing one monitor (I was just unplugging the VGA cable and switching it to the other desktop to see the display on the other PC). I was running Memtest86+ on one PC to test DDR2 memory, and the other was testing DDR3. So I had 3 sticks of DDR2 memory that sucessfully passed the memtest, but the test continued on for 8 hours. I thought I powered off the PC since the monitor was off, but I merely unplugged only the monitor. I forgot to pull the power cord as well. So I just started popping out each stick one by one. When I took out the last stick of RAM, I realized the PC was actually powered on the whole time. I looked up what would happen by pulling ram on a powered on PC and came across this thread.

Well I put all three DDR2 memory modules back in the motherboard and re-ran memtest86 on them. All 3 sticks passed and I let it run for 3 hours total. Not a single error came up. Good!

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Note that you only answered what happened to the memory sticks, not what happened to the computer. – Jan Doggen Nov 23 '14 at 15:11

I didn't have the balls to try, but after cleaning my laptop and reinserting my RAM, on powering it up, after one second the fan stopped and it just "hung".

So I opened up the cover, took it out and back in and it worked, just don't do so with the disks.

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