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Does Linux have a mechanism to "scrub" memory? e.g. testing the memory and marking areas as dirty if they fail so that the system can continue to operate "safely" even with bad ram chips installed?!

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is actually a bad idea. Memory cannot be reliably tested in a quick sweep. This is why software like memtest86 uses multiple passes with different bit patters to test memory. Solution:

  1. Test memory with memtest86, preferably long test, leave it running overnight, it will take a long time.

  2. If bad memory is detected, use memmap kernel parameter to force kernel not to use that memory:

            [KNL,ACPI] Mark specific memory as reserved.
            Region of memory to be used, from ss to ss+nn.
            Example: Exclude memory from 0x18690000-0x1869ffff

In addition, you can use ECC memory which will correct 1-bit errors and detect 2-bit errors in your memory automatically (and you'll get log messages from kernel about uncorrectable memory problems if they happen)

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Thanks for the tip on those kernel parameters. Do you think you please can clarify why this is a such a bad idea and why you can't check a chunk of memory using the same methods as memtest86(+)? I am aware that more reliable testing requires more CPU time (and probably bigger chunks of ram in one go as well) but why would this have to be a show stopper? CPU time may not a problem if spread over a long enough period and besides multi cpu is becomming more and more mainstream. –  Waxhead Dec 28 '11 at 21:32
Well technically, if done over long enough period of time, this may be possible. But the bottleneck here is not CPU(s), but memory bus, and of course you "poison" your CPU's memory cache. I'd not aware of such kernel module, and the idea looks very fragile to me (orchestrating repeated pattern writing to an arbitrary region of memory on a live system, etc.) –  haimg Dec 28 '11 at 21:50
haimg : question : will the VFS manage paging for this reserved memory ? i think it can not as it won't be visible to it. –  Jay D Sep 19 '12 at 22:30
@JayD: That reserved physical memory off-limits to kernel and not touched by the kernel or anything else. –  haimg Sep 20 '12 at 3:35
@Waxhead Memory scrubbing is usually done at the BIOS level using hardware. If enabled you should find options for patrol scrubbing and demand scrubbing. If memory integrity is important to you, which it surely is if you're using ECC memory, then the smallish performance hit gained by enabling these options is worthwhile. –  Ian Worthington Sep 23 '13 at 16:49

The post and answer misunderstand the issue. Memory scrubbing is intended to keep correctible single bit errors from turning into uncorrectible double errors. The scrubber merely all physical memory (forcing cache misses to do so) occasionally. If there are any single bit errors, they will be corrected (and the correction must rewrite the correct value using a compare-and-swap), thus clearing the error.

Otherwise, if a second error occurs in a word which already has one error, the entire word will be uncorrectible and the OS will have to do something drastic.

Scrubbing is important because without it, memory which is read but not written (like code pages) may accumulate errors over time.

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Why do you think the answer miss understood the issue when it has been marked as the answer? –  Dave Jun 13 '13 at 14:35
Notwithstanding Dave's reply, Larry is quite correct, the answer /does/ misunderstand the question. The question asks if linux can do a memory scrub, used, as Larry carefully explains, to prevent single bit errors detected and corrected by ECC h/w from turning into uncorrectable 2 bit errors. The answer talks about how to detect those errors in the first place using a software application. –  Ian Worthington Sep 23 '13 at 16:49
I think you misunderstand the purpose here. You are of course correct in your description about scrubbing however if you for example run a (non-critical) file server on non-ecc ram and have CPU cycles to spare it sounds like a good idea to sooner or later be able to detect corrupt memory and flag it as bad and know about it than to be unaware of a bad memory chip. Perhaps a better wording would be memory validation / verification. Not technically scrubbing perhaps, but still a viable way of reducing the damage done by potentially bad memory. –  Waxhead Feb 19 at 22:31

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