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I have an issue with a Dell Inspiron 15 (1545) laptop that refuses to open any applications (save select Microsoft programs, e.g. Security Essentials, Ctrl Panel, Windows Explorer (not Internet), regedit, Event Viewer, etc.). I've run Microsoft Memory Diagnostics Tool and it found a 'hardware problem was detected.' Does this indicate that the RAM has failed?

I notice when I open programs like Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, etc., it always give me an error from WerFault.exe saying

The instruction at xxxxxxx referenced memory at xxxxxxxxx. The memory could not be written.

and sometimes something about illegal instructions.

If it is a hardware problem, does this mean that replacing the RAM is my only option? Again, I would also like to know if RAM can fail (like hard drives) and if malware can cause RAM to fail also.

UPDATE: Running chkdsk is giving a lot of file record segment xxxxxx is unreadable. Any suggestions at this point?

Update 2 Running chkdsk seemed to work; thanks!

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Run memtest to find out. – cutrightjm Sep 15 '12 at 4:05
To elaborate on @ekaj's suggestion, memtest runs off a bootable disc completely distinct from the installed operating system (e.g. Windows). In fact, it doesn't even need a hard drive. If memtest shows an error, it would rule out any software problems. – Bob Sep 15 '12 at 7:06
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Malware can not cause RAM to fail. RAM fails due to faulty manufacturing, excessive heat, or power surges.

However, it does sound like you have malware or corrupted files on your machine. Start with the usual things like scanning for malware, run a scan disk on your drive, make sure your drivers/ms patches are up to date, and run a system file check to make sure everything is good.

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thanks, will try this – Ethan Lee Sep 15 '12 at 5:15
quick update: corrupted files are most likely the cause; running chkdsk lists many file record segments that are unreadable. will chkdsk fix this? – Ethan Lee Sep 15 '12 at 23:32

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