Simple DRAM Tester Built With Spare Parts

A circuit board with a memory chip in a socket, and many memory chips in foam

Some of the most popular vintage computers are now more than forty years old, and their memory just ain’t how it used to be. Identifying bad memory chips can quickly become a chore, so [Jan Beta] spent some time putting together a cheap DRAM tester out of spare parts.

This little tester can be used with 4164 and 41256 DRAM memory chips. 4164 DRAM was used in several popular home computers throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including the Apple ][ series, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and many more. Likewise, the 41256 was used in the Commodore Amiga. These computers are incredibly popular in the vintage computing community, and its not uncommon to find bad memory in any of them.

With an Arduino at its core, this DRAM tester uses the most basic of electronic components, and any modest tinkerer should have pretty much everything in stock. The original project can be found here, including the Arduino code. Just pop the suspect chip into the ZIF socket, hit the reset switch, and wait for the LED – green is good, and red means it’s toast.

It’s a great sanity check for when you’re neck deep in suspect DRAM. A failed test is a sure sign that the chip is bad, however the tester does occasionally report a false pass. Not every issue can be identified with such a simple tester, however it’s great at weeding out the chips that are definitely dead.

If you’re not short on cash, then the Chip Tester Pro may be more to your liking, however it’s hard to beat the simplicity and thriftiness of building your own simple tester from spare parts. If you’re a little more adventurous, this in-circuit debugger could come in handy.

12 thoughts on “Simple DRAM Tester Built With Spare Parts

  1. I’ve always wondered why there isn’t a low cost DRAM tester. I made one with Arduino years ago using this guide. Recently I got TL866 II and it does test SRAM but it doesn’t test DRAM

  2. It would be a great improvement if someone adapted the software to check 4116 DRAM chips too. I know -5V and 12V lines are required, but they could be easily created by a charge pump, one capacitor and a cheap DC step up.

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