If you are performing your first ever RAM upgrade, then watching a small piece suddenly “chip off” of a RAM module can be a very worrisome event. But is it as bad as it looks or is the RAM module still usable? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a worried reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader m-oliv wants to know what the little gray-capped things on RAM modules are:

I was upgrading the RAM on my laptop and, after removing a RAM module, one of the little gray-capped things (circled in red in the image below) came off. Can someone please tell me what these things are and, if it is a potential danger to my laptop, should I replace the RAM module that had the piece knocked loose?

What are the little gray-capped things on RAM modules?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors Ruscal and Mokubai have the answer for us. First up, Ruscal:

That is most likely a capacitor. While not dangerous in the traditional sense, it is necessary for the proper and consistent functionality of the RAM module. So yes, you should consider this module busted and replace it. A decoupling capacitor acts as a noise filter that will help clean signals on the module, but without it, signal noise could cause bits to flip improperly/unexpectedly.

While that will not fry your computer, it could cause “strangeness” in your programs or operating system, such as hiccups in operation, bad data saves, or even full system crashes. If the computer is not in an electrically noisy environment, you may not even notice a difference. That said, I would still replace it as soon as I could.

As a general rule, when bits are removed from (or fall off of) an electrical circuit, it fundamentally changes the properties of the circuit. That makes it so it will not operate as intended (if at all), which is a polite way of saying “broken”.

Followed by the answer from Mokubai:

Those are almost definitely capacitors. I know because we use them extensively in electronics. The design of the board and position of the capacitors makes me strongly believe that they are simply decoupling capacitors. We put them across the power line and ground on a microchip like this as a filter to get rid of any noise on the chip power supply.

Its having been knocked off will not damage your computer unless it tore a bit of track so that the pads are now shorted together. Make sure that the pads are clear. Other than that, the worst that would happen is the RAM module might “misbehave” at times, though it would be difficult to say how problems might manifest.

The capacitor is essentially an open circuit to DC voltages, but effectively connects high frequency noise to a ground. There are generally a few placed close together near any lines that need protection, and losing one probably will not actually affect the RAM module much, if at all, but it might.

In case you care, the little black 8 pin packages at the bottom are 4-way resistor packs, almost certainly terminating the data lines going to the chips.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Image Credit: Jaroslaw W (Flickr)

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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