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Kernel panics and random crashing. RAM swap helps but does not fix.

I've started experiencing random crashes (maybe they're kernel panics. I've gotten the "your mac was restarted because..." screen once) recently that may have to do with the memory or the logic board. I could use some help finding the root of the problem.

Here are the symptoms I've been experiencing:

  • Computer randomly freezes (mouse and keyboard input stops working), then the screen goes black, computer restarts.
  • Same symptoms as above, but while the screen is frozen I hear 3 system beeps before screen goes black. System doesn't restart. When I press the power button, I get the kernel panic beeps until I power down (by holding the power button). After waiting maybe an hour, the computer boots normally.
  • I tried doing a system restore from a TimeMachine backup. After restarting with command-R, I was unable to unlock my hard drive. I couldn't enter any text into the password field (I think the keyboard was still responsive. The caps lock light would turn on/off when pressing the button). I had the same issue when trying to do a fresh OSX reinstall. I didn't get either to work.

What I've tried so far:

  • I've tried to enter the Apple Hardware Test dialog by restarting and holding "D". This brings up a spinning globe icon for a few seconds, then gives me a cryptic error code: apple.com/support -3403D. Perhaps this suggests a GPU error, or something related to this: Logic Board Failure due to Nvidia Graphics processor GT330M ?
  • I tried swapping from my 2x4GB Crucial RAM setup to the original Apple 2x2GB setup. Still crashes.
  • After wondering if one of my RAM (4GB Crucial) sticks or slots was bad I tried isolating which it may be by testing each stick/slot individually: Stick A in lower slot (upper slot empty). Stick A in upper slot (lower slot empty) . Stick B in lower slot (upper slot empty). Stick B in upper slot (lower slot empty). All 1-stick configurations seem to work better than having 2 sticks installed. With 1 stick, I can get an hour or more of normal computer use before I get a crash . With 2 sticks, it typically crashes within 10 minutes of restart. It seems that this might suggest that neither my RAM nor the slots are bad. Instead maybe it's a logic board issue?
  • I took the computer to the Genius Bar where they ran a Video System Test (which it passed), as well as a hard drive test (pass again). They thought it was probably a RAM issue.

Does anybody have any thoughts on this? Maybe a logic board replacement will fix the issue?

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I think you have 2 potential issues here;

1. Kernel panicking - when it is freezing and rebooting to the "your Mac restarted because of a problem" screen, this will most likely be caused by C9560 on the logic board (common on 15" 2010 models, causes random restarts, usually when using a program like Google Chrome). This wouldn't cause the beeping issue.

2. Beeping issue - try different RAM just in case, but it sounds like a bad RAM slot. This will usually cause the MacBook to freeze and beep if it is moved. Not much you can do here other than use a working slot, but it doesn't sound like there is a working slot. Nothing on the logic board would cause this other than a possible CPU issue, which is more miserable than a RAM slot issue.

Try new RAM, and also repositioning the RAM in the slots (wiggle them out 1mm, sometimes this helps). If this doesn't, there is not much you can do other than replace the logic board.

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I would add make sure you have the correct RAM! Don't use the ultra fast over clockers RAM modules. Use what the system was designed to use.

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@danj definitely. Faster RAM speeds can cause strange issues, for example, some 1600MHz RAM I use for my work 13" 2012 A1278 will cause random flashes of white horizontal lines occasionally at the top of the screen, if not rebooted for a while.

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@reecee quick question referring to problem 1: My computer tends to freeze, then reboot to the login screen (as opposed to the "your Mac restarted because of a problem" screen). Does that perhaps indicate that I'm NOT experiencing a kernel panic?

In any case, It really does seem more and more like a RAM module/slot issue. I'll try swapping out the RAM and let everyone know.

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@yoplait in that case, you are not experiencing a kernel panic. Try new, lower speed RAM and hopefully this will solve your issue

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It seems that something is going wrong with the ram modules... Before start to fix it check that the ram module speed and the ram module model is compatible with your mac . if you are on el capitan check for updates , there is one for kernel panic on the apple page. When you install ram modules you never touch the gold pins that is for contact on motherboard.You can clean this contacts with a clean rubber eraser and and then remove all the rubers with a good brush and hair dryer with cold air not hot . Also you can clean the motherboard pins with this hair dryer in combination with a small good quality brush to ensure that all dust will be cleaned. You shult be extra carefull when do the work to not pull of any logic board part and not scrunch out any part of the logic bord. You can cover your small blush with speed fix to ensure that the metal part will never touch any other board part. The worst case scenario is that the macbook have problem with the chipset , But this is more rare and I believe it worth try to clean the whole logic board and cooling parts and also change the thermal compound to new one. This must disassemble all the laptop interiors. If you don't know how to do it , you can check on the manuals page how to remove logic board and do it your self , or get this to a professional or someone that really know how to clean it up and change the thermal compound.

Lastly if you are shure 100% that the chipset is bad , then that may need to someone change you the chipset or replace the whole board using I fixit manuals.

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Considering the tests didn't underline any Gpu problems and the symptoms you described are similar to those of a "bad" Ram, since you already tried a Ram set replacement there's not much else you can try on your own. It's probably a faulty component on the logic board that would need a good technician care.

A logic board replacement would most probably resolve your problem, but it's a pretty expensive option.

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