If your computer seems to stagger under the burden of your commands, responding slowly, freezing or timing you out; if working at your system feels like bicycling uphill, consider adding extra memory. Adding memory to your computer isn't so hard -- here's a step-by-step guide to figuring out if you need more RAM, learning what kind to buy and installing it yourself...
Give Me Just A Little More RAM
RAM (Random Access Memory) is the temporary working memory that the operating system, programs and documents use when your computer is running. (Don't confuse RAM with hard drive storage, which is where all your files are stashed.) For years, processors and software have been growing increasingly RAM-hungry. A decade ago, 32MB or 64MB of RAM was considered plenty for everyday use. Today, that's laughably inadequate and people are merrily putting in several GIGAbytes of RAM into their computers.
Let's suppose you are working on a word processor, you have a couple of websites in your browser, your e-mail is open and you have some music playing just to keep you company. Inside your computer, each of your programs is competing for RAM, and a memory manager is juggling which program gets priority at a given moment. If you have too little RAM, the memory manager can use a chunk of hard drive space as virtual memory, but swapping programs back and forth between RAM and your hard drive is much less efficient than keeping everything in RAM. If your system seems sluggish and you notice lots of hard drive activity, chances are good that adding RAM memory will rev your system up. Apple recommends 256MB for Mac OS X systems, and Microsoft recommends a minimum of 256 MB for Windows XP and 512 MB for Windows Vista.
But those are BARE minimums. If you're running with less than 1GB of RAM these days, you're probably noticing that your computer is sluggish and wondering why. Adding RAM can often give a significant boost to your overall system speed. I recommend 2GB as a practical minimum.
Where's My RAM?Start by finding out how much RAM you already have and what kind it is. To see how much RAM is installed on a Mac running OS X, choose About This Mac from the Apple Menu. You can do this on Windows by checking Control Panel / System. You can also try the Crucial Memory Advisor Tool or System Scanner to find out what kind of memory is recommended for your system. Depending on what type of RAM you need, you should be able to buy 2 GB of RAM for under $50 (USD). Buy only the types of RAM recommended by the manufacturer, and don't put more RAM in your processor than it can use. It's a waste of money. MemorySuppliers.com is an online store where I've purchased RAM for a great price.
Most motherboards (the large rectangular circuit board inside your system unit that everything plugs into) have plenty of room for a RAM upgrade. You can add additional RAM yourself with relative ease but before you start, be aware that if you have a warranty or a service agreement, you are likely to invalidate it by popping the hood and tinkering inside. Also, in certain Compaq and Hewlett Packard models, the RAM can't be accessed without removing the hard drive or other components, so you may want to have your new RAM installed at a service center.
But before you go to the trouble of buying and installing additional RAM, think about buying a whole new computer. Prices of desktop PCs have been steadily falling, so if your unit is outdated (more than 2-3 years old) it may be that for a little more than you will spend on more RAM you can upgrade your whole system. See Buying a Computer for more info.
Note for Windows Vista Users: Windows ReadyBoost is a new feature in the Vista operating system that gives you another option for adding system memory. ReadyBoost lets you use USB flash drives as additional RAM, without having to add memory "under the hood." But there's a trade-off... your computer can access a flash drive faster than data on a hard drive, but it's slower than "real" RAM.
Installing RAMFirst, make sure the area you are going to work in is dust free. Vacuum and wipe surfaces down if necessary. For safety, power down the system unit and disconnect all the peripherals. Remove the cover of the system unit and ground yourself by touching a metal surface on the inside of the computer to discharge any static electricity. Next, locate the vacant slots or clips for additional RAM sticks. Depending on the age of your computer, you'll be using either a Single in-line Memory Module (SIMM) or more likely various types of Dual in-line Memory Module (DIMM) such as 168-pin SDRAM, 184 pin DDR SDRAM or 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM, which is the latest turbo driven state of the art stuff.
Hold the RAM stick carefully by the edges, without touching any of the pins or circuits. Gently insert the new memory module into a vacant slot, perpendicular to the mother board and parallel to the existing RAM. If you are working with a SIMM, insert it into the vacant socket at an angle of about 30 degrees, maneuvering it into position until you feel or hear it click into the holders. With a DIMM, there are retaining clips on each side to secure it.
When you are confident the memory sticks are firmly seated, reattach the peripherals, power up and check to se if the CPU recogtnizes the additional memory. If it doesn't, power down and see if the RAM is properly installed, and reinsert if necessary.
Got comments or questions about adding RAM? Post your thoughts below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Mar 2007
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Adding Memory (Posted: 19 Mar 2007)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved