How to Upgrade Your Memory

Category: Memory

Adding more memory to your computer is usually the most cost-effective way to get a significant performance boost. But choosing the right RAM for your computer, and finding the right amount at the lowest price, is often a mysterious challenge. A memory configurator can help you get it right. Here's how...

Do It Yourself Memory Upgrade

Upgrading RAM memory gives your system a bigger workspace in which it can process data as fast as possible. Every bit of data and software that you are currently using is stored in RAM. The rest is stored on your hard drive or removable media, where it takes longer to read and write data. If there is not enough RAM to hold everything you need, your operating system constantly swaps part of its working load in and out of RAM to the hard drive. That slows down processing and wears out your disk drive faster. So more RAM is generally going to improve performance; but not always.

Older operating systems like Windows 98 and XP can only address up to 4 GB of RAM; so adding more than that will not increase performance. Even Vista and Windows 7 retain the 4GB limit in the 32-bit version of those operating systems. If you have a 64-bit Windows version you can use up to 128 GB (Vista) or 196 GB (Win7). See this article to find out if you have a 32 or 64 bit system.
How to upgrade your memory

Even if your motherboard and operating system can handle it, most home and small business users don't need more than 4 GB of memory. Gamers and video editing professionals, or people who work with very large images, databases or spreadsheets, may benefit from 8 GB or more of memory. If you have less than 2 GB of RAM memory, you'll almost certainly benefit by adding more. As of this writing, you can find 2 GB of RAM for about $20 USD.

Memory consists of millions of tiny transistors mounted on circuit chips, sometimes called RAM sticks. The chips plug into memory sockets on your computer's motherboard. In laptop computers, a small cover conveniently provides access to the memory sockets on the bottom of the laptop's case. Accessing the memory sockets in a desktop computer usually requires one to unscrew and remove the case cover.

Memory technology and the hardware form it takes have changed many times over the years. So there are many different kinds of memory chips and sockets on the market. Do you need PC-133, SDRAM, DDR3? Are they DIMMs, SIMMs, or RIMMs? It is vital to match the memory type and the clock speed of memory that you buy to that which is supported by your specific make and model of computer. The type of memory that your computer supports and the maximum amount of memory that it will hold are documented in your computer's user manual. But what if you've lost the manual?

Memory Configurators, Finders and Scanners

Memory sellers don't want that to stop you from buying. So many of them provide handy online "memory configurators" or "memory finders". These are online programs that walk you, step by step, through the process of specifying the kind of computer that you have. Some memory finders will even scan your system, determine what kind of RAM memory you currently have, and show you recommended upgrades. The configurator/finder then lists all the available memory chips that are compatible with your computer and their prices. Then you can select the right chips with the right amount of memory on each chip, add them to your shopping cart, pay, and wait for them to arrive.

Of course, you can use a memory configurator to find exactly what you need, and then make your purchase elsewhere. Here are a few useful memory finders and memory configurators you can try:

Installing Your New Memory

Once your new memory chips arrive, it's fairly easy to install them in your computer. After powering down and opening the system unit, you'll see that memory sockets have swiveling, locking tabs on each end to keep the memory chips (sometimes called RAM sticks) firmly seated. Just flip back those tabs; pull the old memory chip(s) straight out without bending or wiggling them; insert the new memory chips (which are notched so you cannot insert them the wrong way), and re-fasten the tabs. On a laptop, it's even easier. Just remove a panel on the bottom of the laptop, and the RAM sticks can be easily removed or inserted.

Cheap memory upgrades are available, but you have to be careful of unknown foreign sellers. Sometimes memory chips are labeled with higher capacities than they actually have. Quality control is uncertain with very low-priced memory chips. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it might be better to spend a bit more for a known quantity.

Cheap RAM is often available from computer liquidators who pull parts out of obsolete business computers and want to sell them fast. Memory chips have no moving parts so they rarely wear out; they just become obsolete as newer, faster RAM comes on the market. Check on eBay or search online for "used RAM" to find sellers. If you have an older computer, used RAM can save you some money.

Do you have something to say about upgrading your RAM memory? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "How to Upgrade Your Memory"

Posted by:

Craig Matthews
19 Jan 2012

I discovered the hard way that adding laptop memory is no longer (at least on Dell Inspiron) an easy task. Also the information on UTube; even those with demos; is often incorrect. The demo showed to remove enogh screws to separate the case when in fact you only need to remove 4 to remove the keyboard, however from outside you can not tell which 4. The keyboard has to be removeded to install new memory, not a job for a novice in fact I feared after I was started that even though I have installed memory in an older Dell Inspion and a couple of HP's that I might not get the cables that pulled out of their connectors reinstalled.

Posted by:

James Orpin
19 Jan 2012 has great prices

Posted by:

20 Jan 2012

Is it a bad idea to install memory, of the same type with memory that has a higher clock speed?
I'm asking because I have a chance to do that.

Posted by:

Lauerence Fryer
20 Jan 2012

Please invest in an anti-static wrist strap BEFORE opening your new RAM or removing the covers. If upgrading a laptop remove the battery first and if a desktop ensure it is not connected to the mains supply. Some memory scanners miss certain types of RAM (RIMMS) spring to mind so try a few of them. Also most customers have long ago clogged up their PC with junk so use a utility like ccleaner afterwards followed by a defrag to make the performance boost of more RAM. Lastly if you are upgrading dual channel (DDR2)RAM buy it in matched pairs from the same maker.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2012

Re: is it a bad idea to install memory with a higher clock speed than what's currently in the machine? Not necessarily. Usually the faster memory will run at the slower speed (and maybe you can replace the slower chips later).
Another caution on laptop memory (aside from the difficulty of replacing or adding to it) is that apparently not all laptop memory chips (I'm thinking DDR2 here) will work in all laptops that use that type of chip. And some laptop bios's limit the size of the chips. Online memory finders will help avoid that kind of problem.

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