Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

Add more memory to your computer

Add more memory to your computerI used to have the dining room table all to myself. Taxes, Christmas cards, birthday gift-wrap, household bills—I would spread out until the job was done.
Nowadays, with one child drawing pictures, another doing homework, and a third fiddling with Lite-Brite, I'm relegated to a tiny corner—if that much. Often I put off tasks until everyone has gone to bed and even then I'm hard-pressed to meet the breakfast deadline. Of course, I could expand the table...
It's much the same with computers. If the hard drive is the filing cabinet in which you store your documents, then memory, or RAM (random access memory), is the table you work on. The easiest way to get more space is to add extra leaves.
There comes a time when there's just not enough RAM. Everything is working fine, then you add photo-editing software, surf to a graphically intense Web site, install a game, and suddenly your computer can't keep up.
If the drive light is flickering like crazy, then it's probably time to install more memory. But before you unplug the cables, lug the machine to the car, drive to the computer store, wait to have RAM installed, and pay a minimum of $25 for the service, consider installing RAM yourself.
Determine how much RAM you have and how much you needBefore you make any purchases, you need to know how much memory you have and what type of memory to buy.
Find out how much RAM your computer has:
Windows 7
Windows Vista
In Windows XP, go to the Start menu, click Settings, and then click Control Panel. Click System and then select the General tab. At the bottom of the page you should see the amount of RAM.
Most games will specify the minimum amount of RAM you need to install them and play. For example, Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban requires 256 MB. This amount includes RAM that the computer needs to do its own background work as well as to run the game.
The amount of RAM you need depends on the operating system you are using. For systems running Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP, you will need the minimum recommended amount, but more is often better, depending on your needs. If you just use your PC for surfing the Internet and writing letters, you need 512 MB to 1 GB. For more RAM-intensive programs, such as games or photo editing, or if you like to use a lot of applications at the same time, such as desktop publishing and video rendering, more than 1 GB is recommended. Each program should come with system requirements that show both the minimum RAM needed to run the program, and the amount of RAM needed for its best performance.
RAM modules can be purchased in a variety of sizes.
Figure out what type of RAM you requireTo determine the maximum amount of RAM your computer can handle as well as the speed, consult your PC's owner's manual, which should show you the number of slots (the place where you insert the RAM), how much each can take, and the maximum your system can use.
Contact the manufacturer or use an online memory advisor, such as the one from Crucial Technology or Kingston Technology, that will tell you which products work with your system.
To find out what kind of module you will need, you can also open up your computer.

  • First, turn off the computer, but leave it plugged in, because then it's automatically grounded, explains Ritchie. (Computers that should not remain plugged in will be clearly marked.)
  • Place the computer on a clean workspace and remove the cover carefully (you may need to use a screwdriver).
  • Touch the case to ground yourself. "If you've got a static charge then you won't once you've touched the case," says Ritchie. (Although some manuals recommend anti-static wrist straps, Ritchie says that this is not necessary for home users.)
  • Locate the RAM modules, which are green with black tubes, on the motherboard.
  • Now determine the type of module you have. "It's all in the look of the slot," explains Ritchie.
    • RDRAM is paired up (you have to put in two at a time) and has metal casing on one side;
    • DDR SDRAM is the most popular and looks like regular RAM, but has one notch;
    • SDRAM (which is being phased out) has two notches.
  • Also note your RAM speed, which is usually written on the side of the existing chip (either 266 or 333).
  • If you don't have a free slot, remove one of the memory cards to check the number of notches on it. You'll be replacing the smaller of the two RAM modules.
Install your new RAM
  • Turn off the computer and touch the metal casing.
  • Locate the RAM modules. Find the empty one you plan to replace, or remove the RAM module you will replace.
  • Line up the notches of the new RAM module and apply firm pressure to attach.
  • Once you're sure the RAM module is snugly in place, close the latch at either end. If you have clips, they should snap back in place.
  • Reconnect all the cables, but leave the casing open until you're sure everything is working right.
  • Turn your computer back on. If the machine starts to beep, the memory is either incompatible or not in correctly, says Ritchie. If you've installed everything correctly, the system will detect the new RAM.
  • Check the system properties to see how much RAM you now have. If you replaced a 512-MB with a 1-GB module, then you should have 1 GB (1024 MB) minus 512 —or 512 MB more RAM than you did previously. If you added the RAM but didn't remove any, then you'd have 1 GB more RAM for a total of 1.5 GB.
  • Try one of your programs that wasn't working up to speed. If it still isn't working, unplug everything again and get back into the computer to check that the RAM modules are firmly secured.
Quick facts about RAMRAM = random access memory. According to Microsoft Encarta, it is the primary working memory in a computer used for the temporary storage of programs and data and in which the data can be accessed directly and modified.
RAM is measured in bytes. 1 gigabyte (GB) = 1024 megabytes (MB) = 1,048,576 kilobytes (KB)
Shopping checklistAmount of memory/RAM you have: __ MB
Amount of memory/RAM you require: __ MB
Amount of memory/RAM on each module: __ and __
Maximum amount of RAM your computer can handle: __ MB
Amount of memory/RAM you will buy: __ MB
RAM speed for your computer: __
SDRAM or DDR SDRAM

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