Adding RAM is often the most cost-effective upgrade you can make to speed up a sluggish computer. PCs that had more than enough RAM when they were new often have trouble keeping up with the demands of the latest programs after a few years. New operating systems almost always call for more memory, too. When a computer runs short of RAM, it’s forced to swap the overflow data on and off of the hard drive, which can significantly slow performance.
Below, we’ll tell you how to diagnose a memory shortage and what to do about it. To see how a RAM upgrade is done, check out our companion video.
How do I know if I need more RAM?
Windows Task Manager can tell you if your machine needs more RAM.Check your PC’s RAM usage by opening Windows Task Manager. Press Ctrl-Alt-Del (Vista users will have to click Start Task Manager) and click the Performance tab. If the figure next to ‘Available’ (or ‘Free’ in Vista) under ‘Physical Memory’ hovers around zero and your PC seems sluggish, you need more RAM.
How much RAM do I need?
The average Windows XP user should be satisfied with 1GB of RAM. Our tests, which involve working with images and using Nero Express to burn CDs, ran one-third faster when we upgraded from 512MB of RAM to 1GB. Power users who simultaneously run lots of demanding applications, or anyone regularly working with digital video or other large graphics files, will want at least 2GB. If you’re planning to upgrade your PC to Windows Vista, you can still get away with 1GB, but for a more comfortable experience we recommend 2GB of RAM.
What kind of RAM works on my PC?
RAM comes in many flavors, including DDR, DDR2, and DDR3. Newer technologies offer faster performance, but most motherboards accept only one type of RAM. Check your PC’s manual to find out what type of RAM modules you need and how they have to be installed. RAM dealers such as Crucial and Kingston offer handy online tools for identifying the right RAM for many PCs and motherboards. Most PCs being upgraded today use dual-channel memory, which you must install in pairs for maximum performance, so adding two 512MB modules instead of one 1GB module may be better. Again, check your documentation.
Paying a few dollars more to buy RAM from a reliable manufacturer like Crucial or Kingston is usually worthwhile, as RAM quality isn’t the place to save a few bucks.
What do I need to add more RAM?
Tools: You’ll need an antistatic wrist strap for grounding yourself. Your local computer store should have one for less than $15.
Documentation: Some motherboards require module pairs to be placed in specific banks, or pairs of RAM sockets. Consult your documentation before starting the upgrade.
How do I install RAM?
1. Unplug your PC and open its case. Position it so that you can comfortably reach into the case’s interior. If you have a tower, you may find installing the RAM modules easier if you lay the case on its side. If you’re upgrading the RAM on a notebook, look for an access panel on the bottom of the machine secured by one or two screws, and carefully remove that panel.
2. Protect your PC’s delicate circuits from static electricity by properly grounding yourself. If you don’t have a grounding strap, at least touch a metal faucet, pipe, or even your computer’s case before touching the inside of your PC or any component.
3. Check your PC’s documentation to identify the proper RAM sockets to fill. Remove any obstructions, such as power cables or plastic panels used to channel airflow over the motherboard.
4. If you need to remove an existing module, gently push down on the clips on either side of the RAM socket. The module will pop up slightly and should be easy to pull out.
5. Take the new RAM modules out of their static-free envelope and place them on top of the envelope. Always hold a RAM module by pinching the edges of the module; avoid touching the chips or circuitry on the face.
6. Gently push the module into the socket until the latches close.To install a module, open the latches at each end of the RAM socket by gently pushing them down. Line up the notch at the bottom of the memory stick with the corresponding bump in the memory socket. Touching the top edge of the module, gently push the piece down into the socket; the latches at either end should rise and lock. Gently press each latch toward the edge of the RAM module to confirm that it is completely closed.
Notebook users should face toward the bottom of the memory socket, taking care to line up the notch in the memory module with the key in its socket. Carefully push the top of the module downward until the clips pop into place to secure it.
7. Reassemble your PC, power it up, and watch the screen during boot-up to confirm that the system recognizes the new RAM. If it doesn’t, try restarting the PC, entering the CMOS setup program, and checking whether the machine recognizes the new memory. (Do this by pressing the key indicated in the on-screen prompt, often F1 or Del.) If the new memory isn’t recognized, exit the setup program, turn your system off and unplug it, open the case, and reseat the RAM modules.