RAM: Add more memory to your computer

Your computer is a little like your physical work area. The hard drive is the filing cabinet where you store your documents, and memory—or RAM (random access memory)—is the desk where you work. And when your RAM—like a full desktop—isn’t big enough to hold all your work easily, your work slows down and becomes more difficult. A good solution is to expand the space—or install more RAM.

Close up image of computer circuit board

If it suddenly seems that your computer can’t keep up and the drive light is flickering like crazy, it’s probably time to install RAM. But before you unplug the cables, lug the machine to the car, drive to the computer store, wait to have RAM installed, and pay for the service, read how to install RAM yourself.
Note: Problems with speed can also be caused by viruses, spyware, or other malicious software. Make sure that your virus checker is up to date. Or download Microsoft Security Essentials for free.

Determine how much RAM you have and how much you need

Before you buy anything, you need to know how much memory you have and what type of memory to buy.
Find out how much RAM your computer has
You can find out how much RAM is installed in your computer in two ways. You can open the System Information dialog box to see the installed physical memory, or you can go to Control Panel.
To open System Information, click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, click System Tools, and then click System Information. In the left pane, select System Summary. The Installed Physical Memory (RAM) entry in the list tells you how much RAM your computer has.
System information dialog box with Installed Physical Memory (RAM) circled
The Installed Physical Memory (RAM) entry in the System Information list tells you how much RAM your computer has.
Go to Control Panel in your version of the Windows operating system to find out how much RAM your computer has:


Windows XP

  • 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 will see the amount of RAM.
Find out how much RAM you need
Most games specify the minimum amount of RAM you need to install and play. For example, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban requires 256 megabytes (MB). This amount includes RAM that the computer needs to do its own background work in addition to running 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 should have the minimum recommended amount, but more can be better, depending on your needs. If you just use your PC for surfing the Internet and writing letters, you may need only the minimum amount of RAM required to run the version of Windows you have installed on your computer. But for the best performance—especially if you keep several programs open at the same time while you’re working—consider increasing the RAM on your computer to at least 2 gigabytes (GB).
See the minimum amount of RAM required for your version of Windows:
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, you may need additional RAM. Individual programs 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.
You can buy RAM modules in a variety of sizes, typically 1-GB, 2-GB, and 4-GB modules.

Figure out what type of RAM you need

To determine the maximum amount of RAM your computer can handle along with the speed, consult your PC owner’s manual, which should show you the number of slots (the place where you insert the RAM), how much RAM each can take, and the maximum RAM your system can use.
Contact the manufacturer or use an online memory advisor, such as those from Crucial Technology or Kingston Technology. These memory advisors use information that you enter about your computer model and do a memory check for your specific PC that tells you which products work with your system.
To find out what kind of module you need, you can also open up your computer.
  1. First, turn off the computer, but leave it plugged in so that it’s automatically grounded. (Computers that should not remain plugged in will be clearly marked.)
  2. Place the computer on a clean workspace and remove the cover carefully (you may need to use a screwdriver).
  3. Touch the case to ground yourself. When you touch the case, it discharges static electricity that could otherwise damage your computer. (Note that some manuals recommend anti-static wrist straps, but this is not necessary for home users.)
  4. Locate the RAM modules, which are green with black tubes, on the motherboard.
  5. Now determine the type of module you have. You can identify the type by its appearance.
    • 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.
  6. Also note your RAM speed, which is usually written on the side of the existing chip (either 266 or 333).
  7. If you don’t have a free slot, remove one of the memory cards to check the number of notches on it. You will replace the smaller of the two RAM modules.

Install your new RAM

  1. Turn off the computer, and touch the metal casing.
    Note: If you have a computer that should not remain plugged in while you work on it, turn off the computer and unplug the power cord. Then, press the button that turns on the power to your computer. This action helps you to be sure that there is no residual power to the memory slots or the computer’s motherboard. The board also may have an LED light that is lit, which is another indication that there is residual power.
  2. Open the compartment where your RAM is installed. You may have to remove screws to open the compartment. Note that this example is for a laptop computer. If you have a desktop computer, refer to the user manual to locate the RAM. You will have to remove the computer’s cover.
    Photograph of a RAM compartment
    You may need to use a screwdriver to open the compartment where RAM modules are installed.
  3. Locate the RAM modules (RAM cards). Find the empty slot where you plan to add a module, or remove the RAM module you are replacing.
    A RAM module ready to install in an open slot
    This open slot is ready for a 1-GB RAM module.
  4. Line up the notches of the new RAM module, and apply firm pressure to attach.
  5. After 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.
    A newly installed RAM module
    The RAM module has been installed and is snugly in place.
  6. Reconnect all the cables, but leave the casing open until you’re sure everything is working right.
  7. Turn your computer back on. If the machine starts to beep, the memory is either incompatible or not correctly in its slot. If you’ve installed everything correctly, the system will detect the new RAM.
  8. Check your system information to see how much RAM you now have. If you replaced a 512-MB module with a 1-GB one, you should have 1 GB (1,024 MB) minus 512 —or 512 MB more RAM than you did previously. If you added the RAM but didn’t remove any, you should have 1 GB more RAM, for a total of 1.5 GB.
  9. Try one of your programs that wasn’t working well. 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 RAM

RAM = random access memory. RAM 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) = 1,024 megabytes (MB) = 1,048,576 kilobytes (KB)

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