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Guide to upgrading your computer's memory (RAM)

We've seen many posts here in the Fatwallet Computer Forum asking for help in upgrading computer RAM. We keep repeating very similar answers each time, so I figured it was time for a "guide", to reduce some of the effort we are expending, and hopefully to provide help in a quicker, more through manner.

This is a "quickie guide" to upgrading the RAM on your desktop or laptop system. Rather than recreating the wheel, I'll accomplish much of this by linking to third-party guides already available on other websites. If at some point you notice a dead or "broken link", please notify me by private message (rather than littering this thread with "you got a broken link!" messages) and I'll find another suitable link that illustrates essentially what the previous link did.

The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the process of deciding that extra RAM would indeed benefit you and your computer, finding the right kind of RAM for your specific system, purchasing the RAM, properly installing it, and finally checking to make sure your system has properly recognized your new RAM upgrade.

RAM is often considered the "best bang for the buck" when it comes to computer upgrades. Increasing system RAM will often give you a dramatic improvement in all-around computer performance, for a minimal amount of money. In addition, upgrading RAM often takes mere moments to do, and, especially in desktop systems, is one of the physically easiest upgrades to perform. No special tools are required (in most cases).

Before we get started, it wouldn't hurt to read these, so you'll have a better understanding of what RAM is, and what it does.

Wikipedia - Random Access Memory - lots of good information here, on RAM technology, form factors, manufacturers, etc.

HowStuffWorks.com - How RAM Works

DDR2 specific links:

DDR2 FAQ - by Corsairmemory.com - *PDF FILE* DDR2 is the newest memory technology at the time this guide is written. This RAM runs at a lower voltage than DDR RAM, and supports Dual Channel mode, which doubles memory bandwidth when matching pairs of memory are used. If you own a system that supports DDR2 RAM, you will get the very best performance only when using TWO matching sticks of RAM. Please remember this when shopping for and buying RAM for your system.

Everything you need to know about DDR Dual Channel - more info on DDR2 RAM.

STEP ONE: Find out if a RAM upgrade is even possible.

Your system may already have the maximum amount of RAM that it can support. Or, due to your system's existing configuration, an upgrade may not be economically feasible.

My advice is to start out by going to the Crucial.com website Crucial calls itself "The Memory Experts", for good reason, in my opinion. They are also a FatWallet CashBack partner, offering a 5% CashBack rebate at the time this guide was written. If you purchase from Crucial, you'll be getting a quality product, and there are compatibility guarantees that you'll be getting the correct RAM for YOUR system. You'll also be supporting Fatwallet <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif" border=0>

Anyway, at the Crucial.com website, you'll find a tool that is very useful, their System Scanner Tool. This ActiveX component will throughly scan your system, identifying exactly how much RAM is *already* installed in your system, *the maximum amount* of RAM that your system will support, and *the correct kind* of memory that you'll need to purchase to upgrade your system. It will also show the current pricing for the compatible memory offerings.

STEP TWO: Buy the RAM!

Now that the Crucial.com system scanner has given you all the information you need to know about what kind of RAM, and how much RAM to buy, it's time to buy it.

You do NOT have to purchase the RAM through Crucial.com You COULD write down the specifications for the memory that Crucial recommends, and go to a local bricks and mortar store to purchase the RAM. This has the benefit that you won't have to wait 3 days to a week for your RAM to be shipped to you. It will also make it easier, should the memory prove to be defective, or incompatible, or maybe you're just disappointed with the performance of the RAM for the amount of money you spent to purchase it, and you need to return it.

I am also including a few links to other well-known, online memory merchants. Please understand that I am not offering specific suggestions that you purchase from any particular merchant, I'm just trying to help you know your options.

Newegg.com website - Memory selection

Kingston website - they also have a memory configuration tool

Also be sure to check out the regulars, like Amazon.com, Buy.com, CircuitCity.com, CompUSA.com, OfficeMax.com, and OfficeDepot.com, and outpost.com - with sales and rebates, you can often find brand-name RAM at extremely affordable prices.

One other opinion I'd like to state is: You will often spend an additional $25-$50 purchasing a higher quality, brand name memory. This extra money is a bargain compared to the extra aggravation and frustration you may feel when you buy cheap, generic memory, and you are plagued with random lockups, reboots, error messages, and even possible data corruption. Please evaluate warranty, RMA, restocking fees, and other issues/policies when choosing which brand and vendor to use.

Generally, for the best chance of success, it's best to buy memory that matches the speed of any memory already in the system, HOWEVER, in many cases, you can get away with buying FASTER memory, so long as all other specifications match the requirements. For example, your original memory may be what's known as "PC2100" - you can probably buy "PC2700", and have that work just fine, so long as the memory is still in the right form factor (the physical size of the memory board, with the same number of "pins", etc., as the existing memory. Sometimes faster memory also turns out to be less expensive memory (as older, slower memory gets to be more scarce, it also tends to get more expensive than newer/more plentiful memory made by many competitors at once).

Remember that DESKTOP memory and LAPTOP memory are TWO DIFFERENT SIZES, and they are NOT interchangeable. Make sure you are buying the right RAM for the right system!

Finally, depending on how old your system is, what operating system you're running now, and whether or not you plan to upgrade that OS to Windows Vista, it may just NOT be *economically feasible* to upgrade the system RAM. For example, if it's going to cost you $150 dollars to upgrade the RAM, and then it's going to cost you $100 to purchase Windows Vista, AND then you decide you'll also need a new hard drive after that OS upgrade - well, at that point you'd probably be MUCH better off NOT upgrading your current system, and set aside your money to purchase a new budget system after Vista comes out. Your NEW system is likely to come with a faster processor, more memory, a bigger and faster hard drive, and have a warranty. It may even come with a new flat screen monitor - everything together would be only nominally more expensive than doing all these other upgrades (RAM, OS, hard drive) yourself, and you'd still be stuck with an old, obsolete system, that parts may start failing on at any time!

STEP THREE: Install the RAM!

Almost every "stick" of RAM that I've ever purchased has come with printed instructions for physically installing the RAM into the system. You will, however, need to find specific instructions for opening your particular computer case, or laptop case (some are very easy, some are not so easy. You actually MAY spend more time trying to open your case than you will actually installing the RAM into the slots) If the RAM came with instructions, please follow THEM.

An important thing to remember is that RAM is STATIC sensitive, and can be damaged or destroyed by a static discharge that you may not even feel or notice. So you should try to leave the RAM in its package until the last possible moment. You should also remain seated, and avoid things that could build up a static charge on you or your clothing. You should touch a bare metal portion of the chassis (or the outside of the power supply is a good place) immediately before touching the new RAM.

Here are instructions for installing RAM in a DESKTOP system - courtesy of Crucial.com

Here are instructions for installing RAM in your LAPTOP system - courtesy of Crucial.com

Here is an OLDER ARTICLE from PC World- it may be helpful when upgrading older systems - prior to 2000, for example.

STEP FOUR: - Finishing up...

If everything went correctly, close up the computer, plug everything back in, if you unplugged anything, and boot the computer.

On boot, you MAY note an error, or a message, that the amount of installed RAM has changed. This is completely normal. Many computers will need no further intervention, and continue booting, while some may require you to press a key (like F1, or F2 for instance) to acknowledge the change, before it will continue.

With any luck, your computer will continue to boot, hopefully a little faster than before <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif" border=0> After you've gotten into Windows (yes, I assume EVERYBODY uses Windows), it would be a good idea to go back to the Crucial.com website, and rerun the system scanner, to make sure that Windows has properly recognized your new upgrade. There are other programs that you can download and run, that will achieve the same purpose. One is Belarc Advisor. Another is CPU-Z. These programs will tell you how much RAM is in the system, along with other helpful information, including processor speed, hard drive brand and capacity, etc.

Please note that many systems, with built-in, on-board video subsystem will use a portion of the system's RAM for video rendering. This is commonly called "shared RAM". It is normal for Windows to mis-report the amount of RAM installed on these systems, because the system's BIOS sets aside this shared RAM before Windows even begins to load. Therefore, Windows may report, for example, that a system has only 384MB of RAM, when in fact it may really have 512MB of RAM installed on the board. That's why it's best to believe what the above programs indicate, rather than depending on Windows to report the proper amount of installed RAM.

Finally, there are also memory diagnostics programs, like Memtest86 that will run extensive tests on your new RAM, to make sure there are no errors or problems with the memory. These tests take many hours to run, and are likely not even necessary, if the system seems to be running fine after the RAM upgrade. I've included it for persons having problems with their new RAM, or for persons merely curious about RAM testing.

Good luck - I hope this helps somebody!


P.S. If you have specific questions or problems while upgrading YOUR specific computer, please start a new thread in the computer forum, rather than "polluting" this guide with your questions. This will help to keep the thread "tidy". Thank you!

Also, if anyone catches an error, or you think I need to include other info, please let me know! Thanks!

EDIT: Added two DDR2 Dual Channel links on July 1, 2006

Member Summary

Nice. Thanks!

I never realized there would be so much to write to tell someone how to do this. I do it all the time without even thinking about it.

Great step by step instructions!

For the fun of it, I downloaded the scan tool, ran it, and nothing happened. Do you have to turn off your firewall to make it work??????

Thanks for the review!

As far as the system scanner, it just ran fine on my end. Perhaps you are using an alternative browser, or your IE security settings are too restrictive for it to run? I've never run into a problem using it with plain-jane IE.

Added two DDR2 specific links on July 1, 2006, since I didn't post any DDR2 info in the first edition...

maddiebeagle said: [Q]Anyway, at the Crucial.com website, you'll find a tool that is very useful, their System Scanner Tool. This ActiveX component will throughly scan your system, identifying exactly how much RAM is *already* installed in your system, *the maximum amount* of RAM that your system will support, and *the correct kind* of memory that you'll need to purchase to upgrade your system. It will also show the current pricing for the compatible memory offerings.

Nice tool. I finally got it to work. I'll have to bookmark this link!

One stop shopping:


Bump, to keep from being archived. Sorry for the interuption! <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif" border=0>

Be sure to note which was your chips face before taking them out.

question, i recently updated the ram on a Dell inspiron 8100 -- (going from 256mb to 512mb) now the windows clock is out of wack (widly inacurate). I have gone into the bios to try and reset it there (no luck) -- any other suggestions, I am not thinking of. Thank you in advance for your help.

I am on the east coast (NY if that helps)

You're positive that the messed up clock came immediately after and as a direct result of upgrading your RAM - and you're not able to fix the problem by resetting the time in the BIOS? Never heard of that one before!

What happens if you take that new stick of RAM out - can you then fix the time, and have it "stick"?

It's probably coincidence, IMO, but maybe your CMOS/BIOS battery is dying. Or the RAM you got is NOT compatible. There are freeware programs that you can install, and they will sync the time on your PC to a time server each time you boot into windows (and have a net connection.

Do me a favor, and start a new thread about this problem...don't want to "pollute" the guide with individual problems/replies. Thank you!


Thanks for this guide.

Thanks Maddie -- problem fixed.

Sunisia said: [Q]Thanks Maddie -- problem fixed.

That's great - what did you do to fix it?

Nice work! Should be in the 'Help Guide' at the top. <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif" border=0>

As you suggested, I went back in and reloaded the RAM and immediately adjusted the time in the BIOS (didn't do that the first time around). I had let the system boot itself normally. So, now the time is back on track. On an aside, I am looking to purchase a MAC, for run of the mill stuff (heading to grad school) since you were so helpful -- I want to know the advantages/disadvantages of getting a I-mac, MacBook, MacBook Pro. Don't want a desktop. Been a Laptop PC user all my life and want to make the switch. Thanks, again.

Never used a Mac in my life <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-blush.gif" border=0>

Your question is best asked in the general computer forum, or maybe even in off topic where more people will see and respond. Heck, your question has probably been asked and answered before, see if you can search for a recent discussion <img src="i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif" border=0>


Is the memory scanner from Crucial 100% correct?
I used it and it says my system can support up to 2GB of memory while the user manual says up to 1GB of memory.

It is accurate. However, I was able to run a 1GB stick on a PC when the Crucial website said 512MB was the maximum supported.

I just installed another 512 dimm but Crucial says I still only have 512mb! According to windows and three other programs I have 1GB.

What gives?

I'd see what the BIOs reports at boot time, if that shows the new RAM, and Windows reports the new RAM, everything is fine. Crucial uses an ActiveX component to scan your system, and it's probably not as accurate as the other two/three things you use.

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