Some material is very old and may be incorrect today
© October 2007 Anthony Lawrence
Nowadays we need more and more RAM. If you have Windows boxes, you know that 512MB is becoming bare minimum, the same is true for Macs and although Linux can get by with less, more is better.. Here's a page that gives recommendations for how much RAM you might need.
Installing RAM is not hard - if you can follow basic instructions, you can do this. It's also not very expensive. Prices do vary from time to time, but it's unlikely to cost you very much at all. This is an easy, inexpensive upgrade that can really help your computer.
Tools needed for memory upgrade
Push button open
Ready for memory
Let's start by clearing a work space and assembling the tools you'll need for the job. These consist of the items shown at right:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Propane torch
- Drill bit assortment
- Electric drill
- Stiff wire brush
- Magnifying glass
- Tape measure
- Household oil
- Rubber mallet
- Two pound sledge
Got all that? OK, put everything away but the screwdriver. That's all you'll really need for the job, and sometimes you don't even need that. This Dell machine on the right opens up by pushing on that green button - no tools needed at all!
Oh, but wait: you need the new memory, right? Well, yes, but actually you do need to open the machine before you buy that. Why? Because memory "sticks" come in different sizes. A machine that has 512MB of RAM might have one 512MB stick installed, or two 256MB sticks or even (older computers) four 128MB sticks. Your machine may have room for only one or two sticks, too, so (for example) if it were a 512MB machine with only one memory slot, buying another 512MB stick won't help you: you'd need a 1GB (or larger) stick and you'd replace your old stick with that. So the very first thing you need to do is open your computer up and take a peek inside.
In the picture labeled "Ready for Memory", I actually found two sticks installed and removed one to show you what an empty slot looks like. The stick I removed is lying on top of the green plastic thing..
Before you touch anything inside, we've got to talk about static and a few other things. First, I hope it's obvious that you need to power your computer off before you open it up.. and you should unplug anything and everything that's plugged into it. Does that worry you because you won't know where to plug things back in when you are down? Well, most things are either color coded or just won't fit anywhere but where they need to go, but if you aren't comfortable, take a photo with your digital camera, or draw a picture, or tape colored paper onto the computer and the things you disconnected.
With a laptop computer, you may need to remove the battery before you do anything else. A laptop can also be very hot inside, so you may want to wait a few minutes before you touch it at all.
If you've never done this before, it's a good idea to find your manual that came with the computer. If you don't have that, often you can find information on-line: find your make and model, and search Google for that plus "manuals". You might even just search for your computer plus "adding memory" - for example, here are on-line instructions for my Apple MacBook Pro.
More traditional computer cases look like those shown at Removing case covers but even then you may not need a screwdriver: often the screws you need to take out have large knurled knobs you can turn with your fingers.
The electric drill and two pound sledge can be used if necesssary. Don't forget to wear the goggles.
Once inside, you should be able to see your existing memory. In a laptop, the cover you opened may have nothing but the memory under it, but on a desktop computer, you have to find it. It's not hard: it's always going to look very similar to the memory shown here. Here's two other pages that show memory:
Don't touch anything inside yet: we still haven't talked about static electricity.
A nice static shock can kill your whole computer. That's not likely, but it can happen. Even a teeny shock can weaken electronic electronic chips so they won't last as long as they would otherwise. It would be nice if you bought an anti-static wrist strap when you buy your new memory, but if you don't do that, at least be sure you aren't shuffling around on carpet and that you touch something metal to discharge yourself before touching anything in the computer.
Crucial (a large memory reseller) recommends this:
Static electricity can damage your module and other computer parts. You need to ground yourself to avoid "shocking" your computer. If you have wrist straps designed for this purpose, you should wear them. If you don't have wrist straps, here is the easiest way to ground yourself:
- Turn off the computer, monitor, and all accessories (printer, speakers, etc.)
- Leave the computer power cord plugged in. (It's OK to unplug your accessories if you like.)
- Briefly touch an unpainted metal part of your computer case.
- Plant your feet and don't walk around. If you do need to walk around, ground yourself again before touching any of the internal parts of your computer.
OK, so now you can see your memory, and you know how many slots you have open. Now you need to visit Crucial.com to find out what kind of memory you need. You can buy your memory upgrade there if you want, but even if you are plannning to run down to Staples today, you want this because it will help make sure you are getting the right memory for your computer. For example, on some computers memory has to be installed in matched pairs always - Crucial will tell you if that's what you need. Staples should know that too, but who knows? Trust, but confirm, right?
Oh, look: they even have a tool that looks inside your computer and finds out what you have - maybe you didn't need to open it after all? Well, maybe, but again: trust and confirm.
There are many different styles of memory: see Memory Module Identification for examples of the most common types.
Seating it in
We'll wait here while you go get your memory..
Wow, that was fast! You are back already.. did you remember the wrist strap?
OK, we're ready to put it in. In general, all modern memory slots have some ejector clips or tabs that you open to get the memory out. Those are the white things near my finger and thumb in the picture labeled "Seating it in". You'll open those tabs to remove any memory you might need to take out, and if you are just putting memory into an open slot, you'll push them open to make ready.
If you aren't strong enough to do that, use the propane torch to burn these tabs away. I don't know how you'll replace them.
You should look at your memory and look at the slot it goes into - there is almost always an offset hole that lines up only in one direction. See the picture labeled "Detail" for an example. See the little slot down in the gold colored teeth? That's going to line up only one way in the memory slot you are going to put this into.
Can't see it? Go get that magnifying glass.
Well, maybe.. that slot is almost always offset.. 72 pin SIMMS (which you are not likely to have) and a few other odd ones have the slot square in the middle - no help there!
If you need still need help figuring out which direction to orient the stick, use the tape measure to determine how far the orientation guide is from one end, then measure the receiving slot to see where the corresponding ridge is. You'll figure it out..
Memory goes in one of two ways: the tilt method or straight down. Which way just depends on the design of your computer. If your computer takes SIMMS, it uses the "tilt" method (see Installing SIMMs), otherwise it pushes straight down. Either way, as it seats the clips should rise up and lock the memory in place. If you look at the right hand side of "Seating it in" you see the clip in an open position, the "All Done" picture shows the clips in their final positions, locked into the holes on the sides of the memory sticks..
Seating the memory is very important! You may or may not hear the tabs click into place, but you need to look and make sure they are. If you are sloppy about this, most of the time your computer either just won't boot at all, or won't see the memory you added, but it is possible to damage your motherboard from this, and that kills your computer. Don't panic - that's very unlikely, but even so, make sure the memory is seated. If there was memory you didn't touch, look and feel that your new memory is at the same relative height and that it is level with reference to what's already there.
You really shouldn't use the rubber hammer to seat memory. Nor should you use household oil to help it slide in more easily. Rarely, the gold contacts on chips oxidize (they wouldn't if they really were pure gold, of course). We used to recommend polishing them up with a rubber eraser, but that stiff wire brush is so much more effective, isn't it?
You are all done.. put the covers back on, plug everything back in and fire it up. Very old computers will stop and complain when they find new memory - they make you go into the "BIOS" to confirm what you added, but newer models just notice the extra memory and start using it automatically: there's nothing else you have to do. Check to be sure it sees what you expect it to see, and you are done.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2011-03-09 Anthony Lawrence