How to Add RAM

By Milton Kazmeyer

Upgrading a computer’s RAM is one way to revitalize an older machine and improve its performance. Adding more RAM allows more programs to run at once and improves the system’s ability to handle larger files and complex audiovisual tasks. The process of adding RAM to a PC is not difficult, but it does require some research to ensure you purchase the right components for your system.

Research

You need to determine what type and amount of RAM your motherboard supports. If you do not know the brand and model of your motherboard, you can get that information in a number of ways. Many motherboards provide that information on the screen during system startup, or you may be able to locate it by going into the BIOS setup. If you cannot locate this information yourself, freeware programs are available that can give you information about your hardware setup. Once you know what type of motherboard you have, you can look up what type of memory you need and if there are any limits on how much memory you can use.

Slots

RAM comes in the form of units called DIMMs, or Double In-Line Memory Modules. Each unit contains a certain amount of RAM, measured in gigabytes, and they work best in equal pairs. Your motherboard may have two to four RAM slots, depending on the configuration, and at least one of these contains your system’s current RAM. If you have empty slots, you can simply add DIMMs to expand your memory, but if no slots are available you will need to purchase larger DIMMs to replace the older units.

Memory Specs

Depending on your motherboard, you will most likely need to purchase either DDR2 or DDR3 memory. DDR stands for Double Data Rate, the standard for desktop RAM, with DDR2 and DDR3 advanced versions of the initial design. You will also need to consider the memory speed, which is a number following the DDR prefix, such as DDR3-1866. This refers to the rate at which your system can access the memory, and most motherboards support a wide range of memory speeds. For best results, you should install memory rated for the same speed in each slot.

Installation

To install your memory, you should shut down and unplug your computer to prevent electric shock. After giving it several minutes to cool down, open the case and locate your RAM slots. They will usually have a pair of self-locking tabs that snap into the sides of the DIMM to hold the RAM in place. DIMMs also have an off-center notch in the base to ensure you line it up with the slot correctly, matching the notch to the corresponding tab in the socket. If you press the DIMM evenly into an empty socket, the tabs should automatically swing up into place, and you can press them into the notches in the DIMM’s sides to secure the unit. To remove a DIMM, simply press the tabs outward to pop the unit from the socket. Once you have seated all DIMMs firmly, you can reconnect the power supply and turn on your system to check the memory. If the system will not power on or begins beeping, turn off the power and re-seat your memory before trying again.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always add the most RAM you can afford (up to the maximum capacity for your computer system) for best performance.
  • Computers and their components are highly sensitive to any form of electricity--even static electricity. Be sure to ground yourself before working on or in your computer to protect its sensitive parts.
  • Computer memory is rugged and fragile at the same time. If you cannot get your module to fit in the slot, first check to see that you have it lined up correctly. Most modules have notches to allow the memory to only be installed one way. If you have the notches lined up correctly and the clips open (if any), you may just need to press down harder (but not too hard) on the module to get it to install.