RAM is one of those upgrades everyone seems to skimp on when buying a PC, only to later wish for more. Regretting your underpowered memory purchase? Here’s how to speed up your machine by installing some additional memory.
Memory is often one the critical bottlenecks on a PC, so faster, larger stores of RAM can go a long way to making your PC perform better and with more stability. It’s not hard, even for beginner geeks. Crack open that PC in today’s hardware upgrade!
Identifying and Buying Your New RAM (The Hard Part)
Your RAM is likely installed in these slots on your motherboard, called the DIMM slots. This motherboard has room for six sticks of memory. Note the pins and how the RAM lines up with them—important to note to install properly. The median is off center to show you clearly which direction to orient them. If you’re strong, you can probably force them in backwards, but computers don’t really respond well to that kind of bullying.
Each motherboard has specific requirements for RAM. Sometimes you can install slightly different kinds of RAM, but this could result in decreased performance or even shorter life for your new memory. If at all possible, install memory best suited to your mainboard, meeting as many of the following requirements as possible:
- Speed/Data Rate
- Number of Pins (Mandatory)
- Maximum supported memory
- Maximum supported memory per DIMM slot
- Does your mainboard require memory in pairs or not?
While all the specs for your RAM are important, the number of pins are probably the first thing you should look at. There are going to be multiple references to the number of these pins—you can clearly see the comparison of them here, above. Note that depending on the type of RAM, including speed/data rate, a stick may have more or fewer pins, and will have the notch or notches in different locations. Your motherboard is only going to take RAM with only one kind of pin count. Again, you can probably force it in, but it will probably be the end of your PC!
While installing additional or all-new memory is not terribly complicated, even for a beginner geek, buying the proper memory can be a frustrating challenge. If you are confused, you can check out our easy beginner-friendly guide to buying memory. Here you can figure out these confusing requirements your motherboard has and buy the right RAM for your system.
Brands of RAM do matter, especially to geeks. HTG doesn’t endorse any particular brand, although certain authors do have their favorites. If you have had good (or even terribly bad!) experiences with certain manufacturers, tell us about them in the comments.
Installing RAM in Your PC (The Easy Part!)
Every mainboard has nitpicky requirements for the settings of the RAM, but almost every machine has RAM installed the same way. DIMM slots have latches on either side that both lock in and release RAM from the pins they’re seated on to function. Let’s take a look at one very easy installation of RAM.
With your PC case open you won’t need any tools but your bare hands. (If you don’t know how to open your PC, check here for detailed directions.) Wearing gloves is generally not a good idea. And if your PC is not powered down and unplugged, you run the risk of hurting yourself or your equipment.
This particular PC has RAM on risers, which are installed in special DIMM slots (DIMM slot-like, actually) on the mainboard. Your technique for installing into mainboard DIMM slots will most likely be nearly identical to this—in fact it will have even fewer steps.
(Author’s Note: With every installation of RAM or any PC component, you’re going to want to stay grounded so that the static electricity from your body doesn’t flow into your new memory, or parts of your PC. While these parts are very sensitive, I have personally never had problems with static, only with foolishly installing things the wrong way. It is, however, best practice to stay grounded the entire time and not remove your parts and install them on a separate surface. Installing RAM on these risers, with the parts removed, was more clear and more easy to photograph and the fundamentals are exactly the same of installing in a PC mainboard. Just remember your PC may look more similar to the first examples, rather than this one. And, as in any hardware upgrade, keep in mind that you can run the risk of damaging your equipment. Keeping all that in mind, understand that installing RAM is actually quite easy.)
We can see the DIMM slots each holding a stick of RAM, very similar to the ones on your mainboard. Always remember that your memory is very sensitive to static shock, and be careful to ground yourself and work on the most non-conductive, non-static surface available–your floor or carpet are not acceptable surfaces!
To remove a stick of memory from a DIMM slot, gently push down on the tabs on either side in tandem. Don’t force it, but apply firm pressure as needed. Your memory should begin to pop free from inside the DIMM slot. If it doesn’t come free easily, rock it gently back and forth from the sides to remove it. Above all, be gentle, as damage to the DIMM slot could ensure that your PC will never work properly again!
Handle the stick of RAM by the sides as shown, touching as little of it as possible. You want to keep your fingerprints and hand oils off of your new memory. Sit the old RAM aside on an anti-static surface and find your new RAM for installation.
With your DIMM slot tabs open, line up the pins and firmly (but not roughly) press on the outside of the stick of RAM to install. If the RAM is seated properly, the pressure from you pressing in the RAM will actually begin to snap the DIMM slot tabs shut, locking the new RAM in place. Make sure that the tabs are locked into the notches on the side of the RAM.
You also may need to install your memory in pairs. If this is the case, you will probably have to buy your memory in kits—pairs of RAM meant to be installed together. Make sure you do this!
In our example, we return our risers to our mainboard spot, adding the additional steps most HTG readers won’t have to face.
And that’s pretty much all there is to installing RAM! Again, your PC may not have the risers shown before, but installing memory in the DIMM slot as shown above is similar in all cases—a DIMM slot is a DIMM slot, pretty much. The techniques and best practices for removing and installing new RAM will be the same no matter what device you install into. Just stay cautious of static, don’t be too rough with your parts, and you’ll be on your way to speeding up your PC’s performance in no time.
Image Credits: Comparison of RAM by Kurtis Bickhaus, available under Creative Commons. All other images by the author, all rights reserved.
Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.
- Published 12/29/11