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Hardware Upgrade: How To Install New RAM

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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)

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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.

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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:

  • Timing
  • Speed/Data Rate
  • Voltage
  • Number of Pins (Mandatory)
  • Maximum supported memory
  • Maximum supported memory per DIMM slot
  • Does your mainboard require memory in pairs or not?

1024px-RamTypes

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!

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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!)

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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In our example, we return our risers to our mainboard spot, adding the additional steps most HTG readers won’t have to face.

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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

Comments (36)

  1. bobro

    woo hoo, RAM is the most fickle part in a PC. sometimes, if you have all the right ingrediants it might not work, not that the RAM is bust or not accepted by your PC but just fussy… take the stick back, they test it and it works for them they replace with the same make and model and size and it will work…. so far no one has explained to my why this happens and it is getting better but can still happen.

    if you do get ram that doesnt work just ask if you can swap it like for like as sometimes it can happen

    (i used to work in a computer factory making testing and fixing thousands of computers… RAM was always annoying)

  2. James Williams

    I recently built mt first computer. I wanted to make sure it would be able to handle anything I could throw at it. I installed 16GB’s of RAM to be on the safe side even though most people said I was wasting money on that much. I am studying computer graphics. Do you think I have too much?

  3. CitrusRain

    Are you psychic?

    I just ordered this: http://oat.nu/ram to go in my newly-installed motherboard http://oat.nu/mobo

    Glad to hear how to be sure it was compatible. But (due to not having the actuall mobo intructions next to me, I’m not sure if I need pairs. Hope I don’t. Should I order another stick if possible?

  4. CitrusRain

    Not sure why my comment didn’t show up. (perhaps links)

    The timing of this is just crazy. I just ordered oat.nu/ram for my oat.nu/mobo therefore making this article sooo very helpful. I’m going to try to get a second stick to be safe, since that’s the only thing I couldn’t confirm.

  5. John Coburn

    The author of this article continues to refer to the “sides” of memory sticks when mentioning the tabs. Call them as he will, it’s his article – anyone that’s even half a nerd will and does call his ‘sides’ the ‘ends’ of those memory sticks. Just sayin’

  6. jasnels

    i agree with CitrusRain… the timing is crazy. My sister recently gave me an old HP Pavillion media center that no longer worked. I’m a beginner with basic knowledge of computers. after looking up the beeping sounds it would make (it would not boot) i narrowed it down to RAM. 4 DIMMS, 2 sticks of RAM a gig each. Upon removing one stick, the PC was able to boot and run just fine. Leaving me curious… I replaced the one working stick with the “bad” stick and basically just swapped them around. haven’t had a problem since. No clue why.

  7. Pbug

    A few notes. One; sometimes a mobo (motherboard) will not work with a given 2 sticks of ram but when you swap the 2 it works fine. Weird, but not uncommon. Some mobos have 3 slots. Some have 2, some 4 or more. Matched pairs are usually best. Get onto a site like crucial.com and let the free scanner they have tell you what you have and what you can use. For a 32 bit OS only 3 gb really gets used. For Win 7 64 bit, for instance, the more ram the better – but try to use the fastest ram the web site scan tool offers you. If you can, dump older slower ram unless the CPU is so slow the old ram doesn’t matter. And understand that PC makers may tell you your old PC takes only one GB but it can really take 2, or maybe just 1. Sometimes it may be better to just buy a new PC.

  8. Ima Plonker

    Will this work for a laptop?

  9. Charlie

    Confidence comes with instructions. Thanks.

  10. Joseph Greenberg

    changing ram in laptops is a lot easier. basically all you have to do is disconnect the power and then remove the battery. In the Dell laptops where I have changed ram, it meant removing two screws of a plate that covered the ram, and first grounding yourself to a metal object on the computer, then removing the ram which you then can replace with the upgrade and that’s it. Of course put back the plate and the battery and reconnect the power cord. I have however often wonder if one could replace the main chip, for example could one replace a celeron with a more powerful chip?

  11. Raiden

    I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
    But I’m still in love with Judas, baby
    I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby he’s so cruel
    But I’m still in love with Judas, baby

    Ohohohoh
    I’m in love with Judas

  12. Michael

    Raiden

    This article is about installing ram not which to buy. That is just a bonuse. The articles written on this site are great, don’t poo poo them.

    Thanks Eric.

  13. Ron

    James W.

    The operating system (ex. Windows 7, 32 bit or Windows 7, 64 bit) determines how much RAM memory you can or should install. Another factor is your motherboard ‘s physical layout since the number and type of available memory slots (dual channel or single channel) must be considered as well. The installation manual that came with your motherboard should provide that information. You can also visit your pc maker’s support department online to obtain that information. Great article HTG.

  14. wfs

    The whole information in the above tutorial to install a new RAM is very much informative, but i just wonder so as to what does the color of the DIMS (black & blue) indicates, & what happens when we insert two pieces of memory in each of the colour, like one in black & one in blue…..

    thanks

  15. Ron

    How can we tell when a computer would benefit from adding more RAM ?

  16. Bill Q

    Jasnels
    Often removing the RAM and cleaning the contacts with an ordinary pencil eraser will cure problems. Same applies, of course, to PCBs. However, ALWAYS make sure you’re grounded with a wrist strap (tested for resistance) while you’re doing this!

  17. bigferret

    A good way to find out what your computer needs for memory is to go to a memory vendor such as crucial.com or corsair.com, and do a memory scan. You don’t need to buy the products from these manufacturers, but you’ll know what to look for.

  18. Bill Q

    Bigferret
    You took the words right out of my mouth!! :-)

  19. E.W.

    The only places I’ve bought RAM from and had trouble are local Computer shops. It seems they buy bulk/cheap and charge premium prices. And they don’t take back bad RAM, usually. Ask first.

  20. jhibert

    DIMMS are the memory sticks themselves, not the sockets.

  21. jhibert

    DIMM = Dual Inline Memory Module

  22. Doc

    @Ima Plonker : Most laptop RAM is installed in a “hatch” on the bottom of the laptop (some few, in a hatch between the keyboard and the LCD screen), and flat against the motherboard. Older laptops will have memory secured with a screw; most newer ones, with DIMM sockets.

    The little, narrow DIMM sticks in the illustrations are SO-DIMMs (Small Outline DIMM), or laptop memory.

    To remove an SO-DIMM, gently pry the tabs away from the DIMMs to release it, and lift the top of the DIMM (the edge not in the socket) away from the motherboard until it works loose.

    To install new memory, reverse the process: Insert the DIMM at a 30-45 degree angle, sliding the contacts into the socket, and lower the top of the DIMM until it meets the latches and clicks into place (it will be flat, and parallel to the motherboard.) Don’t forget to align the notches with the socket, or you risk breaking the memory or the socket!

  23. Doc

    @jhibert The sockets for DIMM memory are “DIMM sockets”

  24. johny

    hi guys,
    i used asus n43jf intel i5-480M 2.66GHz
    Windows 7 64bit Home Premium

    original ram for this laptop is 4gb.however i have added another 2gb ram when i buy this laptop.
    but my problem is when the ram usage is around 3.9 and higher my computer already lag.can someone tell me what is the problem and how do i resolve it??

    thanks in advance

  25. Compudude

    PNY hath given me fine results.

  26. steve

    Good article on installing RAM.

    if you want to know what type of RAM your computer needs, check out this scanner at Crucial:
    http://www.crucial.com/systemscanner/

    You don’t have to buy from them, but you can at least fist out what type of memory you’ll need quick and easy.

  27. Noor

    Does anyone here know anything about RAM for an All-in-One? I have a Vaio All-in-One with 8 gigs of Ram. It should expand to 12, but I haven’t a clue as to what actually is in there or how to add an additional 4 gigs. No oneseems able to give me a straight answer including Sony.
    The model is VPCL 137FX.

  28. Carroll Hanks

    Hey Raiden,

    You’re not a holy fool, just a dumbass fool.

  29. Barney Farcus

    I have found ‘cheap’ ram is often suspect. Better RAM often runs cooler and works with wider tolerances than less expensive RAM. It is also less likely to ‘fail’. I don’t necessarily purchase ‘expensive’ memory, but I stay away from the ‘cheapest’ I can find and manufacturers that seem unreliable.

    Taking anti-static precautions both with the machine and RAM aren’t hard to do. I say this after zapping my fair share of RAM. If in a very ‘dry weather’ season, using a vaporizer in the room helps. I have and occasionally use antistatic straps, but if it isn’t convenient I don’t bother, but I still take precautions of touching the table or antistatic bag before touching the memory, keep a hand on the case before letting the memory (in one hand) come near the case or motherboard. When in a data center we were building, our group made sure we used anti-static tile on the floors (easily available, no more expensive, but the it sure helps) and antistatic wax when the floors were waxed. All things like that help.

  30. BoogzLA

    No one mentioned what memory they thought was good or bad, so ill just say that i’ve used after market ram in a desktop and a laptop and i have used G skill the same type in the pictures above. As a matter of fact I used those exact ones for the desktop and I must say that in my experience G skill is a great company for ram. They make awesome looking ram with cool heat sinks to dissipate heat for desktops (in laptops they do not use heat sinks on the ram, space is an issue!), and the memory installs easily and works great. I have also used OCZ ram and they work good and look good as well.

    Just make sure you have the right specs for your specific application.

  31. Laura

    Thanks Kurtis Bickhaus.

    Perfect, perfect perfect !!!

  32. Rob Gingrich

    I was just going to say the same @ Laura.

    Best description I’ve read yet. This guy should
    Take Steve Jobs Place!

  33. alexander

    when adding RAM’s just look for the speed, speed must always be match,frequency like PC 533, 667, 800 etc, must be same or if you know how to computer different speed/frequency to make it matches…

  34. alexander

    if you know how to compute.. sorry typo error.. Im not good in written.. just good in vocals..

  35. Pradeep Kumar Mathur

    Dear Sir,
    I found most of the articles quite informative and useful to the novice and the professionals too.This article has helped clear most of my doubts. – Pradeep Kumar Mathur

  36. OT

    Good RAM = Corsair
    Great support.
    I had one good pair of matched 4GBx2 modules, and one bad module in another pair.
    After diagnosing using MemTest and other Windows 7 built in tests, I submitted my RMA online.
    The fact that I used MemTest was good enough for them. They sent me the rest of the RMA process, I bundled up the 2 modules of RAM and they sent me new Modules.

    Easy peasy.

    True, they didn’t need not have had errors, but the fact that the recovery process was so easy, to me, speaks quality about the company’s commitment to their customers.

    Truth be told, out of all the Corsair RAM I ever bought (24 gigs in total, across different modules), I have only encountered module errors this once. And I was very pleased with the ultimate result.

    OTah

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