Upgrading Memory (RAM) on your PC
Volatile and non-volatile memory
Maximum memory supported by my computer
How to install computer memory
Like anything related to computing, understanding memory (RAM) can quickly become confusing. If you are looking for an “in depth” understanding of what RAM is, how RAM works and its history you can check out its related Wiki pages. In this article we’ll give a broad overview of Memory’s Key points. What to look for when considering memory upgrades and procedures on how you can upgrade your computer’s memory yourself.
What is computer memory?
So, what exactly is computer memory? Computer memory, often referred to as Random-access memory (or RAM for short) is a physical device capable of allowing information to be stored temporarily. Memory devices utilize integrated circuits similarly to solid state drives allowing for faster access times.
Types of memory
There are several varieties of memory, like other computer components it evolved over the years to be more efficient. SIMM (single inline memory module), DIMM (dual in-line memory module), and SO-DIMM (small outline dual in-line memory module) are a few of the more common variety.
(Note: A common used term for memory is “module” referred as “RAM Modules” of “Memory Modules” which is just referring to the physical device)
Volatile and non-volatile memory
Something to make note of, a commonly made mistake people do is confuse RAM and data storage. Both are a storage type, but RAM is considered to be volatile while other data storage (such as hard disks) is considered non-volatile. Volatile memory is memory that loses its contents when the computer loses power. Which is why anything you happen to be actively working on that has not been saved gets lost as it is stored in the volatile memory. Once you save your work, it is then written and stored on your Non-volatile hard drive.
How does memory work
When you use a program such as a document, PDF or even a browser, the object is opened in a program that is stored on your hard drive and is loaded into the computers RAM. From within the RAM the program communicates with the processor to process tasks at faster speeds. The data processed here remains in a volatile state (and is subject to loss due to power failure) until it has been saved and written to your hard drive (essentially it helps your computer perform faster).
What is memory speed
When referring to RAM there are a few terms thrown around one such term is memory speed. What is memory speed and why would it be important? RAM speed can be thought of in the same fashion as a Computer Processing Unit (CPU) in that it is referring to the clock speed. One Hertz (Hz) is equal to one clock cycle every second. Clock speeds are usually expressed in megahertz (106 Hz, MHz). The difference is that it only stores and transfers data between other computer components which is often referred to as bandwidth. So the higher the speed the faster the data is transferred between components.
What is memory capacity
We now understand RAM speed, but what is RAM capacity? RAM Capacity is simply the amount of data that can be stored in your computer’s memory at any given time. Like hard disk drives, memory capacity is referred as bytes. In our current times memory capacity is referenced in Gigabytes (GB). Ranging anywhere from 4GB for older computers upwards to 2TB or more for modern day servers.
Capacity is important because it allows your device to perform faster by processing more data at one time, this becomes important when working with large amounts of data or multiple programs at a time. Every piece of software requires a certain amount of memory that it reserves to be able to run smoothly. If you have several programs running but not have enough RAM to support them all, then they have to wait for availability to process queued up work and can become so slow that it appears to no longer be working or at times the program will error and crash from lack of available resources.
How much memory do I have?
Now you have a basic understanding of RAM, how it works and why it would be important to you. How do we find out how much RAM our computer has?
This can be found in several ways, I’ll discuss a couple quick ways here.
Computer properties page
Another quick way to determine the current amount of RAM your computer has is to look at its information properties window from within the computer.
Go to the windows search option and type “system information” to pull of the system information window. From the system summary page you can scroll down to the “Installed Physical Memory (RAM)” section and there will be listed the amount of memory currently installed on your computer.
Task Manager is another built-in tool your computer has that can help you to identify how much memory your computer has. Press “Ctrl+Shift+Esc” shortcut combination on your keyboard to quickly open Task Manager. Select the “Performance” tab, then select “Memory”. From here you can determine the amount of memory your computer currently has installed. Along with some other important details you will need later when selecting your upgrade modules.
Using tools like Speccy
You can install some special tools that are designed to access and display valuable information about your system’s hardware. The free version Speccy is one such tool, install it, run the tool and you can select the “RAM” section and it will provide you with the Type of RAM you have, the amount, and the number of slots on your motherboard, frequency, etc..
In the above example you can see that the computer has:
- 2 memory slots, both of which are in use.
- The type, which is DDR3
- Total size, which is 16 thousand Megabytes (or 16 Gigabytes (GB))
- It is “Dual” channel
- With a frequency of 798 MHz
There is other additional information but the above is what we are wanting to know later for upgrading.
Reference your computer purchase history
Additionally, If you still have this information you can reference back to your purchase documentation this usually will tell you how much RAM you had at time of purchase. As well as additional needed information (usually)
Reference your computer model number
If you purchased your computer online or from a major vendor such as Lenovo, HP, or Dell (to just name a few) you can go to their webpage and enter your model number or serial number in the search bar and usually get the specifications for your model or your specific machine. There you can identify the amount of memory that your computer has as well.
Maximum memory supported by my computer
A computer’s maximum supported system memory (RAM) is determined based on the operating system, motherboard and the processor. All three factors provide hardware and software limitations that determine the maximum amount of RAM a computer can handle. For instance, if a computer is using a 32-bit processor, the maximum amount of RAM it can address is 4GB. Computers with 64-bit processors can address far more.
Windows has varying RAM limitations with server versions having significantly higher maximums, you probably won’t be messing about with servers, so I’ll skip them. Windows 10 is the primary commercial operating system of choice currently, the Windows 10 “Home” version has a limit of 128GB, while the others are upwards of 2TB which is far more than you’ll probably need in your system, and far more than your hardware can support.
Below is a table with the listings of the different Windows 10 operating systems and their RAM limits.
Version of Windows 10
Maximum memory - 32 -bit (X86)
Maximum memory - 64-bit (X64)
Windows 10 Enterprise
Windows 8 Pro
Windows 10 Education
Windows 10 Home
Your Operating system may have abilities to support high amounts of RAM, but there are other limiting factors to consider, such as your motherboard. You can identify your type of mother board in the following ways:
Reference your computer purchase history
If you still have this information, you can reference back to your purchase documentation this may tell you the type of motherboard you have. Then reference online the amount and type of memory that board supports.
Reference your computer model number
If you purchased your computer online or from a major vendor such as Lenovo, HP, or Dell (to just name a few) you can go to their webpage and enter your model number or serial number in the search bar and usually get a specifications for your model or your specific machine. There you can identify your motherboard, the amount and type of memory that your motherboard can support.
Major brands web site
Additionally, you could visit the website of a major brand like Crucial.com and run their System Scanner tool. As well as memory.net and look up the make and model of your system. They will tell you the max amount of RAM your system can support, it will tell you what you currently have installed and will provide you with compatible recommendations.
Using tools like Speccy.
Lastly, as previously discussed, you can install special tools that are designed to access and display valuable information about your system hardware (like Speccy). Install, run the tool, and you can select the “Motherboard” section and it will provide you with the Type of Motherboard you have, then you can reference online the amount and type of memory that board supports.
What type of memory do I need?
Similarly, to identifying the max amount of memory supported by your system, the same method and tools previously mentioned will help you to identify the type you would need including DIMM type, speed, voltage, heights, and number of slots.
How much memory do I need?
Do not confuse how much memory you need with how much your system can support. The amount of memory you need will differ with each user. Currently the typical standard for Windows 10 operating systems is 8GB and this is really all you need if you use your computer for low processing task such as writing word docs, or occasionally surfing the web.
However, with the cost of memory slowly dropping, 16GB is quickly becoming the new standard. If you multitask, run several apps simultaneously, run resource intensive apps like Photoshop etc. or habitually choose not to close any apps or internet browsers you open, you may want to consider upping your memory to a minimum of 16 GB.
If you are upgrading your system to support gaming, 32 GB or more might be more to your liking.
How to install computer memory?
So, you completed your research, decided on how much you want to upgrade, purchased your memory modules, received them and are now ready to install them into your computer. Below are the steps you can follow in order to upgrade your computer’s memory.
Step 1 - Supplies
Gather up your needed supplies and find a clear static free desk space to work at.
Supplies you may need:
Your computer desktop or laptop.
Your upgraded memory modules.
Screwdriver preferably magnetic free.
The product manual for reference.
Step 2 – Power off your computer
This should be an obvious step, but to prevent damaging your computer and any of its components, turn off the computer and remove the power plug from the device. If you have a laptop remove the battery as well, if the laptop allows.
Step 3 - Unplug your accessories
As mentioned in step 2 unplug the power cable and while you’re at it, unplug any other accessories you have, to prevent them from interfering with the upgrade process. This includes mouse keyboard, monitor, and network cable and any other USB devices.
Step 4 – Discharge your system
We want to ensure there is no leftover residual power in the system that could accidentally discharge and cause damage to your components, so we will hold down the power button for five to ten seconds.
Step 5 - Ground Yourself
Even though we have discharged the device, we want to be sure that there is no accidental static discharge that originates from you. Since you and your cloths are able to build up static charges we want to ensure you have none that can damage your components while swapping modules. Either use a grounding wrist band if you have one or just touch a metal part of the frame of the computer to discharge any build up you may have.
Step 6 - Crack it open
This is where we begin to start getting into it. Crack open your case, by removing any screws/laches that are securing it in place so we can get inside to where the RAM modules are. It is usually easier to do on a desktop, it is suggested that you review your owners guide or a reference video for the model of your laptop to see how to open and where the RAM modules are located. (NOTE: Some laptops models will have two or more slots for the RAM modules, some models will have them stacked for easier access while others will have one on either side of the motherboard making it more challenging to access the second RAM slot.)
Step 7 - Remove Existing Memory Modules
Once you have located your RAM modules, to extract them you’ll need to press down on the clips on both sides of each module, the clips secure the module in place, pressing the clips will release the module pushing it up for you to grab. You can then grab the module with your fingers and extract it.
Step 8 - Install Memory
When installing the new memory, take note of the gap between the left and right set of teeth. One side has more than the other, this is designed to prevent it from being installed the wrong way. Align the teeth with the ridge and hold the module along its edges, firmly and evenly press the modules into place, you may or may not hear a click.
In the case of a desktop you may notice that you have multiple slots available to you, four, sometimes more and that they are colored differently. If you are not planning to fill all the memory slots, then be sure to reference the motherboard product manual for the order that the slots should be filled.
Step 9 – Seal up the case
Now that you have all your memory modules securely installed and in place, we can now close the case. Follow in reverse order the steps you took to close up and secure the case.
Step 10 – Plug it up
The case has now been sealed, let’s plug back in the power, all your accessories, and fire it up.
If everything has gone according to plan your system will boot up smooth and fast and you can now enjoy a more responsive system.
Here are some things you can try if your system is not booting up after you installed your new RAM:
- If you hear a series of beeps or you are seeing an error message on the screen. The new memory modules may not be recognized, you may just need to reseat them and press more firmly to properly seat them. Start back up at step 2 and remove and reseat the newly installed memory. Ensure you refer to the motherboard product owner’s guide to ensure you are using the correct sequence of memory slots.
- If the device won't boot, check all the connections inside your computer (while system is powers off and unplugged). Check that all accessory connections are also securely in place.
- If you get a memory mismatch message, follow the prompts, usually the system is just informing you that it has identified that the memory amount has changed since its last boot.
- Your system doesn’t recognize all the new module's memory. Double check with the product owner’s guide that you have seated the modules in the correct slots. Some motherboards have their slots bridged and must be installed in pairs. So, if you don’t fill the slots in pairs the system may not recognize all your memory. In more extreme cases, you may have inadvertently electrically discharged and damaged one of the slots (this had occurred to me before)
We had discussed what memory is, its properties, such as speed, capacity, and frequency, what it does for you and how your computer system utilizes it, how to identify the type of memory your system has, as well as the maximum your system can support. We touched on the amount of memory you may want if are considering upgrading your system and offered a step-by-step guide on how to swap out your existing memory for some upgraded modules. Additionally, troubleshooting options were provided that you can try in case the upgrade you performed did not go smoothly. All in all, there is a lot of information out there regarding computer memory that can lead you down a long windy road that can end in confusion, but here we have tried to consolidate and highlight the important need to know information to help you get a good basic understanding of what computer it is, how it works and how to make it work better for you.