How to upgrade computer memory

Few things are easier to do or provide better results than to upgrade computer memory. Unless you spent a ridiculous amount of money buying the maximum memory that your computer could come with then the time will come you need it upgraded. I have even bought a computer with the minimum RAM you could get it with so I could upgrade it immediately upon arrival. This tends to save me some money right up front.


Let’s start by discussing how much memory is enough and when you should upgrade it. Any machine running Windows 7 should have a minimum of 2GB of RAM, and preferably 4GB. When I say minimum I mean exactly that, a machine that does nothing but email and surf the web can get away with 2GB today, but barely, and you should expect slowdowns.

4GB is the minimum for Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 again with a heavy emphasis on this being the bare minimum for a machine that does pretty much nothing. Start adding in typing documents, playing solitaire and doing your homework and you need to upgrade.

As inexpensive as memory is today, as easy as it is to upgrade, and as huge a performance boost it can give you means you should be looking to have 8GB on all your computers. If you tend to do a lot of photo/video editing or coding then 8GB should be seen as the recommended minimum.

For more professional desktop use (memory is often not expandable on laptops as much as desktops) you should look to have 12GB to 16GB. Heavy photo and video editing packages really speed up when you throw memory at them which can save a lot of time. Since time is money, it can actually cost far less to put the maximum amount of RAM in your system that it will hold than to leave it at the minimum levels.

When it comes to finding out how much memory your computer will hold you need to check the manufacturer of the laptop or desktop for brand name computers or the manufacturer of the motherboard for custom built machines. Visit the manufacturer’s website and look under the support links and look for an article that shows specifications or find the owner’s manual. If all else fails call their technical support number.

You can often find out by visiting the website of memory manufacturers as they frequently have a system where you select the make and model of your computer and it will not only tell you what the maximum amount of memory is that can be installed but also exactly what type of memory to install. This information will be very useful when you go to purchase new memory even if you don’t purchase it from that particular manufacturer.

The Kingston online memory configuration tool

The Kingston online memory configuration tool

There are a lot of brands of memory so which one should you choose? I am not sure there is a single memory manufacturer that is really the best overall, particularly since not all memory manufacturers produce memory to fit all computers. I tend to stick with some of the bigger names such as Kingston and Crucial as I have had fewer problems out of them. When looking for memory online if I tend to look for memory that has a large number of reviews and a very high average review score.

I always stay away from the absolute cheapest, and any that has only a few reviews or too many poor scores. I also tend to avoid any that have not been listed very long regardless of the other factors as a very new product with tons of good reviews could be fake reviews. Buyer beware.

So what are the different types of memory? We start with a DIMM or SODIMM which are full sized memory sticks that go in desktops, and half sized sticks that go in laptops, respectively. After the physical size comes the type of RAM such as DDR, DDR2, DDR3 adn DDR4. These are the primary types you will be dealing with today when upgrading memory although many more types exist, most of which are obsolete.

Different types of memory

Pay attention to the size of the gold contacts as well as the position of the notch in the side with the gold contacts

Next we have the speed of the memory measured in mhz. You could have DDR400 (400mhz), DDR800, DDR2-1600 (DDR2 memory running at 1600mhz) and many more. Be sure that you install memory the same speed as any other memory in the computer, or faster. Generally speaking faster memory will work just fine but slower memory can cause errors. When in doubt check the specification sheets or owner’s manual for your computer or motherboard.

Most computers today run memory in dual channel mode. This means it tries to increase speed by accessing two sticks of memory at the same time, reading and writing half the data to each stick. This effectively doubles the speed of the memory resulting in a faster computer. For this to work however you have to install memory in pairs. This is why a computer with one 8GB memory module is slower than a computer with two 4GB memory modules even though they have the same amount of memory.

Dual channel memory

Note four slots, two light and two dark denoting dual channels

If your computer has four or more slots then the slots are divided into channels. There is typically an A channel and a B channel. Refer to your owner’s manual or spec sheet to see which channels have to be loaded in what order. For example if you plan on installing only two 4GB memory modules, it may require you to populate slot A1 and B1 in order for the memory to run in dual channel mode. Putting the memory in slots A1 and A2 may still allow the computer to operate with 8GB of memory but it will only be in the slower single channel mode. Of course a different manufacturer may want the memory in slots A1 and A2 to run in dual channel mode, there is no standard, that is why we always check the manuals.

Now we come to where to purchase the memory. I have two primary vendors I use and they are and They are always among the lowest priced reputable dealers out there. There certainly are cheaper vendors and if you don’t mind taking a chance, give them a try. I would prefer to spend a couple of extra bucks and know that I am safe no matter what happens.

Both Newegg and Amazon carry almost every type of memory made, and many used pieces that are no longer made. I always purchase new memory unless I do not have a choice. Again, one purchase and knowing it will work or be warranteed is better than one purchase and a lot of hassles.

When your memory arrives it is time to install it. The first thing you need to know is to not touch the memory. Your body naturally builds up static electricity. You know when you walk across the carpet, grab a door knob and get the crud shocked out of you? That little jolt is more than enough to destroy delecate electronic components like memory.

An anti-static wrist strap

An anti-static wrist strap

The best way to solve this is with an anti static wrist strap which is available from both Amazon and Newegg for very little money If this is not an option, you need to discharge your body before touching the memory. I typically make sure I have bare skin touching the computer case before removing the old memory or installing the new. This is pretty easy to do with either by grabbing the case with your right hand and the memory with your left, or by having your forearms on the case metal while grabbing the memory. You should note that this only works with the computer plugged in to a grounded outlet and turned off.

Now it is time to open the computer and start the upgrade. If you are unfamiliar with how to access the inside of your computer I would suggest you do an internet search for an article or video specific to your computer. Desktops often have two screws on the back to remove a cover, or on many Dells there is simply a handle that releases the side. Laptops are generally more complicated and can sometimes have one memory slot under a cover on the bottom and a second slot under the keyboard. Crazy. No one guide will ever be able to show you how to get into every machine, or even most of them.

With this desktop there was simply two screws in the top panel that are removed. Then the top panel is slid back and off allowing access to the side panels. We only need to remove one and it just slides up and off.

Now we can see the memory in the slots.

Here we are going to add two more sticks of memory in the two empty slots.

First push down and out on the two tabs on the outside of the slots.

Check where the slot is in the center of the memory and align it with the bump in the slot on the motherboard.

Now push the memory in firmly and evenly until it clicks into place. That click is the two tabs locking into place on each side. Make sure both of them are locked all the way by squeezing them in towards the center of the memory.

Now turn on the machine and see if it boots correctly. If it does, you can turn it back off and reinstall all the covers. If it fails to boot and/or just beeps at you, something is wrong. Try removing the memory one stick at a time and reinserting it.