One of the single, cheapest upgrades a computer user can make today is a memory upgrade.
In years past this was not necessarily cheap because memory (often still called Random Access Memory or “RAM”) wasn’t inexpensive back in the day. I still have the receipt for US$740 for 24K of RAM for one machine I used back when computers were big and men had lots of free time to wait for things to happen. (Yes, that is 24K of RAM, not 24 megs.)
Today one can often buy a gig of DDR2 RAM for less than $15 on the open market, a mind-goggling amount of performance for the money. And adding that kind of performance to your machine is a fantastic improvement to the overall functioning of your rig, especially if you run Windows and do anything with video or graphics.
One of the first steps in adding memory is to determine how many memory slots your computer’s motherboard has. Most laptops have two; in some cases they are both on the bottom of the computer and easy to get to; in others one is under the keyboard.
The website for Crucial at www.crucial.com has a great database that will tell you exactly how many slots you have and what memory you should buy. That is important because RAM comes in several current variations and speeds and prices for these vary all over the place. DDR and DDR2 for example can’t go in the same computer and one is much more expensive than the other.
So if you have four slots that can hold DD2 memory and your motherboard can hold a maximum of four gigs of RAM, you can purchase four 1 GB RAM pieces from your favourite store or the Crucial website but there is one other factor you need to consider, that being, what do you already have? If you have two 512 pieces already, you need to decide if you want to keep those or junk those in favour of the larger ones.
(Keep in mind that Windows will only “see” 3.5 gigs of RAM no matter how much RAM you put in your computer unless you are running 64-bit Windows XP or Vista, which almost no consumers are. So keep that in mind before you invest in more pricey, larger RAM modules.)
Once you have the right modules in hand, unplug your computer from the wall and open the case. Then go back to the store for a can of compressed computer air and blow out all of the collected dust you see inside the case, on all of the fans, the power supply, the processor fan and the memory slots. Then wait for the dust to settle.
Touch something metal in the case to release any static and open the plastic pins on the RAM slots and insert the RAM modules, aligning the pins carefully. They only fit one way, so you will see the indentations on the grooves. Press down evenly and carefully and the plastic pins on either side will snap into place. On a laptop, slide the metal pins open and remove the old RAM and then slide the new one in its place, locking it down. There are great illustrated guides on installing RAM on the web too.
James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org