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How to upgrade your RAM memory:

Without question, one of the most effective methods for giving your aging computer new pep and zippier performance is adding more RAM memory--and, if your motherboard supports it, faster memory. When it comes to RAM, we are definitely talking about "more is better", and I do not hesitate to advise you to install the largest and fastest RAM modules you can afford...and if money's not an issue, then the most your mainboard will support.

In the following photos, I am giving new life to an elderly Dell notebook PC (The steps are similar regardless of your laptop's manufacturer, though you may have to look to their website to see instructions for opening the case and accessing the RAM modules. Some models require removing the keyboard, and there's a few not-always-so-noticeable latches that must be sprung.) that had become so slow as to be intolerable to me. It is a Dell Inspiron 4000 with a 700 MHz Pentium III processor, 128 Megabytes of RAM, and sports a whopping 10 Gigabyte hard drive--hardly "inspiring" when compared to today's laptop abilities. It runs, believe it or not, Windows XP Pro.

Determine the type and quantity your PC will support: Before you rush out and buy RAM modules you should first determine what is already in your machine. Sometimes, the smartest way to go (especially if you have open slots) is to simply add RAM to what you already have. In this case, it's important to match the RAM's type--but not necessarily the manufacturer. You should also check your laptop's manufacturer's website and look for warnings under their "upgrading RAM" topic in the Support area: some machines will not accept generic RAM, for example. There is a wonderful tool available at the Crucial website (Crucial is a manufacturer/retailer of high-performance RAM modules) that will scan your machine and tell you what you currently have, what your motherboard will support, and recommend compatible Crucial modules. It's called the System Scanner. Use it to determine what you need to shop for.

In the case of my Inspiron, both slots were taken up with 64MB PC100 (speed rating) modules, leaving me with no option but to remove at least one. The maximum supported RAM is 512MBs (a disappointingly low number...) of either PC100 or PC133. And the type of RAM is plain-old SDRAM. I found that Dell's price for two 256MB SDRAM modules was quite competitive, and so I went ahead and ordered from them...taking solace in the fact that the few dollars more I was spending (than on bargain-basement RAM) would be offset by guaranteed compatibility. COMPLETELY POWER DOWN--AND UNPLUG--YOUR MACHINE.

Opening the case: Getting at the RAM modules on the Inspiron was easy: a large access panel on the bottom is held by three screws. The method for opening your laptop may be different, but it will not be difficult. RAM is almost always the most easily accessible component, and often requires no tools--in my case, I need a phillips head screwdriver. I put the loose screws in a Snapple cap, to prevent them from rolling away and disappearing forever.

To see these photos full-size, and highlighted details, just click on them.

Please review my warnings about static electricity and ESD before reaching inside any electronic gadgets. If you haven't seen that yet, click here.

The RAM modules are had held in place by two snap latches, one on each side of the RAM socket. You release the module by moving the latches outward, and away from the edges of the memory board--both at the same time. Just pry them apart far enough (usually just a few millimeters) for the RAM to release and then the free end of the module will pop up to a shallow angle...usually about 15 to 20 degrees of incline, as you see in the right hand picture below.







Now that the module has been 'popped' into the release position, it simply slides out of plastic socket--revealing the gold contact 'teeth' on the modules edge. Pull the module with a very light motion in the direction that matches the 15-20 degree 'pop' angle, so that you're pulling it more sideways than up. Repeat the steps for each module you're replacing. In this case, I am removing both of the 64MB modules to make room for the 256MB modules--as shown below.

Now that both sockets are empty, I simply reverse the process to insert the new modules.

Note that there is an alignment notch--slightly off-center--in the module's array of 'teeth'. Orient the module [they have no 'up' nor 'down' side] so that its notch matches the socket's.

Slide the module into the slot at the 15-20 degree 'popped' angle and get the gold "teeth" well into the socket. As you can see here, the teeth are just about completely hidden by the receptacle. Avoid touching the contacts ("teeth") with your skin, as it has oils which do not belong in an electrical circuit (and have corrosive tendencies as well).


Now simply press down on the "up edge" of the module until the RAM is flat, and the two plastic latches snap into place--again, gentle pressure is all that's needed.


Repeat the process with your other new RAM modules, replace the case's cover, reconnect the power cord, and press the On button. Your machine should automatically recognize the increased amount of memory with no further input from you. IF THERE'S A DEFECTIVE MODULE, OR IF THE RAM YOU PURCHASED turns out to be INCOMPATIBLE, Windows simply will not boot, and your PC will act "dead". In that case, remove it, and return it to the manufacturer/distributor for replacement or refund...and stick the old RAM back in until the replacements arrive. This rarely happens, but you should read the company's return policy before you buy RAM, and for this reason I recommend you don't buy your RAM on e-Bay.

I completed the job above in around 15 minutes, quadrupled my laptop's RAM memory ability, and gave my poor old laptop several more years of 'lifetime'. It now runs at a pace that isn't exactly zippy, but is perfectly adequate for reading and writing emails, playing Solitaire, and other typical day-to-day uses. My total cost was only $83, which is, I think you'll agree, quite a bit cheaper than a brand-new laptop!

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