Adding memory is one of the best things you can do to speed up your computer (PC or Mac). Generally speaking, a memory upgrade will allow you to:
1) increase the performance of a single, memory intensive program (like Photoshop or AutoCad)
2) increase the speed of your computer when running multiple applications or programs.
It’s important not to confuse the memory I’m talking about now — also known as RAM — with Hard Drive storage space. Some people talk about “hard drive memory” but there really not talking about hard drive memory at all — there’s no such thing. What they are speaking about is the storage space on their hard drive. The reason that people use the term “memory” when discussing RAM (which I’m talking about in this article) vs. Hard Drive space is because they are both measured in Gigabytes or GB.
Memory or Memory
One of the easiest ways to know the difference when someone is speaking of RAM (memory) vs hard drive space is to look at the numbers they are using. When people talk about memory they are usually taking about 1GB, 2GB, 3GB, 4GB, 6Gb (rarely) 8GB or 16GB. When people are talking about hard drive space, the number are much larger — 160GB, 250GB, 500GB, 1000GB (which is a terabyte, or 1TB).
Will it Make a Difference?
Before you invest in more memory (which I’ll call RAM from now on), it’s important to see if it will make a difference. If you are only browsing the web and doing light tasks such as email and basic word processing, you may not see a large increase in performance by adding RAM. However, you should know that at this time you should be running with at least 2GB of RAM for Windows XP and OS X, 3GB of RAM for Windows Vista and Windows 7.
What’s the Maximum Amount of RAM I can Add?
The answer to this question is based on two factors. The first is dependent upon the maximum amount of RAM your operating system can handle (e.g. Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7) and the second is based upon the maximum amount of RAM your computer can support.
The easiest thing to do first is to see what operating system you are running and find out the maximum amount of RAM that the OS can support. Windows XP and Windows Vista each can support up to a maximum of 4GB of RAM (technically this assumes you have the 32-bit version of XP or Vista. There are 64-bit versions of XP and Vista out there but if you have one of them then you don’t need this article). Windows 7 is a different story. Windows 7 comes in two flavors: a 32-bit edition which supports a Maximum of 4GB or RAM, and a 64-bit version which supports more than 4GB of RAM. You can easily tell which version of Windows 7 you have (32-bit or 64-bit) by going to START->Control Panel->System. In the “System” section about halfway down the screen you will see a “System Type” property which will tell you if the computer is a 32 or 64-bit system.
Once you know the maximum amount of RAM your OS can support, you can now look to your computer to see how much memory your physical computer hardware can support. Finding this information out is usually as easy as looking in the manual. However, sometimes the manual isn’t always handy and you need another way. One of the best places I’ve found not only to buy RAM but to lookup how much RAM (and what type) of RAM your computer can support is at crucial.com. If you use their wizard you can look up your system in their database and you will be able to find out how much RAM your system can hold and what type of RAM you need that is compatible with your system. (more on the type of RAM in a minute).
Obviously you cannot install more RAM than your system can support — even though Windows 7 64-bit can handle more than 4GB of RAM, if your computer doesn’t support more than 4GB of RAM then you are wasting your time and money.
Types of RAM
For the purposes of this discussion I’m not going to get into the different types of RAM — there are many different types and speeds of RAM and that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. Just know that usually a system can take a few different types of RAM and Crucial should be able to tell you what type of RAM your computer can support. If you have any questions look in the manual that came with your machine — there should be a section about upgrading the RAM and it will get into specifics about what type of RAM you can use. If all else fails, call or email the tech support of your computer maker and given the model number (or serial number) they should be able to tell you exactly what you need). To give you an idea of the types (and don’t worry about this stuff — it’s here so you can recognize the terms when you see them), there’s DDR2, DDR3, ECC, NON-ECC and there are a variety of speeds in MHz.
A final thing to consider is the amount of RAM you have already installed and the slots you have available in your machine to add RAM. Most machines will come with two or four slots that are available to install RAM. But consider that if you are going to add new RAM modules, you may have to remove old ones to make room. For example, if you have a computer that has two RAM slots, and each slot already has 1GB, if you want to upgrade to 4GB of RAM, you’d need to remove both existing 1GB modules and replace them with two new 2GB modules. If however, you only wanted to upgrade to a total of 3GB of RAM in the same situation, you could remove one of the existing RAM modules, and then add a new 2GB module. This would put you at a total of 3GB (the original 1GB module in the first slot, and the new 2GB module in the second slot). Fortunately, Crucial.com will also often tell you how many RAM slots your machine has and sometimes will even tell you about the default factory RAM configuration,
Adding RAM is one of the best and least expensive things you can do to speed up your computer and increase your computer’s performance (note that as of this writing Apple requires that you use Apple-branded RAM to keep within the bounds of their warranty). I hope this article sheds some light on the memory upgrade process.