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Do it Yourself Memory Upgrades

brettcran
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You can easily upgrade your memory on your own. Have a look inside to find out the basics.
Often folks are intimidated by the internal workings of a computer and are afraid that they will damage components inside the PC. While this is certainly possible, it is a remote possibility unless you like to change your PC's parts using a sledge hammer or flame thrower. Now, just to be sure that I do cover what could "possibly" happen I want to mention a little known phenomenon called ESD or electro static discharge. Ever drug your feet across the carpet and then touched the door knob or your little sister and watched that electricity jump from your finger? It's the same principle. However, it takes far less built up electricity to damage a PC component. The amount of ESD it would take to damage a memory chip is not even detectable. It's for this reason you will often see PC techs wearing wrist straps that are grounded. This does not actually remove the charge but slowly trickles it away. If you want to be absolutely 100% sure you will not damage a stick of memory you would want to purchase an ESD mat and wrist strap. However, it is often enough to just make sure that you touch the chassis of your computer (on the metal parts of course) to help dissipate ESD. Most memory chips built these days can stand up to 3 volts of current running through them during normal operation so they are much heartier than the memory sticks of old. So if you want to chance it, as I often do, just ground yourself on the chassis, touch a metal door knob,or your little sister, and discharge ESD before removing the stick of memory from the ESD bag. 
Deciding what memory to buy
This is often the most challenging portion of upgrading memory. I will cover the two main methods of deciding what memory to buy. From the OEM, Original Equipment manufacturer and from a Third Party Vendor. Either way you decide to go you pretty much can't go wrong 
From the OEM.
If you had your machine pre built for you from a major manufacturer, such as, HP/Compaq, Dell, Sony, Gateway etc., and you don't mind paying for a little more for less hassle, the absolute easiest way to upgrade your memory is to go to the manufacturers web page and look for memory upgrades for your machine. This is often what you must do if you would like the manufacturer to support your system with the new memory in it. When you buy memory from the manufacturer they have done all your homework for you. The memory is guaranteed to work, it's not likely that you will accidentally purchase the wrong kind; it will be a supported system component when you need to call in for help and will usually be covered under its own warranty or depending on the manufacturer, will take on the warranty of your system. Finally, if you can stand to wait on hold, you can talk to a support representative about it and let them do all the decision making for you.
From a Third Party reseller 
There are several reasons for this and the reward for doing so is often better or faster memory, often at the same or lesser cost. However, there is a small price to be paid in the form of homework on your part to ensure that your new memory will work in your system and with your old memory if the plan is to keep the old memory. As a side note: I often recommend that if you are going from a very small amount of memory like 64, 128, or even in some cases 256 megabytes of memory in the system to a much larger amount such as 1 gigabyte or more, that you not use the old memory at all. There are several reasons for this that I will get into a bit later but for now keep that in mind while shopping for your new memory sticks. 
Homework.
In order to purchase memory for your machine you need to know what kind of memory it will support. There are several ways of doing this, the easiest of which are just calling your computer manufacturers tech support line and asking what kind of memory it is. If you are out of free tech support or do not use a machine that was built by a major manufacturer, never fear there are still plenty of easy ways to figure out what kind of memory you need to buy. Check the manual for your PC  look for the tech specs for your machine in the web pages at the manufacturer site. If this fails you can also open up the side of your machine and look for the manufacturers label on your motherboard along with the model of motherboard and go to it's website Check to see if the company you are buying memory from has any recommendations.
There are several things you want to look for when looking at the tech specs of your motherboard/computer to find out what kind of memory your PC supports.
1. The type of memory is it DDR? DDR2? SDRAM? SODIMM *notebooks*  single or double sided? Dual Channel?
2. The maximum amount of memory your motherboard will support.  Just because your machine supports 2 GB of memory doesn't mean that you can go buy 1x 2 GB stick and slap it in there and expect it to work. In the tech specs it will often say 512mb x4 for a total of 2 GB. 512 x4 for a total of 2gb means you have 4 total slots on the motherboard and each slot will support a maximum of 512 MB. So Pay attention to what this says and do the math.
3. The form factor for the memory sticks. DDR SDRAM SODIMM, in the simplest terms is the form factor of your ram. While this is a very simplistic view , for these purposes, this explanation is more than enough. If your machine only accepts SDRAM then that is the type you will look for when purchasing your new memory sticks so it might look something like this on the web 1x512mb SDRAM PC 133. This means that this is a 512mb stick of SDRAM that conforms to the PC 133 specification.  Each stick of ram has at least one slot on bottom side of the ram where all the metal contacts are. This is a kind of key system so that you don't put your memory in backwards and ensures that you don't damage your system. It also doesn't allow you to put the wrong kind of memory in your machine.
4. The speed of your ram is also important. Recall that I briefly touched on the PC 133 standard. I won't get in to the specifics of what each standard means but it's often a good idea to buy only memory that your manufacturer-motherboard manual recommends. If the info you gathered from your manual said that the mother board would support  4 x 1 GB DDR 333 memory sticks then you know that you need to look for DDR memory no more than 1 GB per stick and the specification of 333. Or in some cases you will see something like PC2700 or PC 2100 or ECC or Non-ECC, buffered or unbuffered. The idea here is that you just match up the specs exactly so that you know that you are getting only what your motherboard supports.
So what?s so great about buying this from a third party?
 "Why would I go through all that trouble?"you ask. More often than not, third party memory makers have a lifetime warranty on memory. As they are specialists in this arena they are often able to sell you the memory at serious discounts compared to buying from an OEM. Additionally, many of these manufacturers are already making the memory that ships in your machine to begin with so they can often guarantee that it will work in your machine once you have located the proper memory.  Whatever method you decide on as far as buying your ram, upgrading will do several things for you in the short and long term.
So you said you would talk about something later on...
Well, these are the things you will need to take into consideration. If you add the new ram to your machine and the PC will no longer boot up as normal then there is a possibility that the new ram and the old ram just aren't going to work together. It may be that the old ram is using an older technology than the new ram. Just take out the old ram and try the new ram alone in the machine. If your machine boots as normal then you can't use the old ram. No big deal really. You bought 1 GB and you used to have 64 MB.
So how do I install the new Ram? 
The hardest part is getting the right memory and with even the slightest of help, you can do that in less than 30 minutes. The physical act of installing the ram is even less difficult. The fact that you've been doing your homework on the ram to begin with will tell you what to look for inside your machine. There are usually two levers on both sides of the slots where the ram is seated on the motherboard. You generally need to push these down and the Ram will pop out of the slot very easily. Then you need only line the keyed parts on the bottom of the ram with the slot ( it will only go in one way) and push down with reasonable force. When I say reasonable, it will often feel like you are pushing hard. Most memory takes roughly 20 pounds of force to "snap" it in to place. You will listen for the snapping sound when you push the memory down into the slot. If you want to test it out to see if you pushed it in hard enough and if it is properly seated, press down on the release tabs and see of they actually "released" the ram from the slot. If you can pull up easily on the ram and it pulls right out of the slot with out using the release tabs then you didn't push it in all the way. Double check by pushing on both ends of the ram to make sure it's seated properly. 
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