DIY Repairs, Upgrades To Save Your Laptop: Upgrading RAM

DIY Repairs, Upgrades To Save Your Laptop: Upgrading RAM

Too many laptops are cast aside for singular broken parts, for “running too slow”, or other problems that shouldn’t require a rent-sized new purchase. All this week, we’ll detail fixes and upgrades that save otherwise functional laptops. Today, we’re installing new memory.

Image via DIY JAM’s MacBook RAM replacement YouTube tutorial.

Upgrading or Replacing RAM, aka Physical Memory

There are many, many cases where a computer that’s “moving slow” or running “so crash-y” can work perfectly fine again with a boost in its available RAM or memory. Because, honestly, the processor requirements for your average non-gaming app don’t change that much from year to year, but the number of apps folks tend to have open scales up as new stuff comes out. Gina showed us how crucial the difference between 1GB, 2GB and 3GB was in a MacBook, and it’s a good explanation of why RAM helps so much.

Is It Worth Upgrading?

The How-To Geek, in answering the question of whether anyone needs more than 4GB of RAM, provided a good summation of modern memory requirements, along with tests one can run to see whether Windows is bumping up against a memory limit. Here’s the How-To Geek’s cheat sheet:

  • If you are a regular user, sticking mostly to light browsing, IM or YouTube, you are probably just fine with 2GB of RAM — but check Resource Monitor if you aren’t sure.
  • If you consider yourself a power user but don’t use Photoshop or virtual machines, you should probably have 3-4GB of RAM installed.
  • If you are a power user with virtual machines or you do heavy audio/video/image editing, you should consider upgrading with as much RAM as you can afford — just keep in mind that you’ll need a 64-bit version of Windows to take advantage of it all.

Determine Your Laptop’s RAM Type and Capacity

Figuring out how much memory you have is pretty easy. In Windows, right-click on your Computer or My Computer link from the Start menu, choose Properties, then check out the total calculated. On a Mac, click the Apple menu, then pick “About this Mac”.

Figuring out what kind of memory you’ve got installed and what space you’ve got left for more RAM is a bit trickier, but not by much. The How-To Geek offers a Windows guide to memory information, explaining how to pin down details on how many bays (slots) you have open for new chips, the speed of your RAM (which you’ll want to at least match, especially if you’re adding on), and your system’s maximum capacity using System Information for Windows.

On a Mac, you can use built-in tools to get at your details, as explained by RAM manufacturer Crucial (bottom of page). Basically, though, you’re heading to your “About This Mac” menu, clicking the “More Info” button, and choosing the memory section:

Upgrade or replace RAM in a MacBook: Some of the mechanics and configuration of a MacBook may have changed, but the way you stick a simple RAM stick into a silver box remains mostly the same. For a how-to video, try DIY JAM’s memory replacement of a 2009 MacBook Pro.

Upgrade or replace RAM in a PC: On the Windows/PC side, there are many kinds of laptops, and the place where you stick your RAM can be different on each. In general, though, you’ll find screws to loosen, and two slots with clasps that release your memory sticks if you hold on both sides. The most important rule for RAM chips, or any computer components, is that if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Physical memory is slotted, sized and grooved to fit in a very particular way into your machine, so back out and try again if it seems like it won’t snap in.

How do you find your RAM and what should you know to replace it? Your best bet is searching YouTube for something like (Your laptop model) memory upgrade, or perhaps searching the wider Google for a helpful blogger who detailed the process with photos.

On a modern ThinkPad, for instance, the RAM is found under the trackpad. Corsair, maker of memory chips, posted a video showing a RAM upgrade in real time, albeit with slightly wind tunnel sound:

And here’s an upgrade guide for Compaq Presario laptops, with lots of care taken and every step spelled out:

I’ve done both of the RAM upgrades shown in these videos personally. Both took less than 30 minutes, although I’m a bit more experienced (read: cautious) with my hardware work. Your first upgrade will require more time and a good bit more patience. But unless you’re truly scared of yourself with a screwdriver, you don’t need to pay anybody else to do this work for you.


There’s not much to do, really, other than screw everything back in, plug in and boot up. In most cases, your system will notice the new memory, boot up as normal, and your operating system will have a bit more room to spread out with applications and open files. If you upgraded beyond 3GB of RAM, however, you’ll need to upgrade your operating system to a 64-bit version. We’ve written up a guide to reinstalling your OS from scratch that should cover all your efforts.

Getting a strange system beep when starting up? Getting nothing at all when you power on? Try reseating your RAM — that is, opening back up and making sure your memory chips are snug and properly fitted. If you continue to have trouble, you may have received a bum chip, but most manufacturers have fairly easy return-and-replace offerings.

We’ll continue on with other laptop-saving fixes, like replacing your screen, later this week. In the meantime, if you’ve got any memory upgrade/replacement tips or victory/horror stories to share, we’ll take them kindly in the comments.


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