Do You Need a Memory Upgrade

If your computer is running slow, freezing or crashing, it could mean that you need a memory upgrade. Operating systems, software and multimedia files keep getting bigger and hungrier, which can bog down even some of the newest computers. If a virus scan shows that your computer is clean and you're still having performance problems, it's time to get some more RAM.

Desktop Memory Upgrades
Desktop computer memory is available in two varieties: SDRAM and DDR RAM. Although SDRAM was the standard a few years ago, it's now the slowest type of PC memory available. DDR SDRAM is faster than SDRAM, making it a popular choice for memory upgrades.

PC RAM plugs into a DIMM slot inside your desktop and connects using 168-pin, 184-pin or 240-pin slots. You'll need to know which type of connector you have, as this will limit your choices. The goal is to get as much RAM as possible into the available slots.

Each memory chip is known as a module, and the way the modules work together can affect performance. In the case of SDRAM, the memory will only perform at the speed of the slowest module. DDR SDRAM varies; some modules can be mixed, while others must be paired. This table shows the memory upgrades available for each type of DIMM slot:

Type of RAM Slot Type Speeds
SDRAM 168-pin DIMM 66MHz, 100 MHz, 133 MHz
DDR RAM 184-pin DIMM PC2100, PC2700 (DDR 333 MHz) PC3200 (DDR 400MHz)
PC4000 (DDR 500MHz)
DDR2 RAM 240-pin DIMM PC2-3200 (DDR2 400 MHz)
PC2-4200 (DDR2 533 MHz)
PC2-5300 (DDR2 667 MHz)
PC2-6400 (DDR2 800 MHz)
DDR3 RAM 240-pin DIMM PC3-8500 (DDR3 1066MHz)
PC3-10600 (DDR3 1333MHz)
PC3-12800 (DDR3 1600MHz)
PC3-13000 (DDR3 1625MHz)
PC3-14400 (DDR3 1800MHz)
PC3-15000 (DDR3 1866MHz)

Determining Your Desktop Memory Upgrade Needs
You first need to know what kind of memory you already have installed. This means opening up your desktop PC and looking at the modules. Make sure the power is turned off and be absolutely certain to discharge any static electricity from yourself by touching a piece of metal well away from the computer. Static electricity can destroy PC memory.

Take a look at the memory chips, which will be labeled with a manufacturer and the chip type. You may also find this information in the owner's manual that came with your computer, or by using a software program such as AIDA or Everest to identify the modules.

Some computer memory is proprietary and will only function when paired with other computer memory of the same type. Even if you're not locked in to a certain type of memory, it's often better to get memory upgrades from the same manufacturer. For example, if you currently have 1GB of Kingston DDR2 DIMM computer memory, you can install DDR2 DIMM computer memory by any manufacturer in the next open slot, not just Kingston computer memory. However, choosing more Kingston memory would provide the best performance.

Try to get as much memory as you can for each slot. While it may be less expensive to get two 512k modules than a single 1GB module, it's better to have the extra slot available for a future memory upgrade.

Laptop Memory Upgrades
You should get professional assistance if you need a laptop memory upgrade. Some manufacturers will void a laptop's warranty if you open the case for any reason. Before beginning a laptop memory upgrade, check your warranty and the upgrade policies.

From a technical standpoint, laptops use SODIMM computer memory, which is smaller than the desktop DIMM modules and uses 144- or 200-pin connections. The speed of 144-pin SODIMM modules corresponds with 168-pin SDRAM DIMM modules, while 200-pin SODIMM modules may be equivalent to DDR or DDR2 DIMM modules. DDR3 computer memory has not yet appeared in SODIMM modules, and therefore has not yet made it to the world of laptop memory.

Graphic Memory
Graphics and multimedia use a portion of your installed computer memory. Onboard video cards, or video cards that came installed on your computer's motherboard, use system RAM for graphic applications. Gamers, graphic artists and video buffs can get better performance with a video card upgrade that includes dedicated graphic memory.

The type of video card you need depends on the slot included on your motherboard. Most computers within the past few years use AGP or PCI Express video cards that support varying speeds, ranging from 2X on AGP slots to 16X on PCI Express slots. You'll need to check your owner's manual or examine your system's profile to find out what kind of graphics cards are supported.

Graphic memory comes in three chip sizes: 128MB, 256MB and 512MB. 128MB graphics cards are good for less-intensive uses, including Web video, Flash media and some games. In general, the best graphics cards have 256MB of memory, which is enough to handle most popular games and full-screen DVD video. Hardcore gamers and video editors-even those working on home movies-should choose 512MB video cards to get the fastest performance.

Upgrade or Replace?
A memory upgrade is usually a cost-effective alternative to replacing an older computer. But because technology changes so quickly, you may be better off replacing your desktop or laptop. If your computer's memory is not available at Circuit City, Best Buy or popular online retailers like Newegg and TigerDirect, it's a good time to buy a new computer.

You may still be able to find older computer memory at specialized online retailers or Web sites such as eBay, but it may cost you more than current memory. Chances are good that if your computer memory is outdated, your other computer hardware is also past-due for an overhaul. Support for older software vanishes quickly, so it's a good idea to spend the money on a new computer instead of propping up an aging system.

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