How To Install Computer Memory

When a computer’s memory falters, tying a string around the mouse cord won’t help much. Computer Repair Las Vegas

Memory Demystified

System memory, also known as DRAM (pronounced dee-ram; dynamic random access memory), plays the role of messenger between your computer’s CPU and its main storage, holding all temporary data your computer needs to run programs and background processes until the CPU needs it or until it is written semi-permanently to the PC’s main memory, which consists of a hard disk drive or SSD (solid-state drive). For instance, when you launch Internet Explorer, the system copies all data related to the running of that program from the main storage to system memory. As you browse, system memory plays tag with your browser cache to alternately store and display the contents of your browsing session. When you launch another program, system memory loads data from that application, and any other applications you launch, as well as a multitude of background processes. Shedding Light On DIMMs System memory comes in two form factors, DIMM (dual inline memory modules) for desktop memory and SODIMM (small outline DIMM) for notebook memory. Memory modules in most modern PCs are either DDR2 or DDR3, though some older PCs may still be running DDR. We’ll explore the differences later on, but it’s important to note that each memory type has a notch carved in it among the metal contacts that correlates to specifically keyed memory slots. This ensures that you can’t plug a DDR3 module into a motherboard that only supports DDR2, and vice versa, and it also ensures you install them in the right direction.

When To Upgrade

You’ve probably heard that upgrading your system memory can speed up your PC. A system memory upgrade will improve how your PC performs if the sluggish performance is due to a system memory shortage. This is because as soon as your PC runs out of available system memory, it turns to virtual memory, which is just a fancy term for main storage that acts like system memory. When this occurs, you’ll typically notice a dramatic slowdown, because reading and writing data from main memory is incredibly slow. The hard drive, and even its faster sibling the SSD, were not built to be read and written to constantly as you open new programs and manipulate files during your computing session. If you have plenty of system memory already, upgrading to slightly faster modules will only marginally improve your overall PC performance, and you may not even notice the difference. You can reasonably assume that your PC needs a system memory boost if performance appears to slow down as you launch more programs, if your PC is more than three years old and has not already had a system memory upgrade, or if you know that multiple background processes and a few foreground programs running simultaneously are bogging down your system. You may also consider upgrading your system memory if you do not have enough, Computer Repair Las Vegas.

Check Your QVL, ASAP

When you decide that it’s time to upgrade, there are several specifications you have to know in order to purchase system memory that will work with your motherboard. Because motherboard and system memory compatibility can be difficult to determine, we suggest that you consult your PC or motherboard manufacturers’ Web sites and look for a QVL (qualified vendor list), which lists brands and part numbers of all the memory modules that have been tested and shown to work with the particular motherboard. Your motherboard or PC manual may include a QVL among its pages, but check online for the most up-to-date information. It’s important to consult the QVL first, because even if you purchase memory that should work in your motherboard (but that isn’t on the list), sometimes it just won’t. If you cannot find a QVL, or want to make sure the modules recommended in it are indeed appropriate for your PC, read on for all the facts you need to note when choosing the right system memory for your upgrade.

Capacity Concerns

There are three limiting factors when it comes to system memory capacity. The first is the current peak capacity of memory modules available, and the second is the number of memory slots that exist in your motherboard. As of this writing, 4GB modules are widely available. Most midrange motherboards come with four memory slots and low-end models can have as few as two. That means that on your average midrange motherboard, you’ll be practically limited to 16GB of system memory, and low-end motherboards will be limited to 8GB. The third limiting factor is your operating system. Avid Smart Computing readers will also recall that processors were once a system memory barrier, but nearly every processor sold in the last five years is capable of accessing more than 4GB of memory. Although processors effectively punched through the 4GB system memory limit long ago, 32-bit, consumer-centric versions of Windows, including WinXP/Vista/7, recognize only capacities of 4GB or less. To determine if you’re running a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system, click Start, right-click Computer, and click Properties. Look under the System Type heading and you will see whether you’re running a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. If you see 32-bit, then stick with 4GB of memory. If you see 64-bit, then feel free to purchase 4GB or more.

Speed Specifications

Memory manufacturers measure the speed of memory modules in both MHz (megahertz) and MTps (megatransfers per second). For instance, a DDR3-800 module has an 800MHz data transfer rate (technically, 200MHz quad-pumped), but the same module is also listed as PC3-6400, which tells you that it has a theoretical bandwidth of 6,400MTps. Your PC or motherboard will be limited to a memory with a given speed, so don’t buy memory rated above that number. System memory also comes with a CAS (column address strobe) latency rating, which appears as four numbers separated by dashes (i.e. 3-4-4-8). There’s a lot of information on CAS latency that falls outside the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that it simply describes the number of clock cycles required to perform various memory-specific operations. Lower numbers mean that the memory can do more in less time, but higher-speed memory modules will generally have higher CAS latency numbers. There aren’t many limitations here you need to know about, so as long as the speed of your new modules (listed as DDRXXXX or PCX-XXXX) matches the specs of your PC or motherboard, you’re in good shape.

Channel Choices

Generally speaking, system memory is sold in pairs (for dual-channel) and threes (for triple-channel). This is because matched memory modules have the same latency settings, speeds, and capacities to best ensure the highest throughput. A system with dualchannel memory can read and write data to two memory modules at once. Some of the latest processors can also talk to three memory modules at once, and these are called triple-channel systems. The takeaway here is that it’s better to replace your old memory modules instead of simply adding more, one stick at a time. Non-ECC & unbuffered. Memory also comes in ECC/non-ECC (error correcting code) and buffered/unbuffered varieties. All you need to know is that these are features that cater to servers, and you don’t need them. Just get non-ECC unbuffered memory.

The Shortcut

Visit Computer Repair Las Vegas. Although we’ve walked you through the three main specs you need to know, speed (in MHz or MTps), capacity (in GB), and channel (dual or triple), there’s an even easier way to determine the memory that is compatible with your PC or motherboard. Just visit www.patriot and use the drop-down menus and Go button to select your system or motherboard. It’ll tell you everything you need to know, even recommend the Patriot Memory modules currently available for your system.

Install The Memory

Now that you’ve acquired the appropriate memory module upgrades for your PC, we need to install them. If you’re installing memory modules on a PC you’re building, then you should ideally install them before installing the motherboard in the case. Otherwise you need to start by opening up your system. First, power down the computer and remove the power cable. Remove the case side panel to access the motherboard, making sure to discharge static electricity before touching any of the internal components by simply touching any metal portion of the case. Next, locate the DIMM slots on the motherboard. They’re typically labeled as such; they’re long and narrow and generally appear adjacent to the processor socket. To remove your existing memory modules, press your thumbs firmly on the tabs at either side of the slot so that they rotate away from the edges of the module. Also, before inserting the new memory, make sure to unlock these tabs on any empty memory slots you plan to fill. Next, unless you plan to fill all of the memory slots, you need to determine which modules should go into which slots. For instance, if you are installing four modules, and you only have two matched pairs of system memory, you’ll want to make sure each matched pair is running on one channel. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here: Motherboard manufacturers occasionally group slots that correspond to the different channels together or use different colored slots to denote channels. The only way to know for sure is to consult your motherboard or PC manual. When you know which slots to populate, remove the new system memory from its packaging and line up the notch in the module with the key in the slot, then gently but firmly press straight down on the new module until it slides into place. Do not force the module into place. If you’re having difficulty, doublecheck that you purchased the appropriate memory for your PC. Often, the tabs will engage once a module is fully inserted, but press them inward gently if this does not occur. Repeat this process for each new module you install. Finally, replace the cover on your PC, reattach the power cable and plug it into the wall socket. When you press the Power button, your PC should boot and recognize the new memory immediately. To verify that your new memory is there, click Start, right-click Computer, and click Properties. Look at the right side of the window under the Installed Memory heading and you will see the capacity of your system memory.


Smart Computing | September 2011 p.67


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