DIY RAM memory upgrade, a step-by-step guide

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Joined: 02/12/2009

The number one issue which faces every new computer owner is RAM expansion. Every new computer ships with less RAM than it should have, which slows down your system. Macs in particular are notoriously under-equipped. This is mainly due to marketing, not engineering. (Apple and others would rather shave a few $$ off the list price despite receiving complaints about slower performance.)

Not to fear, adding RAM is simple and cheap. Without a doubt, this is the best cost/benefit upgrade you can make.

[ Remember that RAM is the operating memory that programs use when they are running, which is different than the hard drive space needed to hold your files and applications. Use this human metaphor: RAM is how good you are at multi-tasking, and hard drive space is your long-term memory. ]

Here's the step-by-step to upping your RAM...

First, figure out how much RAM you have now:

OS X:
Apple Menu--> About this Mac --> More Info

Mac OS 9:
Apple Menu --> Apple System Profiler

PC (XP):
Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> System Information. Then, see System Summary --> Total Physical Memory.

You'll see a detailed synopsis of your machine. To share this with a consultant, select File --> Save, to create a document containing all that info. If possible, export it as a text document.

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Next, figure out whether you have an open slot for an extra RAM chip, or whether you'll have to replace a current RAM-resident with a fatter one. I like using the free Mactracker guide to every Mac's tech specs (I don't know of a similar guide for PCs, please post your suggestions):
http://homepage.mac.com/ipage/mactracker/

Download that free app, launch it and select your model. The second tab, "RAM/Video," shows the number of sockets (RAM chip slots), and whether there is also RAM permanently attached to your motherboard.

You can also see the official Apple tech details on every model:
http://www.info.apple.com/support/applespec.html

You're almost always better off buying a particular amount of RAM as one chip, rather than two 1/2-sized chips. The only exception is that some systems gain a tiny speed boost when pairs of RAM chips are identical (this is called interleaving). But this speed boost is tiny, sometimes around 2-3%, and it's quite time-consuming to find matching chips, so don't bother.

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OK, so now that you know what you've got, what and where do you buy it? Basically, figure out the maximum you can afford, and then get the next-bigger one. Seriously, you will not regret it.

The trick is that RAM prices vary by insane amounts, so you can overpay very easily unless you go to the right dealer. You can find RAM for up to 70% less from a dedicated RAM dealer than from a general computer dealer. RAM prices fluctuate daily too, swinging up and down significantly. SO how could you possibly find the best price? Easy! Go to RamSeeker or DealRam:
http://www.ramseeker.com/
http://dealnews.com/c102/Computers/Upgrades-Components/Computer-Memory-RAM-/

Don't buy RAM anywhere until you check those lists, which are updated constantly. You'll be blown away by the $ you can save. Many dealers are monitored, and you can sort the lists by the chip you are looking for. If you need more options, here's more dealers:
http://www.silentway.com/forum/few-mac-shopping-recommendations-start

Here's a live guide to today's prices for certain Mac models:
/mac-tips-best-pc-mac-accessories

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Installation is not too hard if you're comfortable opening your computer. Most are built to allow relatively easy end-user RAM expansion. Just be careful to heed the anti-static rules by "grounding yourself." Find the step-by-step methods in your manual, or see the manufacturer's website.

http://www.apple.com/support/
http://service.dell.com/dell/cl/0,,33732+28,00.html

That's it!

I started this article the day a new RAM chip arrived for my new Mac. I took a break, and it took me about 10 minutes to pop in the new chip. I finished this on my noticeably faster system. It's much snappier, and I followed my own advice, so I saved mucho $. How's THAT for practicing what you preach?!?

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