How to Get More RAM (Random-access Memory)

By: Jonathan Strickland & Zach Taras  | 
A little more RAM can improve your computer's performance. Carbonero Stock / Getty Images

One of the easiest and most reliable ways to significantly improve your computer's speed is to add memory, especially in the form of RAM (random access memory). If you're wondering how to get more RAM, the answer is pretty straightforward, although it helps to understand the parts and the process.

A RAM upgrade isn't a fix-all, but it can do a lot to keep your computer running smoothly, boost performance, and make your computing experience that much more pleasant. In addition, it's one of the simpler modifications you can make to your computer yourself. While in most cases it won't void the warranty, it's always a good idea to check with your manufacturer's guidelines first.


What Is RAM?

The acronym stands for "random access memory," which is a form of physical memory stored in your computer. That means it exists as a physical part of your computer's internal components.

If you choose to buy more RAM for your computer, it will come as a small array of chips on a rectangle of silicon, looking very much like the kind of stuff that's already sitting inside your computer. Some RAM upgrades actually involve inserting a new RAM module into the RAM slots in your desktop or laptop.


How RAM Works

Imagine RAM as if it were laid out like a big grid, kind of like the board on a game of Battleship. Each box in the grid represents a memory cell, and each cell can store information. You can access any cell within RAM if you know what row and column it's in.

That's why having more RAM means having a faster computer. The more squares on the grid, the more data that your computer can process and store. This makes running programs faster (i.e., more efficiently) for your machine.


Information in RAM memory cells can be overwritten or erased. That's one of the ways it's different from read-only memory (ROM). Your computer's ROM is hardwired into your machine's circuitry. It contains the information that allows your computer to perform basic functions like initiating the operating system or activating hardware.

What Does RAM Do for My Computer?

RAM usage is critical for allowing your computer to run applications. Your computer stores temporary information within the memory cells and refers to the data as it runs applications.

If the information isn't in your computer's RAM, the computer has to refer to its hard drive. This is slower than pulling information from RAM. So if your computer doesn't have enough RAM to run multiple applications or even one big program, it may feel like it's just crawling along.


Every computer has a maximum RAM capacity. Once you hit that limit, you've gone as far as you can go with your hardware. But unless you've customized your machine, chances are your computer has plenty of capacity for additional RAM.

Before You Upgrade Your RAM

The first step to a RAM upgrade involves gathering a little information. First, you need to know how much RAM your computer has already. Then, it's time to get a look at how your RAM is being used through an app such as Task Manager on Windows.

From there, you can free up RAM using a couple of different methods. Finally, if you're still finding that your computer isn't operating fast enough, you can purchase and install more RAM in your computer.


Checking Your RAM: Windows PCs

To see your current RAM usage, open Task Manager on your Windows PC. Then, select the performance tab and click on memory. This will enable you to see how much RAM your machine is currently using, whether both RAM slots are full and how many gigabytes of current RAM you have.


Checking Your RAM: Macs

What if you're using a Mac? Apple has made it easy to find out how much RAM you have in your computer. Click on the Apple icon in the top left corner of the screen. Choose the option that says About This Computer. You'll see a line that says Memory. This is how much RAM your Mac currently has.


Knowing Your RAM Upgrade Capacity

Once you know how much memory your computer has, you need to find out how much it can handle. There are hundreds of different computers on the market and not all of them have the same features and limitations. It'd be impossible to list all of them here.

Fortunately, there are some resources online that keep track of this information. We recommend using:


These resources will not only tell you how much more RAM your machine can handle, they'll also tell you what kind of RAM you can install. There are almost as many different kinds of RAM chips as there are computer models; you have to match the right RAM to your machine.

One Stick or Two?

If your computer uses dual-channel memory, you may need to install two modules (or sticks, as they're sometimes called) of RAM instead of just one. So if you want to upgrade to 8 or 16 gigabytes of RAM, you might need to install two separate RAM modules.

Make sure both modules have the same specifications, or the dual-channel feature won't work.


Free RAM Improvement

Before you go out and buy some not-so-cheap RAM modules, it's good to know that you can get more performance out of your current RAM with some relatively easy steps. Then, if you're still finding your computer to be sluggish, you can plunk down that hard-earned dough.

  1. Keep up with updates. Having an old OS can make your computer's RAM usage less optimal than it could be. By staying up with the latest operating system, you can ensure that you're getting the best performance out of your current RAM.
  2. Less multitasking. Running programs takes memory, and if you're running a lot of programs at the same time, this can tax your RAM. To free up RAM, try to close programs that you don't need at the moment.
  3. Restart your computer. This is a classic, reliable method to free up RAM on your machine. Sure, it's annoying — who wants to spend a few extra minutes waiting for their computer to shut down, then boot up? — but it can really help.
  4. Adjust virtual memory. Virtual memory is a way around RAM limitations. In both Macs and PCs, going into your System Settings will allow you to maximize your virtual memory.
  5. Clean house. This is another one of those simple-but-slightly-laborious processes that will help improve your computer's performance. By deleting both files and programs that you don't use, you'll be getting the best out of all the RAM you've got currently.


Upgrading the RAM in Your Computer

Now that you know how much RAM you have, how much your computer can handle and the kind of RAM chip you need to buy for your machine, you'll need to purchase the new RAM modules and grab a couple of tools.

In most cases, you'll just need a small screwdriver. When in doubt, consult your PC's user manual.


Power Down

Before you make any modifications, make sure your computer is powered off and unplugged. If you're upgrading a laptop, it's a good idea to eject the battery before getting started.

Open your PC's case with your screwdriver and locate the section on your computer's motherboard that contains the RAM. Consult your user's manual if you need help. Some laptops even have a specific panel you can remove to change out RAM modules.

Before touching any components inside your computer, you need to discharge any static electricity you've built up. The elements inside your computer are very sensitive to electricity — if you were to hit them with a quick zap from your fingertips you could damage them.

But it's simple to discharge static electricity: You just need to touch something metal before continuing.

Remove Old Memory Modules

If you're replacing existing memory modules, you'll need to remove the ones currently in your PC. Many PCs use clips to hold RAM into place. If this is the case, gently lift the clips and remove the each module from its RAM slot, and then set them aside.

Install the New RAM

Next, take your new RAM out of its envelope. Be careful not to touch any of the metal connectors or circuitry on the module. Line up the module with the slot in your computer. Most PCs have a notch that will guide you so that you don't install the module incorrectly.

Gently press the module into the RAM slot. Once you've seated the module, you can close the clips, replace the cover of the PC and you're ready to go.

Power Up Again

Don't forget to replace the battery if you're working with a laptop. Plug in the PC, turn it on and check your system's RAM. If the updated information is correct, you're set!

If not, you may need to restart again. If you still have problems, you should turn off the machine, unplug it, open it up and check to be sure the module is properly seated.

That's all there is to it.

With more RAM, your PC will be able to run more applications at the same time without consulting your PC's hard drive. While you haven't increased your computer's processing speed, you've reduced the amount of time it needs to check for specific data. It's an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get more life out of your PC.


Frequently Answered Questions

Can I upgrade my PC RAM to 16GB?
Yes, you can upgrade your PC RAM to 16GB.

Lots More Information

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  • Microsoft. "Find out how much RAM your computer has." (May 5, 2009)
  • Pash, Adam. "Hack Attack: How to install RAM." Lifehacker. Nov. 22, 2005. (May 5, 2009)
  • Rosenthal, Morris. "How to upgrade a laptop computer - Upgrading Laptops or Notebooks." 2008. (May 5, 2009)
  • Steers, Kirk. "How to Upgrade Your PC's RAM." PCWorld. Feb. 27, 2007. (May 4, 2009)
  • Walker, Andy. "How to Add RAM." Jan 1, 2008. (May 5, 2009)