Does your laptop feel slow? Have you ever run out of memory? Upgrading your laptop’s RAM is one of the easiest and fastest ways to increase its performance.
We’ll show you exactly which type of RAM is compatible with your laptop, and how you can upgrade your RAM. That’s if it is upgradable in the first place, but we’ll help you figure that out, too. When RAM is swappable, it’s easy to replace. So let’s dive in.
What Is Laptop RAM and Do You Need More?
RAM stands for Random Access Memory, but you’ll also see it referred to as physical memory or, simply, memory. Your operating system uses RAM to temporarily store information of running processes and tasks. More RAM means that more processes can run simultaneously.
A full RAM can cause performance issues because the operating system has to store the overflow somewhere else. To free up memory for active processes and tasks, the system starts to write excess data, i.e. information of idle processes or tasks, to the hard drive (virtual memory). When the user returns to an idle process or task, the system must first free up RAM, then fetch the data of the requested item from the hard drive, and load it into the RAM. Since hard drive read/write speeds are significantly slower than RAM read/write speeds, the user experiences lag.
If your laptop frequently seems to freeze up when you want to switch from one program to another, adding laptop RAM will probably give your system a significant boost.
With the rise of solid state drives (SSDs), this lag has become much less of an issue. And while upgrading your RAM is probably the easiest ways to fix lag, upgrading your system drive from a hard disk drive (HDD) to an SSD will also boost your laptop’s performance.
How Much RAM Do You Need?
The amount of RAM you need depends on what you do with your computer. Moreover, the amount of RAM you can add is limited by the type of operating system you have.
How Much RAM Can You Have?
All 32-bit Windows operating systems, including Windows 10, support a maximum of 4GB RAM. If that’s you, don’t hold back and get as much as you can. If you run a 64-bit Windows version, the amount of RAM you can add might actually be limited by your laptop motherboard.
Here’s an overview of physical memory limits for 64-bit Windows versions:
- Windows 10 Home: 128GB
- Windows 10 Pro and Education: 2TB
- Windows Pro for Workstations and Enterprise: 6TB
- Windows 8: 128GB
- Windows 8 Professional and Enterprise: 512GB
- Windows 7 Home Basic: 8GB
- Windows 7 Home Premium: 16GB
- Windows Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate: 192GB
A full overview can be found on this Memory Limits for Windows Releases page.
How Much RAM Do You Have Right Now?
Now that you know the maximum RAM your operating system supports, let’s find out what you currently have.
In Windows, press the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to open the Task Manager. Alternatively, you can right-click on the Taskbar and select Task Manager.
Switch to the Performance tab and check what it says under Physical Memory (MB) or Memory. The exact wording will differ, depending on your Windows version. In Windows 7, Total indicates the amount of RAM currently installed on your system.
In Windows 10, you’ll see the total amount of available memory in the top right of the Performance tab.
If your total RAM is less than what your system supports, you theoretically have room to upgrade. And if your RAM is maxed out, you also have a reason to upgrade. Keep the Task Manager open and see how your RAM performs over time as you continue using your computer.
To find out how much information your system keeps writing to virtual memory, use the Performance Monitor.
- Go to Start, type “perform” into the search field
- Open Performance Monitor
- Under Monitoring Tools, click Performance Monitor
- Next, click the green + symbol to add another variable
- Paging file from the list and click Add >>
- Click OK and watch
This will give you an idea how much RAM you really need.
Generally, 4GB should be enough for normal web browsing and text editing. Aim for 8GB if you frequently run multiple programs simultaneously and/or keep a lot of browser tabs open. Look for more if you run memory-intensive programs; Chrome happens to be one of them.
What Type Of RAM Do You Need?
Before you can upgrade your memory, you need to figure out which type of RAM is compatible with your laptop. In Windows 10, the Task Manager’s performance tab actually tells you what kind of RAM sits on your motherboard right now.
Consult With Crucial or Kingston
The most convenient way to look into your laptop and determine what will fit, is to use Crucial’s Memory Advisory or System Scanner Tool. For the first you need to enter laptop manufacturer and model, while the former is an executable that scans your system and automatically determines matching hardware. Both tools are available from the Crucial homepage.
Kingston offers a similar service for searching the right type of memory. You can search by system/device, memory part number, or memory type. Both Crucial and Kingston found our first laptop. Unfortunately, one had non-removable memory.
We tried a much older laptop and only Kingston came back with data. Under Compatible Memory Upgrades, it informed us, that our Acer Aspire 5251 laptop is limited to a total of 8GB DDR3 1066 or 1333 MHz Non-ECC Unbuffered SODIMM RAM, spread across two sockets.
If you are unsure about your laptop model, we recommend running Crucial’s system scanner. It will show you what type of memory stick you are using right now and recommend a new module based on that. An old Sony laptop we had on hand, for example, had one 4GB memory stick, thus one of the two slots was available.
Crucial’s system scan detected a DDR3 PC3-10600 RAM stick and offered a respective module. The result came with several notes about things to keep in mind. Kingston on the other hand determined that a DDR3 1333 MHz RAM stick is compatible with our model’s memory slots, but didn’t provide further details or recommendations. The key pieces of information here are DDR3 PC3-10600 and 1333 MHz.
Take Note of You RAM’s Specs
The wrong type of RAM (e.g. DDR2 instead of DDR3) won’t fit into your laptop. For best results, be sure to match the clock rate of your RAM sticks. In other words, when you buy an additional RAM stick, make sure its MHz count is identical to the one/s you already have.
Also keep in mind that laptop RAM modules are significantly smaller than those for desktop computer, hence they are called SO-DIMM for small outline dual in-line memory module. Don’t accidentally buy the wrong type of DIMM.
Here is a summary of what you need to know:
- Type of RAM, i.e. DDR, DDR2, or DDR3
- Amount of MHz supported by your laptop
- Physical size (SO-DIMM for laptops)
Obviously, both Crucial and Kingston offer these free tools because they want to sell you their respective RAM modules. And both manufacturers offer good deals and high-quality hardware. However, with the information gathered from their tools, you can safely shop at eBay or Amazon or your local electronics store.
Can You Keep Your Old RAM Module?
Mixing different RAM modules can cause performance issues due to RAM incompatibilities. In the worst case, your system won’t boot or it might not recognize one of the RAM modules.
If you want to keep the original RAM module, and if you are not comfortable with adjusting settings in the BIOS, you need to find a second module of the exact same make, i.e. same frequency, latency, and voltage.
Since it’s too easy to mess this up and because changing BIOS settings to fix incompatibilities can be challenging, we recommend buying a completely new memory kit and removing the old memory stick. It’s the easiest and safest choice.
How Can You Fix BIOS Settings in Case You Have a RAM Mismatch?
If you have two laptop RAM modules with mismatched frequency, latency, or voltage, your BIOS will harmonize the settings and default to the lower value. That’s if it recognizes both modules or boots at all. To prevent a loss in performance, you can overclock your RAM. Do this at your own risk!
Before you add the new RAM, boot into your BIOS and check whether you can adjust RAM latency, frequency, or voltage. If that is not possible, find out whether you can upgrade your BIOS.
If you can change your RAM settings, set the higher values of the two modules. Again, you are overclocking the RAM at your own risk! Particularly increasing the voltage can damage the hardware. Save and exit the BIOS and proceed as described below.
How Can You Add New RAM Modules?
Important: Before you lay hands on your laptop, be sure to unplug it, power it down, remove the battery (if possible), and ground yourself.
Most RAM modules are super easy to exchange. You might find a RAM access hatch on the back of your laptop. Otherwise, check whether you can remove the back cover or keyboard to expose the RAM. If you can’t spot the RAM sticks anywhere, consult the manual or the manufacturer website.
We have previously demonstrated how to salvage hardware from an old HP Compaq nw8440 and showed you where the RAM modules sit and how to release them.
Today, we will demonstrate how to do the same with an Acer Aspire laptop. If you have a different laptop model, we recommend visiting the manufacturer’s website to find a manual or instructions for your device.
Step 1: Expose the RAM
Locate the removable plastic hatch that covers the RAM compartment. If you have two compartments, the larger one likely holds the hard drive. Release the screws and remove the cover. This should expose one or two RAM slots of which one or both can be filled.
Step 2: Release the RAM Module/s
To release a RAM module, pull the clamps on its left and right to the side. Once the clamp was released, it’ll pop up and you can just take it out.
Step 3: Insert Your New RAM Module/s
To insert a new RAM module, slide it into the slot in a ~45° angle, be sure it really sits in the slot, then push it down.
You know that you inserted the modules right when the little notches on the sides of the RAM module align with the small protrusions of the clamps.
Step 4: Reassemble Your Laptop
And that’s it! Put the cover back on, tighten the screw, and boot your computer.
Step 5: Boot Into the BIOS or Windows
You can enter the BIOS before you boot into Windows to check whether the RAM was recognized and whether there are any additional options you can enable.
Ready, RAM, Go
Upgrading your laptop’s RAM is easy and can give your system a huge performance boost. Since most users max out the RAM before the CPU reaches capacity, a memory upgrade is usually smarter and equally effective as upgrading other hardware or getting a new computer. Besides, it’s a lot cheaper and you don’t have to worry about migrating your data.
Still lagging? Try boosting your laptop’s gaming performance.
Here’s how to free up RAM on your Windows PC so you can find out what’s using memory and put your resources to better use.
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