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How to Upgrade RAM on a Laptop: Essential Tips and Tricks

A man working on the hardware in his computer (how to upgrade ram on a laptop)

It can be a headache dealing with a computer that routinely freezes and gives error messages, but any computer user knows that this is an inevitable headache that all computers face over time. While not always, a lagging computer, display issues, random reboots, high memory usage, and overall refusal to operate are key indicators that it might be time to upgrade the RAM in your computer.

Installing RAM modules may not fix all problems, but it is a great way to improve laptop performance on a budget. In this blog, we will explore how to upgrade RAM on a laptop and answer some common questions about RAM and how it works. 

What is RAM on a Laptop?

RAM, or random access memory, is a laptop’s temporary short-term memory that applications use to readily access working data. While hard drives have storage, the RAM specifically stores data that the processor needs for applications and can be read and written in any order.

This makes accessing the memory in RAM significantly quicker than if the processor were to read or write to the hard drive. In short, RAM is what makes applications run quickly and efficiently. Avast explains it best, RAM is like the top of a desk where all your papers, materials, and tools are laid out to quickly access something without having to dig or search.

Selecting RAM for a Laptop

While RAM can seem simple to install and select, not all memory modules are the right fit for a device, and vice versa. Computers and RAM modules both have their set of standards to be compatible. These standards can cover the type of channels, motherboard frequency, available RAM slots, and more. Hopefully, our breakdown of each aspect will help you make an informed decision when buying RAM. 

How Much Memory is Needed

Selecting and installing RAM in a laptop can be intimidating the first few times, but a good place to start is identifying how much RAM the device currently has and how many memory modules it can support.

There are varying RAM amounts for laptops, the modern standard being 8GB, 16GB, and the ever-robust 32 GB. While there are some laptops now that have 64GB of RAM, these are less available and more expensive than the other models. The 64GB of RAM may be tempting because, admittedly, it contains a lot of power for such a compact device, but it is not necessarily needed.

It all depends on the intended use of a device. For web browsing, streaming, and day-to-day productivity tasks, 8GB may be a good choice, especially for those who aren’t necessarily tech-savvy. But this probably won’t hold up with more extensive processes.

A laptop with 16GB of RAM is a great option for general work computers and can handle most applications with ease. But, for resource-heavy processes, 16GB of RAM may struggle to keep up. 32GB of RAM could be considered overkill for web browsing and basic software, but for extensive processes, it can make all the difference for these heavy-hitting applications. 

To sum it up, for light computer use, 8GB should work just fine but for business or school, 16GB is probably needed to support the workload, and for any gamers, digital artists, or videographers, beefy 32GB RAM is probably the best choice. 

Motherboard Frequency

Selecting RAM size is only a part of selecting a memory upgrade for a laptop. There are numerous other factors to consider before purchasing. Motherboards are the main circuits and systems with slots to plug in other computer components. It is usually a flat, mounted part with all-over components attached. 

 Motherboards are set to accept only a certain amount of frequency. As an example, if a motherboard has a set frequency of 3000 MHz, it can only accept RAM at the same frequency or lower. Using anything higher than that can result in issues and will not work with the motherboard. 

Checking the frequency is thankfully pretty easy. Usually, the frequency can be found by going to the laptop’s Task Manager and selecting the Performance tab. The memory window should show the speed capacity.  

The "Memory" tab in the Windows Task Manager

Voltage

In some cases, RAM may require a higher voltage than the standard 1.65V, and this should be taken into consideration when shopping for memory upgrades. A good rule of thumb is that Core i7 processors should not use RAM over 1.65V or else it could risk damaging the processor.

Bit Operating System

While most modern laptops have 64-bit OS, it is important to verify because the bit rate directly correlates with the amount of RAM the device can support. 32-bit OS only supports up to 4GB of RAM while 64-bit is for 4GB or above. 

Types of RAM

There are several types of RAM with varying aspects; different devices take different RAM. Channels are the link between RAM and CPU that allows data to transfer between the two. Some laptops offer single-channel RAM while others offer dual-channel RAM.

So what’s the difference? Single-channel RAM runs on a single 64-bit channel,  whereas dual-channel RAM has two 64-bit channels, offering a total of 126 bits. This can be found in the computer settings but can also be determined when the device is opened up. If there are two physical memory slots or RAM slots, the device runs off a dual channel.

Regular DDR RAM is obsolete at this point. No new devices take it anymore, but it is still important to be mindful of this in case there are still some old replacement parts floating around on the market. DDR2 RAM is nearly completely outdated; however, there are still some older laptops and desktops that take this type of RAM. 

The older standard is DDR3 RAM, which is doubled in speed compared to DDR2 and supports higher amounts of memory. The most current is DDR4 RAM, which may be expensive when buying a machine that supports the new and upcoming standard. 

How to Upgrade RAM on Laptop

Picking out RAM is a task in itself but when it comes time to replace the RAM, these simple steps can help properly install new memory. 

Step 1: Gather Materials

First and foremost, a clean, clutter-free, flat surface is the optimal place for working on a laptop. Once the workspace is ready, gather the laptop, the compatible memory, a screwdriver, the owner’s manual, and a pry tool. 

Most hardware stores sell the optimal screwdrivers and pry tools for taking apart a laptop and they are usually fairly affordable. While a pry tool may not be fully necessary, it is good to have on hand for easily popping off the bottom of the laptop. 

Step 2: Safety Precautions

Once all the tools are prepared, use the laptop’s manual for instructions on how to open it up. Please be aware that the power sources should be disconnected and you should ground yourself when working on electronics to avoid electrostatic discharge. If the laptop has a removable battery, it should be taken out before work is done as well. 

Step 3: Accessing the Computer Components

In most cases, the screws will need to be removed from the bottom of the laptop. Then, the pry tool will need to be used to open the casing of the laptop. 

Once the backing is removed, it should be easy to locate all the computer components. But, of course, the user manual is still helpful to have. 

The back of a computer without its shell

Step 4: Locating Current RAM

Once proper precautions have been taken and the computer backing is open, locate the RAM using the manual. To remove the old memory module, pull the side clips away from where the RAM is seated.

Step 5: Remove Current RAM

The memory module should pop up, allowing the old RAM to easily be slid out. Once the old RAM is removed, the new RAM can be slid into its place. To avoid damage when upgrading RAM, make sure to lightly hold the memory stick on both ends and avoid touching the gold pins.

Install the RAM module into the prongs and make sure it is securely seated. It may take a little pressure to get the Memory module to click in. 

Step 6: How to Seat the New RAM

Slide the RAM into the prongs and make sure it is securely seated. It may take a little pressure to get the Memory module to click in. Once the new RAM is seated properly, it should look flush within the laptop. 

Put the laptop backing on and screw it back into place. If the battery was removed, it can be put back into the laptop at this time. Fire up the laptop, and enjoy new speedy processes. 

Person inserting Samsung tech into a laptop

How to Troubleshoot RAM Issues

Laptop Will Not Boot Up

In a perfect world, computer components such as RAM would last forever. But, just like any piece of technology, it can degrade and even fail over time. Unfortunately, RAM can be damaged from a broad range of factors such as improper cooling or ventilation, improper handling, and improper installation. 

A key indicator that something has gone wrong when installing memory is if the computer is not booting up correctly or at all. Sometimes this can be something simple such as not securely fitting the memory module to the motherboard or an error in reconnecting the power supply.

If you check the connectors but the computer still isn’t booting correctly,  it could be an issue with the OS and memory limitations. Of course, checking the new memory module to ensure it is compatible should be done before the installation. 

Partially Recognized RAM or Freezing

For older devices, an update of the BIOS may be needed to ensure the new memory works with the older hardware. Thankfully, this is fairly easy and can be done by reaching out to the manufacturer or even checking out their website. 

OS Is Not Recognizing the Correct Amount of Installed Ram

This usually occurs if the RAM is installed on a device that cannot support the amount. For example, a 32-bit OS can only run 4GB of RAM so even if more is installed, the device is limited to just 4GB.

There are some cases where the OS architecture requires addressing which can overlap the physical memory of 4GB. The memory can be affected by motherboard resources, system BIOS, and other background protocols. X86 chipsets have been known to support memory hole remapping by detecting and addressing the interference with memory. 

Steps to Troubleshooting After Installing Ram

There are several good rules to follow when installing memory modules and to check through after installation. 

First, verify that the power cables, battery, and power cords are correctly connected. Power issues are one of the main issues that users run into when installing RAM modules so it is important to verify that it isn’t something as simple as needing to connect the power. 

Secondly, if the laptop is taking longer to boot up when first starting, this can be normal as the system runs memory checks. If it is still rebooting slowly a second time, there are probably other issues. If the laptop is not booting up at all but has power, it is recommended to power off the device and open it back up to reseat the RAM to guarantee that it is seated correctly.

Third, even if the laptop is running fine and you have verified the correct amount of RAM is showing up, it is still good to use the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool to test the stability of your RAM. If everything is good, it will show no errors. 

How to Upgrade RAM on a Laptop: Ready to Install Your New Memory?

Two RAM components

When it comes to DIY tech projects such as installing RAM on a laptop, it can seem arduous, tedious, and even a little intimidating. But, with our guide, we hope installing RAM can be a breeze. Always be mindful of the type of RAM being purchased and the compatibility of the laptop and the OS.

Once the compatible RAM is purchased, ensure that the work area is clear of anything debris and that the power source is removed from the laptop. It is also good to make sure you are grounded at the time of the installation. 

From here, simply access the laptop components by using the manual as a guide to open up the bottom and find the location of the current RAM. Seat the new RAM in and close the device back up, reconnecting all the wires and electrical components. It is important to run a stability check on the RAM, even if it appears to be working properly. Of course, in the case of unplanned errors, use the troubleshooting tips, but generally replacing RAM is fairly straightforward.

To learn more about laptops, maintenance, and security, check out our blog on laptop security tips to help keep your laptop running smoothly. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

When do you need to upgrade your laptop’s RAM?

There is no real expiration date on RAM but general wear and tear, system overheating, and just overall, more advanced processes will cause your laptop to slow down over time. If a laptop is experiencing issues such as slowness, freezing, and crashing, and shows a memory usage of over 50% during day-to-day tasks, it is probably time to upgrade the RAM.

How much laptop memory should I add? 

Memory is not a one-size-fits-all and depends on the intended use of the laptop. It also depends on the capacity for RAM on the device. The standard RAM modules come in 8GB, 16GB, and 32 GB. There are some variations but most modern computers use these three. 

How do I know if my laptop can upgrade RAM?

If your system is 64-bit, it most likely can be upgraded, especially if the device is using a dual-channel RAM configuration. 

Can I add 8GB RAM to a 4GB laptop?

It all depends on the OS. A 64-bit can run 4 GB and above while a 32-bit cannot. 

Will adding RAM make my laptop faster?

Optimally, yes, more RAM should speed up PC performance if done correctly. Be aware that replacing RAM is not a magic fix-all and other components and factors can bog down a system. With older models, RAM could be replaced but only if it has the capacity, and even then, sometimes it is best to purchase a new laptop. If you are interested in purchasing a new laptop rather than trying to upgrade RAM, check out our 5 Best Laptops Under $500, or for something a little more high-end, try looking at the Best Touchscreen Laptop Buyer’s Guide!

Will adding more RAM free up storage on my device?

No, adding RAM does not increase the storage of your hard drive. To increase storage space, getting a compatible, larger hard drive will do the trick. You can also use a flash drive to offboard excess files. To learn more, check out our blog on hard drives vs flash drives.

What laptop would be a better replacement, Dell or Apple?

When it comes to Dell VS Mac, there are a lot of pros and cons to review. Just like the amount of RAM needed, the type of computer you buy also depends on the intended use and overall personal preferences. Check out our blog post on the differences between Dell and Apple.

Amber Briggs

Amber Briggs

Amber Briggs has served 8 years in a corporate IT role. She assists users in troubleshooting hardware and software, implementing and maintaining network hardware and software, and writes process documentation for end-users and other company members. Amber has previously worked as a Junior Systems Admin for many companies, including Doctors Making Housecalls, Carillon Assisted Living, and Custom Communications Inc. She also has experience working as a Technical Support Agent at Citrix. She holds a degree in professional writing and is currently studying computer science and information studies at Houston Community College. Amber has many hobbies outside of work, including art and graphic design, surfing, gardening, gym, video games, going to the gym, and skateboarding.

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