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Expand and activate main memory: this is how it works step by step

Heinrich Puju

Upgrading the main memory is done quickly from the point of view of installation. In advance, however, you should check carefully what memory you have and what you need.

EnlargeHow to expand and activate your RAM.

RAM has long been expensive. Now the prices are in the basement! So the ideal time for a memory upgrade. It's not difficult to add more memory to a PC. Above all, it is important that the correct memory modules are used. We will guide you step by step to your goal.

1. Determine requirements

The size of the main memory depends heavily on the applications that you want to operate with it. Microsoft recommends a memory size of at least 4 GB for the current Windows 10 operating system. Graphics-intensive applications currently place the highest demands on the hardware. This includes programs for image and video editing as well as current games. Here you should have at least 8 GB or, even better, 16 GB of RAM available.

2. Determine the existing hardware

Other factors for upgrading your main memory are the existing main memory and the expansion options of your PC. You can determine the current memory either by unscrewing your computer or notebook and looking. Alternatively, you can use hardware analysis software such as the freeware CPU-Z for this purpose. This carries out a complete system diagnosis and then shows you the hardware used. On the "Memory" tab you will find all the necessary data on the available memory, including the frequencies and clock rates. The information is divided into two sections:

In addition to the current memory size, the type of memory and the number of channels are particularly important within "General".
When it comes to timing, the frequency of the DRAMs in particular plays an important role. The memory we examined is of the DDR3 type (1) and has a frequency of 798.7 MHz (2), as the figure for CPU-Z shows.
There is a second tab for the performance data of your memory with “SPD” (Serial Presence Detect). On the one hand, this shows how many memory modules are currently installed. You can see this when you select the respective memory bank from the "Memory Slot Selection" field.

For a later cooperation with other modules, the value “Max. Bandwidth ”is crucial. This is the maximum frequency specified by the manufacturer for the operation of your storage system. In the previous picture you have already seen the current operating frequency of 798.7 MHz. This corresponds accordingly with the information provided by the manufacturer. In the table below you can also see which timings are possible for the later BIOS settings.

3. The right storage

This gives you the right information about which memory is available in your PC. In the next step there are still a few factors that are decisive for upgrading your computer or notebook. At this point you will not get any further without opening the housing.

  • How many free slots are there on your mainboard? Especially with notebooks there are often only two storage spaces, of which at least one is built-in.

  • Are all memory banks freely accessible or are some of them covered by other components, such as long graphics cards or processor coolers?

  • Are there any restrictions on the part of the manufacturer with regard to the maximum memory size per bank or in total? At this point, a look at the manual will help you.

Manufacturers keep delivering new BIOS versions. In some cases, the compatibility list for memory modules is also expanded. For this reason, it is worth checking at this point whether you are using the latest BIOS version. Newer versions are available on the manufacturer's website. You will usually also find the latest edition of the manual there.

Notes on buying

There are two scenarios for upgrading the memory: If you are already using memory modules with the maximum permissible parameters, you can simply expand them with structurally identical ones. If these no longer exist because the mainboard is already one or two years old, it is best to look for modules that are as identical as possible with similar performance values ​​for clock rate / frequency, capacity, voltage and timing.

If there are no more memory banks or if the existing memory is far below the performance limits of your mainboard, you should consider a complete replacement. It is best to always buy your memory in manufacturer-packaged pairs. This means that you are almost certain that you will receive two modules with exactly the same performance values. A look at the shelves of the online retailer shows the necessary information that you need to buy: the type, the clock rate including CAS latency and the voltage.

4. Removal and installation of the accumulator

Before starting the renovation, you should completely disconnect your computer or notebook from the power supply. It is best to remove the battery from your notebook as well. Then open the case. If you have planned to replace the memory modules, remove them in the first step. To do this, press down the retaining clips at both ends of the memory bank. The memory module is automatically pushed upwards and can be removed.

For installation, insert the memory module into the memory bank - the notch must be in the right place. Then carefully press it down until it clicks into place. If this does not work, please check again whether you have inserted the memory module correctly.

If you have a more up-to-date mainboard, it usually supports two-channel operation, with which you can mathematically double the bandwidth for data throughput. To achieve this, the memory modules must be placed in the correct banks. To ensure that this succeeds, the manufacturers have usually given the associated memory banks the same color.

You can check whether Windows is using the full memory by going to the start menu and clicking on "Control Panel ➞ System and Security ➞ System". In the "Basic information" window, you can find out how much RAM is installed in the "System" area. If you have installed about 8 GB of RAM and the line "Installed RAM" reads "8.00 GB", everything is fine. However, if it says “8.00 GB (3.99 GB usable)”, the full capacity is not being used, in the example only half.

5. Activate unused memory

The problem is often due to the fact that the built-in memory was not correctly recognized by the PC in all parameters. Then it sometimes helps to swap the memory modules in the memory banks or to put them into operation step by step. To do this, shut down the PC again, switch it off and remove all modules except for a single memory bar. Then switch the PC on again, start Windows and check the memory capacity in the control panel as described. The capacity of the built-in memory bar must now appear here, for example "Installed main memory (RAM): 4.00 GB".

If this information is correct, shut down the PC again, replace the memory module and check this as described. After you have tested all modules in this way, insert one module after the other, start the PC after each and check in Windows whether the capacity of the main memory has increased accordingly.

Tip: Optimize RAM - How to get the most out of your RAM