Your Windows laptop is starting to feel sluggish, maybe after updating the operating system, or you’ve installed some new programs or games.
Chances are you’re either running really low on storage space or RAM.
RAM — short for” random access memory” — is vital for your computer system to open, run, and manage programs, applications, and services. It’s where your computer stores data it needs to access rapidly.
The amount of RAM a system has can make or break a PC. The more RAM you have (to a point), the more applications you can have running side-by-side.
OK, so you decided to save some money and bought a laptop with 4GB of RAM and you’re now feeling it.
Just add more RAM, right?
I wish it were that simple.
Do you need more RAM?
What I find on Windows 11 is that those running systems with less than 8GB of RAM are the ones most likely to feel the pinch. Windows 10 users can get away with a little less, but if you have less than 4GB, you’re in that danger zone.
Windows 10 and Windows 11 are really good at telling you if RAM is running low. You’ll see a message that says, “Your computer is low on memory.”
That means you either just don’t have enough RAM (which means you need to upgrade), or you’re running a particularly demanding application (either stop using that, close some applications, or you need more RAM).
If you’ve just bought a new system and it feels sluggish right out of the box, my advice is to send it back. It’s not going to get better, and chances are that even if you could upgrade it to make it faster, it’s going to cost you more than buying a decent system to begin with.
Can you even upgrade your laptop?
Over the past decade, we’ve seen a shift (initially driven by Apple’s MacBook lines) to systems where the RAM can’t be upgraded. This is often justified by manufacturers as a way to make systems thinner and lighter, but it also means that people can’t upgrade these laptops, so they become prematurely obsolete.
OK, but how do you tell if your system can be upgraded?
Well, let’s start off with Apple MacBooks. If your system was made after 2011/2012, you’re out of luck. This is why I’m not going to be considering upgrading MacBooks here at all.
As for Windows system, things are a lot more complicated.
There are two ways to tell if your system’s RAM can be upgraded:
- Look at the documentation that came with your system – look for a phrase like “upgradable RAM.”
- Let the RAM experts tell you – both Crucial and Kingston have tools to help you locate this information (this is what I use — don’t just guess!)
Information you need to know
Here are things you need to know before pulling the trigger on an upgrade:
- Can your laptop be upgraded?
- How much RAM can it have?
- What kind of RAM does your system take?
RAM comes in modules — boards with chips on them — that slip into slots in your laptop. There are a few variables — different modules, different RAM capacities, and different speeds – that you need to know about to find the right RAM for your system.
How much RAM do you have?
Here’s how to find out how much RAM is in your system:
- Press the Windows key
- Click Settings
- In the right-hand pane, scroll down to About and click on it
- Installed RAM will appear under Device specifications
How much RAM do you need to buy?
Your laptop has 4GB but you want 8GB.
That means you need to buy 4GB, right?
Most laptops have one or two RAM slots, and if there are two, chances are that both are in use.
If your laptop has 4GB, it’ll have a 2GB module in one slot, and another 2GB module in the other. Manufacturers do this not only because smaller RAM modules are cheaper, but also the system will be a bit — a tiny bit — more efficient if you use both slots.
If only one of two RAM modules are used, you can keep the original RAM module.
Another thing to be aware of is that if there are two RAM slots, these will be on top of one another, and you have to remove the top module to get at the one below.
If there’s only one slot, then the RAM in that slot can’t be used.
The best way to tell how RAM is organized in your system is to open it up and take a look (we’ll get to this shortly).
Tools you need
You need a few tools to do this job.
I recommend using good screwdrivers, as there’s nothing that’s going to ruin your day more than rendering a screw unremovable by chewing its head up with the wrong tool.
How to use an ESD (ElectroStatic Display) strap
People get confused by ESD straps.
One end goes around your wrist, but what do you do with the other end? The internet will tell you to connect it to something that’s grounded, but this is not helpful to those doing a DIY upgrade at home.
My advice is to connect the other end of the strap — usually a crocodile clip — to either the metal case of the laptop, or a metal screw inside the system.
Don’t attach it to any components or circuit boards as this can damage things!
How to add more RAM to your laptop
Getting at the RAM: Older laptops had little slots that allowed access to the RAM, but on newer systems you have to remove the whole bottom cover, usually held in place with tiny screws.
A good place to find information on opening your laptop is to see if there’s a repair guide over on iFixit. It’s a fantastic resource for upgrading and repairing your devices.
Alternatively, you might find useful information by doing an internet search. Every laptop is going to be slightly different; it’s impossible to give you step-by-step instructions for every laptop out there.
OK, here are the steps for getting inside your laptop to change your RAM:
Pro tip: Take photos using your smartphone so you know where everything goes.