Adding Memory

by Bob Seidel

For some reason, I have had a number of requests this past week to add more RAM or hard drive space to an older PC. So, let's discuss a few aspects of that.

Now, before we begin, I have to make a general comment. I usually don't advocate adding memory or bigger hard drives to a PC. If the PC is older than 3 years, you are probably throwing good money away for nothing. You will probably not significantly speed up a slow PC, and the effort of replacing a hard drive can be more than you think. If you can do all the work yourself (including parts selection), than it might be feasible. If you have to pay someone like me, it's probably not. But there are always exceptions - I have one client that has older PCs with 128MB of RAM and adding more RAM definitely did make them run faster. This is because memory vs. performance tends to have a threshold effect. If you have enough RAM for what you do and stay below some arbitrary threshold of memory requirement, it probably runs fine. But if you add more simultaneous applications (or bigger applications) that exceed the threshold, you performance suffers radically. Usually this occurs if your RAM does not provide enough v

irtual memory space, and the extra spills out to your hard drive, which is slow.

The first thing you need to know is that there are lots of different kinds of RAM memory. You can't make any assumptions about what it is, and even pulling out an old RAM doesn't help because they aren't always adequately identified. To identify exactly what kind of RAM your PC needs, try going to one of the online RAM vendor websites. They often have tools to detect your correct RAM type. Try as an example. That site works in two ways - either you identify the actual PC manufacturer and model, or you can download a program that searches and identifies it for you. Seems to work pretty well.

Once you identify the RAM, you have to purchase it. You may be able to find it locally, but are probably better off ordering it online. In the example of Crucial, I found their parts prices fairly competitive. Also try

Installing the RAM is fairly easy - there are no special software or drivers required. Just open your PC case, find the RAM slots, check the orientation (they only go in one way - look for how the pins go in) and snap the RAM into the slot. The PC and Windows will automatically detect the new RAM. If there is no available space, you will have to remove one of the existing ones.

I recommend a minimum of 256MB for Windows XP PCs, but 512MB or even 1024MB would be better.

Installing a new hard drive is even easier, in one sense. Almost any ATA or IDE hard drive (the standard for years) will fit and work OK - just pick a size. If you are adding a second hard drive, you need to identify which IDE interface (there are usually two - one for hard drives and one for CD-ROM type devices) and see if you have an extra connector. The only trick is that you have to set a jumper on the hard drive according to how the original hard drive is set - you will probably have to pull out the old hard drive to see this. If the old hard drive jumper is set to CS (Cable Select), then just set the new one also to CS. In this type of setup, the position of the connector on the cable determines how the drives are used - i.e. the cable selects. If the original drive is set as Master, set the new drive as Slave. Again, the PC and Windows will automatically detect the added drive. But you may have to partition and format the new drive - there should be manufacturer's instructions or software to do this.

Installing the new drive as the primary hard drive is a horse of a different color. The physical installation is easy, but you will have to copy ALL of the data from your old PC, including Windows. This is not so easy, and a much more complicated task than can be handled in this column.

But, again, if the PC is old, I recommend you just step up to a new one - the prices are right these days. Sell the old one or donate itů

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)