What Can (and Can’t) Be Upgraded or Repaired on a Laptop

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In general, laptops are much more difficult to repair than PCs, and it’s understandable why they would be. Every model of laptop must be designed very specifically in order to cram all the needed computer goodness into such a small package. Unfortunately, all this engineering leads to a product that is very unique and, therefore, chock-full of low-demand components that are hard to find and expensive to purchase. There are, however, a few simple repairs and upgrades that can be made to your laptop if you’ve got the know-how.

Why are laptops harder to repair?

Desktop computers are easy; a ten-year-old could build a desktop from the ground up without breaking a sweat. This is because desktops use mostly inter-compatible parts and are all assembled in more-or-less the same fashion. Laptops, on the other-hand, are built with parts specifically designed for their machines. This means that a motherboard for an HP DV6000 laptop will only be compatible with a single model and would be much harder to find than a mass-produced, super-compatible desktop part. Processors, video cards, and connectors are also locked in by the engineers when they create the computer. Laptops can’t really be modified.

What can be repaired?

That said, there are a few laptop components that can be repaired and upgraded without too much difficulty.

RAM

As always, this is the best bang-for-your-buck upgrade you can make to your system; laptops are no exception. Laptop RAM is pretty simple on the compatibility end; you’ll just want to match whatever speed of memory you’ve already got. To do this, download and run CPU-Z (click here to download CPU-Z), a free program that analyzes the hardware in your system. This program makes finding matching RAM very simple. CPU-Z will also tell you the number of slots you’ve got, so you’ll know how many sticks of RAM your computer can hold. The most difficult part of purchasing laptop memory is determining how much total memory your laptop can recognize. If you pop 8GBs of memory into a computer that can only recognize 2GB, you’ll have 6GB of memory that cannot be used. The best and only truly reliable source of this information is the laptop’s manufacturer. Contact their customer service and ask them.

Here’s a quick example of the RAM installation process. (The background music is epic!)

When you’re ready to purchase memory for your laptop, look for SO-DIMM (Small-Outline-DIMM) memory; this is the technical name for laptop memory and refers to the smaller form factor laptops require. Make sure you’re buying the same speed of memory as well; if CPU-Z says you’re running PC2-6400 (400MHz), only buy RAM that runs at that speed. Installing your RAM will actually be the easiest part of the process. Remove your battery, look for the ram ports, and pop the old RAM out (it should work like the clicker on a pen, push in to release, and it will pop out), and then push the new RAM in. If you can’t figure out exactly where your memory ports are hiding, check your manual, manuals are smart.

Hard Drive

Laptops use 2.5” hard drives and are very easy to replace or upgrade. The only major compatibility issue is the type of drive connector your machine uses, IDE or SATA. Most computers built in the last 10-years will use a SATA drive, but you can make sure by checking your Device Manager utility (Control Panel -> Device Manager -> Disk Drives), which will say either ATA (SATA) or IDE. Laptop hard drive replacements are especially painless if you use an external hard drive dock (like this one) and “mirror” your old drive onto the new one. This way, all the data on your original drive will be copied onto your new one as is, so you won’t have to reinstall Windows or any other programs.

Installation will vary from laptop to laptop since you’ll have to determine exactly where it is, but it will always boil down to removing the old drive and popping in the new. There aren’t any confusing or complicated steps; replacing a hard drive is just as simple as putting a DVD into a DVD player.

Speaking of DVDs, your laptop’s optical drive can be upgraded or replaced in the exact same manner as hard drive! They use the same types of connectors, IDE or SATA, and can be swapped out in the same manner.

Keyboards, Trackpads, and Displays

Laptop keyboards are common collection points for less-than-ideal additions such as coffee, doughnut glaze, and (in my case) your daughter’s peanut butter sandwich. A sticky, unresponsive, or possibly smelly keyboard or trackpad can be replaced from home without too much difficulty, as can a burnt out or otherwise broken monitor.

As with the other upgrades I’ve mentioned, the most difficult part of the process will likely be finding the right keyboard. To find the right model, it’s best to turn to Google. Search something like “Laptop Keyboard for HP DV6000” and start shopping. Use common sense—if the keyboard looks like the one you’re looking to replace, it’s probably a safe bet, if not, I’d keep shopping. The difficulty or ease of finding your keyboard will depend mostly on how common or rare your laptop is. Note, however, that these parts are not upgradable—you can’t by a higher resolution monitor or a different keyboard and expect it to work.

Once you’ve found the right keyboard, you’ll have to remove the bezel (the plastic frame around your keyboard), unscrew the old board, disconnect it from wherever it’s connected, and then reverse the whole process with your new part. (I know I’m being vague but every laptop will be slightly different so I can’t get too specific.) Here’s a quick video of the whole process:

Trackpad and display replacements will work the same as keyboard replacements. Find your new part through Google, remove the bezel, unscrew, disconnect, and reverse with the new part. The whole process shouldn’t take more than five or ten minutes, and will work out fine; as long as you don’t lose the screws (don’t lose the screws).

When you’re ready to pick up your new laptop parts, make sure you check out OutletPC; we’ve got a wide range of laptop hard drives, optical drives, RAM, keyboards, and monitors compatible with many of the most popular laptops out there!

The Idiot’s Guide to PC Case Choosery

Unless your planning on something crazy, like installing a computer into a fish tank, you’re going to need a PC case. Also called a chassis, your PC case is the metal housing which stores and protects all the geeky gizmos that make up your computer. Whether you’re building a new machine or your rig’s just ready for a new outfit, here are a few things you want to think about while choosing the best case for your computer.

“And now, your highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel [PC Case] . . .”

A lot of the decisions you make when putting together a new computer depend on its location and purpose; the case is no exception. Cases come in lots of shapes and sizes, from massive full-tower chassis, as big as a mini-fridge, to tiny home-theater cases about the size of a bag of chips.

Big Cases

Folks who buy the big, “full-tower” cases are generally more concerned about the chassis’ interior space, which allows the best upgrade and component choices of all the cases, than they are about how much space their PC will occupy in the desk area. High-end workstations and gaming rigs will need a case like this, since they offer enough space for massive graphics cards, large, after-market cooling fans, and often come with rubber grommeted holes for liquid cooling systems. A full-tower isn’t for everyone though, they average about 20-22 inches in height and depth and often weigh upwards of thirty pounds.

Medium cases

The average user will want to choose a “mid-tower” case. These cases posses most of the benefits of full cases but are a little more space conscience, averaging 16-18 inches in height and 18-20 inches in depth. They’re often preferable to full-tower models since they’re a tad less imposing than their big brothers and don’t command quite so much attention. Most mid-tower cases will fit full-sized video cards and cooling fans, but expect space to be limited if you plan on getting too fancy.

HTPC or ITX cases

These are the smallest of all PC cases and are typically meant for very specialized rigs like a Home-Theater PCs or Home Servers. They’re usually only 2-4 inches tall or thick (some ITX cases are horizontal like a VCR or DVD player while some are vertical like a book on a bookshelf) and about a foot in depth. Their small size allows them to fit easily into a home-theater system or to be placed on a shelf or in a cupboard. You’ll have to be very conscience of space, however; the case interior will be very cramped, so you’ll have to be very choosy in buying your parts. “Low-profile” or “slim” hard drives and expansion cards are a must here.

“[The PC Case] and I were about as compatible as a rat and a boa constrictor”

Compatibility will be an issue in case choices as well, the biggest concern being your motherboard. When installing a motherboard into a case, the board is mounted onto risers which are designed to match up with corresponding screw holes found on the motherboard. If there are no compatible mounting points, there will be no installing the board. Granted, this is usually because there isn’t enough space in the case’s interior for the board, but it does illustrate the need for attention in purchasing. Generally speaking, the following case/motherboard compatibilities hold true:

-Full-Towers hold E-ATX (the E stands for extended), ATX, and mATX motherboards

-Mid-Towers hold ATX and mATX motherboards

-HTPC / ITX cases hold mATX and ITX motherboards.

Aside from motherboards, you’ll want to consider any expansion cards you’ll be getting. Some cases require low-profile adapter cards, and some will be too short to handle the super-sized graphics cards used in tricked-out gaming systems.

“The need of [PC Case] expansion is as genuine as instinct in man as the need in a plant for the light”

Since your computer consists of much more than a motherboard, you’ll want as case that can support all the other expansions you’ll want as well. This spec is indicated by the number of drive-bays and expansion slots found on a case. Here’s a quick explanation of drive-bays and what they’re good for:

5.25” – These are the external drive slots you use for CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray drives; most cases have two, though some have as many as five. There are other types of devices which can be installed in these ports, but that would be the point of a whole other article (which I’ll link here once I’ve written it).

3.5” (External) – These bays are most commonly used for card-readers and the antiquated floppy-drive. Few cases sport more than one of these ports, and many forgo them altogether, so if you’re set on having one you may have to make a little extra effort.

3.5” (Internal) – This is, without a doubt, the most abundant drive-bay resource on the planet! These internal ports are where hard drives are installed, and most cases have at least four of them, though larger ones may have as many as eight.

2.5” (Internal) – This super-small drive-bay is actually meant for laptop computers and isn’t typically found in a desktop. I mention them, however, because many of the ever-more popular solid-state data drives are actually sized for a 2.5” bay. Should you wish to install one of these in your desktop, you’ll need a 2.5” to 3.5” drive-bay adapter.

“You’ve got the stuff . . . you’ve got the POWAHHH [Supply]!!!!

Some PC cases come with a built-in power supply. These cases are usually mid-to-low-end and are geared towards those looking for a quick and easy build. However the PSUs built into these cases are (almost) all bottom-of-the-line units which are inefficient and not at all geared for performance PCs. If your intended build is fairly basic, you’ll probably be happy with your built-in power supply. Those building high-powered or highly-efficient computers, however, will be better served by the purchase of a power-supply-less case and by choosing a more potent, separate PSU to fit their needs.

“I can take it . . . the tougher it gets, the cooler [my case] gets . . .”

In the world of computing, cool is equal to quiet. All of the noise you hear from your computer comes from the fans which work tirelessly to extract all the heat pumped out from your CPU, hard drives, RAM, video cards, motherboards, and other components. While the most direct heat removal duties fall to CPU fans and heat sinks, the more general cooling duty of keeping down ambient temperature falls to the PC Chassis. So, unless you want your computer to sound like a sick Dirt Devil, you’ll want to pick a case with a decent cooling system.

Though some cases are equipped with liquid cooling systems, the general cooling duties fall to case fans. The basic thermal dynamics of a case interior are pretty simple: heat is generated from a processor or other component, captured by a heatsink, disbursed into the air inside the case by fans or heat-fins, and then pushed outside the case by the case fans. Look for a case that has several large fans and you’ll have a much cooler and thus quieter computer.

“When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m [a cool-looking computer chassis]”

Of course, one last consideration is the way your case looks—some cases look really, really cool! LED lighting, most commonly found in red, blue, and green, is pretty easy to come by, you can even pick up extra case fans with matching lighting to improve the effect. Some cases also have a clear side panel so you can show off the case interior if that’s your thing.

Both as an example of awesome and visual reinforcement to consolidate all the knowledge you’ve just sucked in, here’s a video review of my personal favorite case at the moment, the NZTX Phantom. (The review is by 3DGameman, easily one of the best hardware reviewers on the web.)

You’ll find tons of cases in all shapes, sizes, and styles in the PC case section of OutletPC and if you’d like to know more about upgrading you computer check out my part’s-picking guide here.

Has USB finally Met its Match? Meet Thunderbolt!

Tech aficionados may have heard a thing or two about Intel’s “Light Peak” over the last couple of years. It was an all-powerful new I/O interface meant as an all-in-one replacement for several of the data connections currently popular in computers—though it hasn’t received much media attention while in development.

That changed today when Intel shot out a press-release not-only presenting their new connector to the world but announcing its immediate availability through Apple’s latest line of Macbook Pro Laptops. Intel also declared a name-change for the technology, dubbing the new connector “Thunderbolt”.

What is it?

Thunderbolt is a data transfer technology, similar to USB, but which is capable of far greater speeds than anything readily available today. This new connector is capable of transferring at fantastically high-speeds, up to 10Gbps. In comparison, the USB 2.0 connector you’ve most likely got on your computer runs at only 480Mpbs, making Thunderbolt roughly 20-times faster than the current popular technology! It accomplishes this by essentially doing for PCI-Express (PCI-Express is an internal high-speed data slot found on your motherboard) what eSATA did with SATA. It provides the same quality connection in an external, Plug-and-Play solution.

In addition to pure data, as with a USB cable or PCI-Bus, Thunderbolt technology is also capable of transferring video and audio signals through an integrated DisplayPort protocol; meaning that Thunderbolt will be able to transfer greater-than-1080p video, 8-channels of audio, as well as data through the same cable. In short, Thunderbolt could effectively replace SATA, PCI-Express, PCI, Firewire, HDMI, DisplayPort, USB, and Audio ports all with equal ease.

What does it mean for you?

Not much right now, it will be several years yet before this new technology becomes common-place. Massive changes such as this are fueled by money, money is generated by demand for a product, and most folks won’t be demanding Thunderbolt until their current gadgets break. As of today there are no products that Apple’s new Thunderbolt enabled laptop can connect to, though we’ll soon see compatible offerings from Apple (likely their next generations of monitors and AppleTVs) as well as from storage and media companies Apogee, Avid Technology, Blackmagic, LaCie, and others.

What does it mean for the industry?

I’m sure Intel sees it as an end to USB, a sentiment I find unlikely. While USB 3.0, the current top-of-the-USB-line is only capable of 5Gbps, half of what Thunderbolt can handle, USB 3.0 is also backwards compatible with USB 2.0—the mainstay connection for hundreds of thousands of products that will still be in use ten-years from now.

What I’m more interested in is the continually blooming buddyship between Apple and Intel. Those two computing giants are getting a little too close for comfort in my opinion and, should they become too intertwined, could strike a big blow to Windows-based platforms.

For now though, let’s just focus on shopping at OutletPC! If you’d like to know more about video connectors such as DisplayPort and HDMI, check out my Idiot’s Guide to Video Cables. If you’d like to read Intel’s official press release on Thunderbolt click here.

ATI CrossFire and NVIDIA SLI – Brothers of a Different Mother(board)

High-end gaming rigs can get pretty crazy. Expensive, shiny cases with glowing liquid cooling tubes, after-market CPU coolers the size of lawnmower engines, more effects lighting than a Honda Accord from the Fast and the Furious, and, of course, SLI or CrossFire configured video cards.

For the uninitiated, SLI and CrossFire refer to the installation of multiple linked video cards which, when their powers combine, may summon CAPTAIN PLANET! (Or at least render him more quickly).

More specifically, SLI refers to the linking of NVIDIA graphics cards, while CrossFire, or CrossFireX (CrossFireX is what it’s called when there are more than two cards), is restricted to ATI Radeon products.

Despite their different sounding names, the two are fairly similar, with only a few noteworthy differences between them. First, let’s examine the basics of the concept, then we’ll look at the quirks of each, and finally we’ll return and talk about whether or not upgrading to dual graphics cards is a good choice for you.

The Basics

In either setup, CrossFire or SLI, two or more cards are connected via a bridging device and are made to work together, as one card, to more quickly render 3D video. The two cards will assume a master/slave relationship; one card will receive information from the computer and will pass a portion of it along to the slave card, which will then process it and pass it back to the master card, which will then display the information. Because of this, the video ports of the master card will be the only ones able to output any video.

Ideally, the cards will split the workload right now the middle, 50/50. They divide their work in one of three ways, typically defined by the user:

SFR – SFR (Split Frame Rendering) is a process where each frame is horizontally halved and each half is given to one of the two processors. So basically, one GPU will render the images on the top half of the screen and the second would take card of the bottom.

AFR – AFR (Alternate Frame Rendering) is a similar process, except that rather than cutting the frame in two, the cards alternate entire frames; so one GPU may render every even-numbered frame while its companion deals with the odd frames.

SLI AA – SLI AA (SLI Anti-Aliasing) is a bit more complicated a process than are the other two. (For an explanation of how AA works, I’ll pass the buck to this post from Panther Products.) This process is different than the others because its focus is to improve the quality of the image rather than the rendering speed. SLI or CrossFireX cards can handle a great deal more Anti-Aliasing together than a single card could on its own.

SLI

SLI (Scalable Link Interface) as we know it was first released to the public sector in 2004 and has slowly been gaining popularity since, especially among the gaming crowd.

An SLI configured system will have two discrete graphics cards, both of which must use the same GPU (Graphics Processor Unit), e.g. two GTX 580s but not one GTX 580 and one GTX 570; they don’t necessarily have to be from the same manufacturer however. These cards also must be installed on a compatible motherboard which will have two (or more) PCI-Express x16 ports as well as a compatible chipset, either one of NVIDIA’s own nForce or one of Intel’s newer (P55/X58 or later) chipsets—don’t take my word for it though, always check with your motherboard’s manufacturer rather than assuming it does or doesn’t. Linking the two cards is an SLI bridge, a small connector that provides a 1Gbps connection between the two cards, allowing them to function without stealing bandwidth from the PCIe bus. The SLI Bridge should be included in the purchase of any SLI compatible video card.

CrossFire

ATI stepped into the multi-graphics card racket a year later than did NVIDIA, but their offering is no less strong and is actually a little more forgiving. ATI Radeon cards don’t necessarily have to posses identical GPUs to be CrossFired; any two cards from the same family, e.g. HD 5870 and HD 5850 (they’re both from the 5800 family), can be linked together. This makes it easier to upgrade to CrossFire, since you don’t have to buy two or three of the exact same card all at once to ensure proper linkage. To compensate, CrossFired cards are able to more dynamically share the rendering workload. NVIDIA cards typically split the work between them 50/50 while ATI cards can vary the ratio, giving less work to the slower processor and allowing the stronger of the pair to shoulder the greater burden.

Like SLI, CrossFire requires two (or more) PCI-Express ports, two (or more) compatible cards, and a compatible motherboard chipset. Though neither CrossFire nor SLI compatible boards are particularly rare, motherboard chipsets much more commonly favor AMD’s CrossFireX, to the point that, if there are two PCI-Express slots on a board, and it doesn’t specifically advertise SLI compatibility, it’s safe assume it was built with CrossFire in mind.

Is it Worth it?

While it’s good just to know what CrossFire and SLI configurations are, it’s better to know if they’re even actually worth it. The short answer is yes; benchmarks (like these) show tremendous improvement to frame rates in nearly every instance. The longer answer is, not surprisingly, maybe.

Running dual video cards is a significant investment; cards are not cheap, neither are the motherboards which support them, nor the power supplies you’ll need to power them. Before you go running off to grab a second or third video card you’ll want to think about the return on investment you’ll be getting from the upgrade.

Also you’ll need to consider bottlenecks in your system, fifty video cards won’t make your CPU any faster, they won’t give you more RAM, and they can’t reduce access times to your storage drives. In short, you shouldn’t waste money on a multi –GPU setup if the rest of your computer isn’t up to snuff. (check out this article to determine your PC’s snuffiness)

Finally, you’ll want to think about what you’ll be doing with your video cards. Better gaming is the most common use for the cards, but which games are you playing? In a game like Starcraft II, in which there are hundreds of tiny things moving around on the screen at a given time, your CPU does more to determine the FPS than does your video card. This is because the tiny calculations that determine the game play are still handled by the CPU; video cards only do video. If you’re playing Fallout3, however, where there are lots of decrepit buildings to render, your video card does more of the work.

So there it is—everything I know about SLI and CrossFire! Feel free to reward me for my hard work by purchasing a new video card from OutletPC or by gleaning more from my fabulous intellect by reading my blog series why your computer sucks.


Finally, here’s that kid in the Batman costume I’ve been promising you.

The Five Best-Bang-for-your-Buck PC Upgrades

Beef Jerky and computers have nothing in common. In fact, I only chose to lead with beef jerky because I thought it might attract attention—lots of folks really like beef jerky. Talking about the biggest differences between computers and beef jerky might be a bit more productive however.

The first and only point I’ll make, to avoid becoming too silly, is that beef jerky has remained more or less exactly the same for 500 years while the personal computer, which has existed for only a twentieth of that time, can’t go six months without seeing a major change.

So with computers shifting so quickly, it’s safe to assume that your PC is outdated and, since you’re human, that you’ve considered upgrading it. Here’s a list of the five best ways to upgrade your computer that will give you the most bang-for-your-buck.

  1. RAM – RAM, or memory, defines the amount of space your computer has to do the jobs you tell it to do. More RAM means more programs can be opened at once, larger files can be handled without causing your computer to freeze up, and fewer crashes from a processor that just can’t keep everything straight. Click here to learn more about upgrading your computer’s RAM.
  2. CPU – If your computer was the mafia, your CPU would be the Godfather. Nothing happens in your PC that your processor doesn’t have a part in. While this could be the most game-changing upgrade, it’s also the most headache inducing since compatibility can be a huge problem. Click here to learn more about upgrading your computer’s CPU.
  3. Video Card – While a bit more specialized in its work than the CPU, adding a discrete graphics card to your PC lineup can really give it a boost. This is true for everyone, not just for gamers! Most home computers use integrated graphics processors in place of a separate card. These will hog system RAM and cause your PC to run more slowly. The addition of a low-cost video card can make a big difference. Click here to learn more about upgrading your computer with a video card.
  4. Storage – Most people see their hard drive as a big storage bucket, just a place to keep all their pictures, movies, etc. They don’t realize that it’s also the means for accessing this data! A fast processor with tons of RAM will be left twiddling its thumbs when stuck waiting on a slow hard drive. Today’s fastest PCs use Solid State data drives with ultra-fast access speeds. Click here to learn more about upgrading your storage.
  5. Peripherals – Bigger screens are better screens! If your computer is running quick enough for you but you just don’t like the way it looks, you should consider a new monitor. More screen real-estate can provide higher resolution images, crisper text, sharper movies, and more! You may even give life as a dual-display user a try! You may also consider upgrading your mouse or keyboard if they’ve seen better days. Click here to learn more about upgrading your peripherals.

While this list may be helpful to some, many will still be left wondering, “Which upgrades would be the most beneficial to me?” This will, of course, depend on where your computer is at currently and how much money you’d like to spend. Personally, I would start by adding more RAM; this is likely to net the biggest increase in performance for the least amount of time and money. If you’re running Windows Vista or 7, a low-cost video card ($30-$50) can make a world of difference, since these operating systems require a bit more in the visual department. Older PCs stand to benefit a lot from a CPU upgrade if you’re willing to put in the detective time to make sure you’ve got the right one. Follow this link to learn more about picking the right upgrades for your needs.

Once you’ve decided how to upgrade your PC make sure you visit OutletPC to get the best prices on the parts you need!

This post is part 1 of a 7-part post called “The Five Best-Bang-for-your-Buck PC Upgrades.” To read more of this post please follow these links below:
Part 1: The Difference Between Beef Jerky and Computers
Part 2: RAM
Part 3: CPU/Processor
Part 4: Video Card
Part 5: Storage
Part 6: Monitor, Mouse, and Keyboard
Part 7: Determining the best Upgrades for your computer
If you’re interested in learning how to speed up your PC without physical upgrades check another of my series of posts entitled “Why your Computer Sucks!

Upgrading your RAM

For most people this will be the single most meaningful upgrade they can make to their PC. Desktop memory is relatively inexpensive, at $20-$25 per gigabyte, and many folks only have 2GB or less in their system, though they can probably support much more.

Imagine that your computer’s processor is a worker at a desk. He has all his tasks laid out around him, each project taking up a set amount of space on the desk. He may have iTunes on one part of the desk, Microsoft Word on another part, World of Warcraft on another. When he’s finished working on a task he removes it from the desk and files it away in a drawer for later use. Your computer’s RAM is like desk space—the more space you’ve got, the more your processor can set out to work on before it has to start filing things away to make space.

Most motherboards can make use of at least 4 to 8 gigabytes of memory, so it’s odds on that you can squeeze in a little more. RAM is easy to install; it’s just a matter of popping it into the right slot, though it can be tricky to find memory that’s compatible.

The type of memory that will be compatible with your PC is determined by your motherboard and can thus be a little tricky to determine, especially if your computer came from a place like Dell or HP where they don’t provide detailed specs about your PC’s innards. The very best way to ensure that you’re buying compatible memory is to match the memory you’ve already got. You can figure out what type of memory you’re currently using with a free, downloadable program called CPU-Z (Click here to download). This program will run a quick check of your system and then spit out a report that tells you about the major hardware you’re running, including memory.

Most memory today comes in two flavors: DDR2 and DDR3. DDR2 is an older type of memory that will eventually be phased out. Most new motherboards require the newer DDR3 which is faster, more spacious, and uses less energy. Both types, however, are still widely available at computer supply shops. They’re not interchangeable so you’ll have to make sure you get the right one.

You’ll also need to check the speed of your memory, memory that doesn’t match speed-wise won’t work in your system. The speed or type of memory is expressed in one of two ways; you’ll have to know both, since some vendors use one and some the other. The first is in MHz and will be written thus: DDR2-800 or DDR3-1333. The second way is with a PC number that will look like this: PC2-6400 or PC3-10666. These numbers refer to the speed and type of the memory; match these when buying your new RAM and it will work fine.

Two caveats on the value of memory upgrades:

1. If you’re running a 32-bit operating system (i.e. Vista 32-bit, Windows XP, or anything older), your computer will not recognize anything beyond 4GB of memory. This is just a limit of the system. You could put in 16GB and it would just stick its hands in its pockets, whistle, and turn its back on everything above 4GB.

2. Depending on the way you use your computer, you may not notice any improvement in your system speed after 4 to 6 gigabytes. Your processor doesn’t need a desk the size of a pool table if it’s only working on a couple of tiny things. Programs that deal with very large files—such as Photoshop, video conversion tools and editors, or high-end games—will see a boost with more memory, but if these aren’t your things feel free to call it good at 4GB.

If you’re ready for a RAM upgrade, follow this link to see OutletPC’s selection of Desktop memory or this one to browse our laptop memory.

This post is part 2 of a 7-part post called “The Five Best-Bang-for-your-Buck PC Upgrades.” To read more of this post please follow these links below:
Part 1: The Difference Between Beef Jerky and Computers
Part 2: RAM
Part 3: CPU/Processor
Part 4: Video Card
Part 5: Storage
Part 6: Monitor, Mouse, and Keyboard
Part 7: Determining the best Upgrades for your computer
If you’re interested in learning how to speed up your PC without physical upgrades check another of my series of posts entitled “Why your Computer Sucks!