Up­grade a lap­top’s RAM

GOR­DON MAH UNG shows how to breathe new life into a lap­top

Tech Advisor - - Feature -

If your lap­top’s per­for­mance has you down, don’t sim­ply ac­cept it as a way of life. It’s pos­si­ble that by up­grad­ing your lap­top’s RAM you can give your por­ta­ble PC a boost.

Does your par­tic­u­lar lap­top sup­port a RAM up­grade? Well, that de­pends. Lap­top de­signs vary, in­clud­ing which com­po­nents are ac­ces­si­ble and upgrad­able. Be­cause not ev­ery lap­top is built the same, there’s no way to say with com­plete cer­tainty what you can or can’t up­grade.

What we can say, how­ever, is that most bud­get lap­tops tend to be far more ser­vice­able than ul­tra­thin, pre­mium mod­els. Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face de­vices, for ex­am­ple, are sealed shut, while Ap­ple favours pro­pri­etary parts, with ev­ery­thing sol­dered to the moth­er­board. A bud­get lap­top, by de­sign, is gen­er­ally far more mod­u­lar and leans on eas­ily avail­able PC parts that are more likely to be upgrad­able.

How to find out if your lap­top has a slot for more RAM

The best way to check whether a lap­top has open mem­ory slots, or any mem­ory slots at all (as op­posed to RAM that’s sol­dered to moth­er­board) is to use Cru­cial’s free mem­ory scan­ner (fave.co/2xMJ6f5), which will an­swer this ques­tion for you.

Run­ning it on a lap­top, we’re told that there are two slots, one of which is empty. This is the case with most af­ford­able lap­tops be­ing sold, as it adds to the flex­i­bil­ity of man­u­fac­tur­ing and low­ers the cost. One thing to note: even if there is an open slot, there may not be easy ac­cess to the mem­ory slot. Some lap­tops may re­quire re­mov­ing the en­tire bot­tom while oth­ers fea­ture easy ac­cess doors.

For this RAM up­grade guide, our base is the most pop­u­lar lap­top in town: Acer’s As­pire E 15. It has been the top seller on Ama­zon for months and months –

fave.co/2QV15Zw. It’s easy to see why: for £369 you get a 7th-gen Core i3 pro­ces­sor, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a 15in 1080p screen. It’s a killer

deal for those on a bud­get – but not ex­actly fast. Here’s how we can do some­thing about that.

How much RAM does a lap­top need?

RAM is likely the eas­i­est up­grade on any bud­get lap­top and what most peo­ple turn to first when a lap­top feels ‘slow’. Like most af­ford­able lap­tops, the Acer As­pire E 15 comes with 4GB of mem­ory in a sin­gle DDR4 SO-DIMM mod­ule and has one open slot.

Although there is no hard and fast rule, 4GB is about the bare min­i­mum for most peo­ple run­ning a full-ser­vice op­er­at­ing sys­tem such as Win­dows 10. This will run on 2GB of mem­ory, or even 1GB, but you’ll suf­fer per­for­mance hits as ap­pli­ca­tions and data are swapped out to the hard drive due to lack of RAM. If you keep mul­ti­ple apps or browser tabs open, 2GB of RAM def­i­nitely isn’t enough.

Our rec­om­men­da­tion is 4GB at a min­i­mum for Win­dows 10, and 8GB is op­ti­mal – es­pe­cially if you’re run­ning some­thing more tax­ing like Pho­to­shop El­e­ments – to im­prove over­all re­spon­sive­ness of your pro­grams and mul­ti­task­ing.

There’s one other thing to con­sider in a low-cost lap­top: mem­ory band­width.

Mod­ern CPUs op­er­ate us­ing from one to four mem­ory chan­nels. The more mem­ory chan­nels that are used, the more mem­ory band­width you get.

Like most bud­get lap­tops, the As­pire E 15 ships with a sin­gle stick of mem­ory, which means its Core i3-7100U op­er­ates in sin­gle-chan­nel mode. By fill­ing that sec­ond slot, you kick the lap­top into dual-chan­nel mode and goose the per­for­mance in 3D tasks such as

gam­ing. (Most of­fice apps won’t see any im­prove­ment from in­creased mem­ory band­width.)

What kind of lap­top RAM should you buy?

If you know your lap­top has open RAM slots like our Acer E 15, it’s time to hit the store. There are two types of RAM used in lap­tops pro­duced in the past two years and only one of­fers an up­grade path: DDR4. DDR4 mod­ules, or SO-DIMMS, are sold in vary­ing speeds and sizes.

The most com­mon lap­top mem­ory speeds to­day are DDR4/2133 and DDR4/2400. You might be tempted to go with an even higher speed, say DDR4/2666, which can yield some per­for­mance ben­e­fits. But your CPU

might not sup­port those higher speeds – an 8th-gen Core i3 for ex­am­ple sup­ports DDR4/2400 – and will ratchet any­thing higher down to that speed. So don’t bother pay­ing more for higher speeds un­less you know your lap­top will sup­port it.

You may also be tempted to pay for lower-la­tency mod­ules or mod­ules with fancy alu­minium heat spread­ers. Again, for the most part, you won’t see much of per­for­mance dif­fer­ence at all.

We gen­er­ally rec­om­mend that you go with a name­brand mod­ule that you know will of­fer war­ranty ser­vice if you do have prob­lems (although very un­likely).

As far as ca­pac­ity, it’s gen­er­ally rec­om­mended that your mod­ules have the same ca­pac­ity. For ex­am­ple, if you have a 4GB stick in the lap­top, adding a sec­ond 4GB mod­ule to the sec­ond slot makes the most sense.

If you want to add more RAM than that, say, by adding an 8GB mod­ule to your 4GB mod­ule, it’ll work but the per­for­mance of a por­tion of the 8GB mod­ule will be lower. In the end that ex­tra RAM prob­a­bly won’t be enough to mat­ter (which you can read more about below.)

How to in­stall lap­top RAM

1. Be­fore you do any­thing, make sure the lap­top is com­pletely shut down (not just asleep), then un­plug it. 2.

Next, you need to ac­cess your lap­top’s mem­ory bay by re­mov­ing all or part of the lap­top’s bot­tom. Most ven­dors pro­vide dis­as­sem­bly in­struc­tions in a prod­ucts’ ser­vice man­ual, which can usu­ally be found on the web­site’s sup­port sec­tions.

For­tu­nately, get­ting in­side our As­pire E 15 is a snap: just re­move three screws on the ex­pan­sion bay door. Note that not all As­pire E 15s are de­signed this way. Some older mod­els re­quire the en­tire bot­tom cover to be re­moved.

3. Next, try to dis­charge any built-up static elec­tric­ity by touch­ing a nearby metal ob­ject, such as a file cabi­net. If you’re cau­tious, you could buy an an­ti­static wrist strap, but un­less you’re work­ing on shag car­pet on a low-hu­mid­ity day, you’ll prob­a­bly be okay.

4. In­stall the mem­ory mod­ule. The mem­ory mod­ule has a small notch in it that should match up with a nub in the slot (see pic­ture below). If you put the mem­ory in back­wards it sim­ply won’t fit, so don’t force it.

When you’re sure you have it aligned cor­rectly, put the mem­ory in at a slight an­gle un­til the con­tact fin­gers are mostly in­serted into the slot. We find that putting our thumbs on the cor­ners usu­ally gives us the lever­age needed to in­sert the mod­ule. Once it’s in­serted, slowly tilt the mod­ule down un­til the two metal arms on the sides snap into place with a soft click. Gen­tly lift each side of the mod­ule a tiny bit to make sure it’s locked in. It shouldn’t budge.

The mem­ory should lie flat in the slot. If you need to re­move the mod­ule, just use your fin­ger­nails to bend out the metal arm on each side of the mod­ule a mil­lime­tre or two. You may need to do this si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­pend­ing on how strong the spring is in the slot. Once it’s fully re­leased, the mod­ule should spring up so you can re­move it.

Will more RAM make your lap­top faster?

For our lap­top up­grade we added an 8GB stick of RAM to the ex­ist­ing 4GB stick, tripling the ca­pac­ity and in­creas­ing the mem­ory band­width by go­ing from sin­gle- to dual-chan­nel. With PCMark 8’s Work Con­ven­tional bench­mark, which mea­sures stan­dard of­fice tasks like brows­ing and doc­u­ment edit­ing, the re­sults were neg­li­gi­ble as seen op­po­site.

Those tasks sim­ply don’t use that much mem­ory – 4GB is suf­fi­cient. Up­grad­ing to 8GB helps in heav­ier mul­ti­task­ing cases. And for the vast ma­jor­ity of lap­top users, once you’re be­yond 8GB, re­turns on in­vest­ment are di­min­ished. That’s why we gen­er­ally rec­om­mend that peo­ple set low ex­pec­ta­tions for per­for­mance boosts from in­creased RAM.

SiSoft San­dra shows the ex­tent to which the added 8GB mod­ule in­creased our the­o­ret­i­cal mem­ory

band­width (as well as the rel­a­tive im­prove­ment of us­ing two 8GB SO-DIMMS). But what’s the prac­ti­cal up­shot of that boost?

Band­width helps gam­ing

Where it mat­ters is in the in­te­grated graph­ics and here’s the proof. Us­ing Fu­ture­mark’s 3DMark Cloud Gate, we looked at just the graph­ics per­for­mance and found about a 28 per­cent bump by go­ing from sin­gleto dual-chan­nel RAM. To test the dif­fer­ence be­tween run­ning mis­matched mem­ory mod­ules (such as the 4GB and 8GB) and matched sizes, we also ran a pair of 8GB mod­ules. The dif­fer­ence is within the mar­gin of er­ror, so it’s just not worth sweat­ing it.

The main take­away: if your gam­ing is on the edge of be­ing un­bear­able, go­ing dual-chan­nel may be enough to make it bet­ter.

Cru­cial’s Mem­ory Scan­ner will tell if you have open mem­ory slots in your lap­top and what kind of RAM you can run

This par­tic­u­lar Acer As­pire E 15 model al­lows easy ac­cess to the stor­age and mem­ory bays. Many other bud­get lap­tops do as well

Most bud­get lap­tops for­tu­nately fea­ture stan­dard DDR4 SO-DIMM slots that can be up­graded. How­ever, most also come with a sin­gle piece of mem­ory, which hob­bles mem­ory band­width

The notch in the mem­ory mod­ule should line up with the slot. The top mod­ule shows about how much of the con­tact should be vis­i­ble af­ter in­serted

Tilt the mem­ory at a slight an­gle and then use your thumbs to care­fully push it into the slot un­til you can barely see the gold con­tacts

The mem­ory mod­ule should sit flat and will be locked in place by the metal arms (in colour on this im­age) on each side

We saw a 28 per­cent boost in graph­ics per­for­mance by mov­ing from sin­gle-chan­nel to dual-chan­nel on a Core i3-7100U bud­get lap­top

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