Upgrading your laptop memory is the easiest way to get a real and relatively cheap performance boost.
If you're struggling along with a system running 1GB or less then dropping in extra memory will help it run a lot more smoothly and finish tasks faster.
The reason is that extra memory helps cut-down unnecessary hard drive access. When Windows runs out of real-memory to store application and system data it has to resort to temporarily using the hard drive.
This takes hundreds of times longer and is a key reason you can end up sat there twiddling your thumbs when switching between tasks.
As we're going to show you, a laptop memory upgrade can be easy and relatively cheap to do, starting at under £15.
One important issue is the 4GB limit of some Windows versions. We'll explain - Windows comes in two different types, 32-bit and 64-bit versions. For a system to fully access more than 4GB it has to use the 64-bit version of Windows. Read this from Microsoft for more details.
So, on with the upgrade!1. Find what you want
Before you can buy a memory upgrade you need to know what type and how much memory you need. The internet makes this easy thanks to the raft of memory selectors. These reduce the process of finding out what memory you need to entering the type of device to upgrade, the manufacturer and model. You'll then be told what type of memory it takes and how much you can install. But there's more.2. The jargon
The search will return a number of useful bits of information such as the maximum total memory support, the number of memory slots and the number that are free. Also important is the type of memory you need. However, most memory selectors will suggest compatible upgrades, so that's less vital at this stage.3. Making a choice
The confusing part at this stage is knowing which memory slots may or may not be available. You could just open up the memory panel and look. Alternatively, download CPU-Z and use its SPD tab to check the state of each memory slot. If you just want to find the maximum installed memory, open the Start Menu, right-click the My Computer item and select Properties to see how much is already installed.4. Single vs Dual
When choosing how much memory to add, it's worth keeping in mind that many newer Intel-based laptops can use dual-channel memory, this means adding 'matched-pairs' - two separate bits - of memory gives you extra performance, as they can work in tandem. For example, instead of buying a single 2GB memory stick, you would buy two identical – matching-pairs – of 1GB memory sticks, adding up for a total upgrade of 2GB.5. Know your enemy
So now you should have an idea of how much memory you need. If you have an unknown system you can still work out the type of memory from the installed SODIMMs and buy similar memory. Laptops use the physically smaller SODIMMs and the most common technologies are DDR2 and DDR3. Outdated models you may still come across are DDR(1) and SDRAM. Each type is physically and electrically incompatible, keyed notches prevent installing the wrong type of memory so don't even try it!6. Installing the memory
To start disconnect the laptop from the mains and remove its battery (obviously shut down the laptop properly first). An antistatic wristband is preferable but touching a radiator or any large metallic object will discharge static from your body. Locate the memory panel on the base of the laptop and remove its screws.7. The memory slots
SODIMM slots have to metal clips at either end to secure the memory in place. If you're replacing existing memory, gently push both of these back and the memory will pop up and can be removed.8. Insert the new memory
Match the notch on the memory stick with that of the slot. The SODIMM is gently inserted at around a 30 degree angle to the laptop's base and once in place can be gently pushed down. The two clips either side should pop into place to secure it.9. Test it out
If everything has gone well your PC will happily reboot into Windows. To see if the memory has been detected and is working open the Start Menu, right-click the My Computer item and select Properties to check it has. If you are running a 32-bit OS with 4GB it's possible this will report around 3.5GB. In this case you need to upgrade to a 64-bit OS to get access to all of the available memory.