To move to Windows XP, you’ll need to upgrade your RAM

Question: I am thinking about upgrading my computer memory because I want to run the new Windows XP operating system. Currently I have a Pentium II 450 MHz, but don’t really know where to start. Please advise. –H.S.

Answer: Since Microsoft recommends at least 128 MB of memory when you upgrade to Windows XP, the company’s new operating system, it’s a good idea to add memory, especially since it’s so cheap at the moment.

Once upon a time, you’d pay $2 to $3 US or $3 to $4 Canadian per megabyte. Now you’ll pay about 10 to 15 cents US or 20 to 25 cents Canadian per megabyte.

The easiest way to add memory is to take your machine into a store that sells memory and have it installed for you there. This is a particularly good idea for computer novices, as finding the right memory can sometimes be rather daunting.

If you do want to do it yourself, here are a few steps.

First, get your hands on the computer manual or motherboard manual, if you still have it. If you don’t have a manual, but you have a name-brand computer, often you can find this on your computer maker’s website, or you can call the company and find out.

From this you need to get three pieces of information:

  • The type of RAM chips your computer uses
  • The number of memory slots on the motherboard
  • The maximum amount of RAM it can hold

Know the type of memory is crucial because not all computers use the same type, and using the wrong chips could damage you computer, or just plain frustrate you because they won’t work. The number of slots is important because that will determine whether you’re likely to have space for more memory. The maximum amount of memory is key because there’s no point in putting more memory in a computer than it is designed for.

In some cases, you’ll find that you have to pull existing memory chips from your machine to make room for more memory. For example, if you computer had 32 MB of memory and two memory slots, it’s possible that both are taken up by two 16 MB memory chips for your total of 32M. In this example, you’d have to pull one or both them and slot in the new larger chips – say one or two 64 MB chips.

I like to make the whole upgrade process simple, by using the memory look-up feature at Crucial, a website owned by Micron, which makes memory chips. (Use this link if you live in the US, Canada, or Australia. If live in the UK or Europe use the preceding link. All others, use this link to the Crucial web page).

When you get to that site, you simply choose the your computer’s brand, make, and model from lists. Then the site shows you what types of chips are compatible with your system. You can also buy the chips right there and have them delivered to your door the next day by FedEx.

If you don’t have a brand-name computer, the site can still be a useful resource because they have live experts to advise you for free, via Internet chat. They also well have visual guides to help you identify chips by sight. A memory look-up on the site for specific motherboards is also useful for computer builders.

The other way to check on the available RAM slots in your machine is to turn your machine off, disconnect the power, and open the case. RAM slots are long and skinny slots on the big circuit board inside (which is called the motherboard).

Usually you’ll have one or two empty slots and one or two slots with memory in them. Memory varies in size, but it looks like a Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum stick, or maybe one on steroids.

Finally, if you just want to know how much memory your computer has in it now, check using Windows.

  1. Click your Start button, then click Settings, then Control Panel, and double click on the System icon.
  2. Under the General tab, you’ll see a “MB” number. If you have 64 megabytes of RAM in your system this will say “64 MB of RAM”. It won’t tell you how many slots or chips you already have or the maximum memory your system can take, but will tell you what you have for a start.

If you want a book to help you with your upgrade, try The Complete PC Upgrade & Maintenance Guide by Mark Minasi (ISBN: 0782129900). It’s available at Amazon.com.

There are memory links, further information, and resources right here on this website in our How to Add RAM. There’s also a picture there that shows you what RAM looks like when it’s inside a computer, to guide you the first time you peek inside.