How to Install RAM on Your Computer

Installing RAM can speed up a sluggish machine

Installing Random Access Memory (RAM) in your computer is a fairly simple upgrade that provides immediate benefits in terms of system speed and response, and adding enough RAM can even allow you to run new apps and games that require more memory than you have right now.

This is an upgrade that just about anyone can carry out successfully, but it's important to buy the right components and follow the correct installation procedure to avoid damaging anything. If you're ready to take that on, here's how to install RAM on your computer.

A man installs RAM in his computer.
 westend61 / Getty

How to Tell if You Can Install New RAM

Whether you have an off the shelf desktop PC, a custom-built desktop rig, or a laptop, your computer already has RAM in it. In some cases, that existing memory may take up all of the available RAM slots, in which case you can't simply install new RAM, you will have to replace the RAM in your computer with modules that contain more memory.

The easiest way to tell if you can install new RAM is to simply look. Open up the case, look for the RAM slots that are typically located adjacent to the central processing unit (CPU), and check to see if there are open slots. If you see open slots, you can add more RAM.

If you have an off the shelf desktop PC or laptop, you can also find out how much RAM it can accept, and the type and configuration of the existing RAM modules, by checking with the manufacturer.

What Kind of RAM Do You Need?

When installing new RAM, it's important to make sure that you buy RAM modules that are compatible with your computer. If you have a custom rig, you can check with your motherboard manufacturer to learn what type of RAM you need, while owners of off the shelf PCs and laptops can check with the manufacturer of their computer.

The other way to figure out what type of RAM you need is to use a tool like the Crucial System Advisor. This tool allows you to input the make and model of your motherboard or computer to learn what type of RAM you need, the type of storage that's supported, and even your chipset.

For example, the tool outputs the following information for a MSI H270 PC Mate motherboard:

A screenshot of Crucial's memory advisor.

From that information, you can tell the MSI H270 PC Mate requires 288-pin DDR4 modules, that it has four RAM slots, and that it can accept up to 64GB of memory. You can take that information to any PC parts retailer, online or brick and mortar, and be sure that you're buying the right RAM modules.

How to Install RAM on Your Computer

Once you've verified that your computer can accept new RAM, and you've purchased the correct chips, you're ready to install them. The specific steps will vary slightly depending on how your computer is set up, but the general process is very similar across the board.

  1. Shut your computer down.

    Don't just put the computer to sleep, make sure it actually shuts down.

  2. Turn the computer off, if it has a physical power switch.

  3. Unplug your computer from power.

  4. If possible, unplug all of the components, wires, and cables from your computer so that you can move the computer to a clean, sturdy work surface.

  5. Open the computer case. Most tower and mid-tower cases have side panels that are held in place by screws or latches, but some cases require you to remove additional screws or activate a latch to slide the entire cowling off the case as a single part.

    A thumbscrew on a computer case.

    Some cases are more complicated than others. If you aren't able to figure out how to open your case, contact the manufacturer for assistance.

  6. With the case open, examine the motherboard to locate the existing RAM. You will install your new RAM alongside the existing modules.

    A screenshot showing two open slots for RAM memory modules.

    If all of your RAM slots are full, you will have to remove existing modules and replace them with larger ones, e.g. replace 2GB RAM modules with 4GB RAM modules.

  7. Prior to handling your new RAM modules, ground yourself with an anti-static wrist strap.

    If you don't have an anti-static strap, you can also ground yourself by touching a metal lamp or anything else that's capable of acting as a ground for any static that's built up in your body or clothes.

  8. Examine your new RAM modules, paying special attention to the side with the visible gold contacts. That's the edge that you will need to seat into the sockets on the motherboard.

    RAM modules with the orientation notches visible.

    The edge with the contacts will typically be keyed with a notch that matches a notch in the socket. This makes it so that you can't install the RAM backwards, and it also shows you which way to install it.

  9. If the RAM sockets on your motherboard have latches on the ends, gently pull them back to allow the insertion of your modules.

    RAM socket latches flipped open to accept new RAM modules.

    In this photo, you can see the upright retention clips in the currently occupied RAM sockets, and the retention clips that have been pried back in the free sockets. Your motherboard may look slightly different, but most desktop computers use this basic configuration.

  10. Line up the notch on your new RAM module with the notch in the socket, and carefully set the module in place. If latches are present, they will automatically close as you push the module in.

    If you're installing RAM in a laptop, you will typically set the RAM in place at an angle and then gently push down so that the module snaps into place flat against the motherboard instead of perpendicular. Look at the existing RAM modules to see how your new modules should be oriented.

  11. Apply even force to the edge of the RAM module to gently click it into place. Be careful not to bend it back and forth, and don't force it. If it doesn't go in easily, pull it out and make sure you've lined up the notches correctly.

    You may need to gently vacuum or blow dust out of the sockets if there is a lot of dust present inside your computer.

  12. Verify that the RAM modules are seated properly, and close the computer back up. While you're closing the computer up, make sure that you didn't accidentally unplug anything while you were installing the RAM.

  13. Hook your computer back up, turn it on, and verify that it can read the new memory.