Memory booster: a step-by-step guide to upgrading RAM – includes illustrated example of how to remove and install Single Inline Memory Modules – Tutorial

Tanya Trowell

When you excitedly purchase that new PC or Mac, you have great expectations that sometimes aren’t realized with the standard memory configuration (usually 4MB). In factwhether you’re a novice or an expert, memory deficiencies are usualy the most frustrating part of computing. Not only does the amount of RAM in your computer affect its speed and performance, but running multiple applications without enough memory will slow your system to a crawl and sometimes cause system crashes.

Unfortunately, though, unless you are willing to spend a little extra in the initial purchase, systems never seem to have as much memory as you want–or need, for that matter–to run the latest, RAM-hungry applications (WordPerfect 6.0, anyone?). This is where upgrading RAM comes in, and its easier than you think.

What Is Memory? When you open a file from a hard-disk drive or a floppy disk, the files and data are read from said disk and, at least partially, placed in random access memory (RAM). Random access means the processor can find, address, change, and erase any single byte, in any order, among several million. When you load a program– be it word processing, spreadsheet, or database–youre working predominantly in system RAM.

How much memory is enough–or too much? Having lots of RAM is like having extra horsepower. You might not need it very often, but its reassuring to know that you can call upon it when necessary. Realistically though, 8MB of total RAM is usually plenty for running Windows or the Macintosh operating system, plus several applications at once; 16MB will usually have you flying. People running DOS, however, can often make do with 4MB to 8MB, and those using graphics-intensive applications often benefit with 16MB and above.

Getting Started With SIMMs There are a few different types of memory available, such as single and dual inline packages (SIPs and DIPs, respectively), but we’re going to focus on upgrading with SIMMs (Single Inline Memory Modules) because it’s the easiest way. A SIMM is made up of several memory chips soldered together, which add up to a certain amount of RAM.

SIMMs come in various sizes and speeds and plug into special slots on the motherboard. For the PC, RAM comes in assemblies of 256K, 512K, 1MB, 4MB, 16MB, and 32MB, with speeds of 90, 80, 70, and 60 nanoseconds (ns: the lower the number, the faster the SIMM). For the Mac, you can use SIMM sizes of 256K, 1MB, 2MB, 4MB, 16MB, and 32MB, with speeds of 150ns, 120ns, 100ns, 80ns, and 60ns.

The simplest and most foolproof ways to determine the speed of RAM you need are to:

* read your manual to find the specifications for the system;

* call and ask the technical support people for your system; or

* note the speed of the other chips already in the system. (This can be challenging. Sometimes the last digits of the number on the chip or module represent the speed, and typically, the chip makers use only two digits to indicate it. For instance, an 80ns chip will have an 80, whereas a 150ns chip will have a 15.)

Unless you plan to upgrade to a more powerful system, it’s a waste of money to buy RAM that’s faster than you need. It won’t hurt, but it will not speed up your system (the system defaults to the slowest memory that’s installed). Also, if you own a PC, don’t mix chips of different speeds or from different manufacturers in the same memory bank (groups of sockets into which you plug in the SIMMs). Companies don’t make their chips to exactly the same electrical standards, and the differences could confuse your system. Consult your manual regarding different banks on your computer.

To maximize the total amount of RAM on your system, you can always replace the existing SIMMs in your computer with higher- capacity modules. For example, you could remove the four 1 MB SIMMs from the sockets of a 32MB board and replace them with 4MB SIMMs, bringing total RAM to 16MB. Removing SIMMs is surprisingly easy (see “Installing the SIMMs “), and some vendors even include an optional SIMM remover with purchase. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure your system can address different SIMM capacities.

Playing It Safe There are certain precautions you should take before adding any hardware to your computer. First, have a boot disk on hand; if the installation fails and you can’t reboot the computer from the hard disk, you can boot from a floppy. Also back up your system (better safe than sorry!). The power switch on your computer should be turned off and all power cords should be disconnected. Next, before you handle any components, you should ground yourself and discharge any static voltage you’ve built up. You can do this by touching an unpainted metal part on the case of the computer or any metal device that’s plugged in, such as a lamp. You might even want to purchase an antistatic wrist band when you buy your SIMMs.

Special Rules for the Mac For the Mac, the above rules apply with a few additions.

* Each RAM slot can accommodate one SIMM. All slots in a bank must be either completely filled or completely empty.

* Unless otherwise noted, if you fill only one bank, fill bank A.

* All SIMMs in a bank must be of the same capacity (you can’t put one 4MB SIMM and one 2MB SIMM in lhe same bank).

* Unless otherwise noted. if you use SIMMs of different capacities in banks (for example, 4MB SIMMs in bank A, 2MB SIMMs in bank B), always pul the highercapacity SIMMs in bank A.

* Unless otherwise noted, use standard 30-pin Mac SIMMs. Newer Mac models including the LC, Centris, Perlorma, use 72-pin SIMMs.

Also, if you are installing more than 8MB of RAM, you’ll need to know about the limitations of your Mac and the system software version you’re using. For the Mac to recognize memory beyond 8MB of RAM, the system software and the computer must support 32-bit addressing. Macs

Micron Computer Inc., (208) 4653434, (800) 347-3490

Tiger Software, (800) 888-4437 (PC), (800) 666-2562 (Mac)

Mac/PC Zone, (800) 258-2088 (PC), (800) 248-0800 (Mac)

First Source International, (714) 4487750, (800)-425-9866

H. Co. Computer Products, Inc., (714) 833-3364, (800)726-2477 that use a 68000 CPU chip (Mac Plus, SE, and Classic) don’t. Other Macs, such as the SE/30, II, IIx, and IIcx, need a system extension (INIT) called MODE32 to support 32-bit addressing. It’s free (but send $10 for shipping and handling) and can be obtained from Connectix, (800) 9505880; Apple, (800) 776-2333; online services; and user groups. Macs sold today with System 7 need only an adjustment in the Memory control panel.

Did It Work? If the installation was successful, the memory count that displays as your PC boots up will show the total amount of memory installed. If not, you may get an error message or a blank screen.

On the Mac, check “About This Macintosh” under the Finder’s Apple menu. If the memory does not add up to the new total, something went wrong. On the Mac, you may hear a chime (the “death tones”) unlike the one you normally hear when the Mac starts up successfully or you may see an unhappy Mac on the monitor. For both platforms, turn the system off and make sure that the RAM SIMMs are properly and securely seated in the SIMM slot. Ensure the SIMMs have been placed in the correct configuration. Also check that you don’t have a defective SIMM. To do this, in some diagnostic software such as Winsleuth Gold Plus for the PC ($189; Dariana, [800] 892-9950) and MacEKG ($150; MicroMat Computer Systems, [800] 829-6227) or Personal Diagnostics ($129;Apple Computer, [800] 7762333) for the Mac. If there is a damaged chip, your system’s own diagnostics may give you an error message. On the PC, for example, you might see: 201error0402, telling you which chip is bad.

Cost and Where to Purchase Memory prices are extremely volatile and fluctuate considerably. Your best bet is to purchase SIMMs from a discount house or catalog such as Mac or PC Zone, Tiger Software, Micron Computer (see “RAM Suppliers “), or other major distributors. At press time, you could get SIMMs for as low as $30 per MB, depending on their speed.

In general, try to purchase SIMMs from a mail-order house or dealer that includes installation help such as free illustrated instructions, a videotape, and/or free technical support in the total price.

Despite all her efforts, HOME OFFICE COMPUTTING’s editorial assistant, TANYA TROWELL, never seems to have enough RAM.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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