Upgrading the RAM (AKA: "memory") in most laptops is simple and something that the average home user is perfectly capable of doing. The whole process should take no more than an hour (minus purchasing/shipping time), even if it's your first time trying.
If you want to upgrade the RAM in your laptop by yourself, then this is the guide for you.
- Keep in mind that technology moves fast. This guide was written in 2019 and may not be relevant if you are reading it at a much later date.
- Open and repair your electronics at your own risk. I am not responsible for any damage you may cause to your laptop.
- Read this guide all the way through before you attempt the process yourself.
Make sure that you actually need to upgrade your RAM
Upgrading your RAM does not guarantee that your laptop's performance will improve. So before you go tearing open your laptop and buying replacement RAM modules, first make sure that you actually need to upgrade it by following these steps:
- Completely turn off your laptop.
- Turn it back on.
- Give it a couple of minutes to "settle in". Just leave your laptop alone for about 5 minutes — don't open any programs or do anything else.
- After a few minutes are up, open your task manager.
- On Windows PCs, hitting CTRL+SHIFT+ESC should open it up.
- On MacOS, hit COMMAND and SPACE, type in "Activity Monitor", then hit ENTER.
- On Ubuntu Linux — which is what I'll be using today — hit SUPER+A, type "System Monitor", then hit ENTER.
- Find your laptop's memory usage. In Ubuntu it's in the "resources" tab. For other operating systems: it should be easy enough to find yourself, but if you have trouble: Google it. Google knows everything.
- Once you have your RAM usage open, you should take note of 2 things:
- Hopefully that your current usage is pretty low. As you can see, I'm using about 37% of a total 5.7GB that I have available. That's a good thing. It should be low now because you just restarted your laptop, and not many applications are running and using up RAM.
- How much RAM your laptop currently has. As I already mentioned, mine has a total of 5.7GB available.
- Open all the applications that you typically have open while using your laptop.
- Now you want to get your laptop to the state that you normally operate it in. Don't open programs you never open, and don't open everything at once unless that what you normally do.
- If you use photo or video editing programs, don't just open up the programs, open up actual projects in them.
- Open up as many tabs in your web browser as you usually have open, and again, don't just open up empty tabs, open them to websites you visit on a regular basis.
- Go back to your task manager and check your memory usage again.
- If it's maxed out — or nearly maxed out (like mine is) — then you definitely do not have enough RAM, and upgrading it should dramatically improve your laptop's performance.
- If it's not maxed out, or if you're not using more than, say 75% of your RAM, then RAM is probably not why your laptop is running slowly, and again: upgrading it will not improve its performance whatsoever.
Find out what kind of RAM to buy
If — like me — you do need more RAM, it's time to find out what kind of RAM, and how much of it, you need to buy.
Beware: you cannot download more RAM
At this point, I want to warn you not to fall for any kind of scams where you can supposedly "download" more RAM.
RAM is a physical piece of hardware (see picture below) that goes inside your laptop. You cannot download it. The only way to get more, is to buy and install more (or higher-capacity) RAM chips like the one in the picture below.
How to find what kind of RAM your laptop can accept
To check what kind of RAM your laptop can take... your best bet is finding the spec sheet for your specific model of laptop from its original manufacturer. For my laptop, I just Googled "Dell Inspiron 7537 specifications" and the official documentation was one of the first results:
And keep in mind: your laptop might not be able to have its RAM upgraded. Some laptops — cough Apple cough — ... have RAM that is soldered directly onto their logic boards and isn't easily removable. If your laptop's spec sheet says that your memory is "onboard" — I have bad news for you, tiger:
But hey, it's better to find this out before you go out and buy RAM that you can't actually install in your laptop, am I right?
What to look for once you find your laptop's specifications
Okay, assuming that — like me — the RAM in your laptop is replaceable, here are the important things to note when checking what kind you need:
- How many slots your laptop has. Most have 2.
- The generation of RAM that your laptop can accept. This is the designation that usually starts with "DDR". Most likely it's going to be DDR3 or DDR4.
- Different generations of RAM are not forward or backward-compatible, so to make sure you don't run into any compatibility issues, just buy exactly the kind of RAM that your manufacturer calls for.
- The type of RAM sockets your laptop has. Almost all laptops have "SO-DIMM" sockets.
- The maximum speed of RAM that your laptop can take. This is denoted in MHz. You actually can buy RAM rated at a higher speed than the maximum your laptop can support, but there is no reason to, because it costs more and your laptop is only going to run it at its maximum speed, anyway. And
- The maximum amount of RAM your laptop can support, as well as the configurations it can support. As you can see, this Dell takes a maximum of 16GB and the spec sheet states that it only supports configurations of 4, 6, 8, and 16GB. That means that I shouldn't, for example install an 8GB and a 4GB stick of RAM because 8 + 4 = 12... which is not 4, 6, 8 or 16.
If there are any other designations around these specifications, take note of them. For instance this laptop specifies that it takes DDR3L RAM, and on its logic board, it even says "DDR3L only". So it's important that I buy DDR3L RAM, not just regular DDR3 RAM.
Buy the RAM
Now with all that in mind, it's time to actually buy the RAM.
How much RAM should you buy (how many GB)?
First, take into account how much RAM your laptop currently has. Obviously, you need to buy more than that.
Next, just keep in mind your laptop's supported configurations/maximum capacity and buy the biggest kit that your budget allows for. There's nothing wrong with having too much RAM.
What brand of RAM should you buy?
I recommend that you just buy the cheapest kit of new RAM with the number of modules that your laptop can take from a brand that you recognize and trusted seller.
If you don't know any brands, here are some popular and reputable ones:
Don't cheap out on something from e.g. AliExpress. Defective RAM could at best: not allow your system to boot, and at worst: corrupt important files on your storage drive when you least expect it.
Can you buy RAM modules separately, or should you buy kits?
It's best to buy kits. You could, for example, buy 2 separate sticks of RAM from different stores, that are made by manufactures and have different specifications... and they may even work together in your laptop, but there's also a good chance that they won't. To learn why, research the terms "multi-channel memory architecture" and "RAM timings".
Or just trust me: I highly recommend that you only buy RAM in kits.
Now search for the exact specification of RAM your laptop calls for.
... in my case, I'm going to search with the keywords "DDR3L", and from previous research, I know that this kind of RAM is not very expensive right now, so I'm just going to go for the maximum this laptop can take of "16GB", and I'll add "1600MHz" for good measure.
My best option turned out to be this G.Skill 16GB kit of DDR3L 1600MHz SO-DIMM RAM.
Triple check that the kit you're about to buy matches all the specifications of your laptop, in that:
- it has the same number of sticks that your laptop can accept,
- the RAM is the correct generation,
- the RAM has the correct connector,
- the sum of RAM stick capacities does not exceed your laptop's maximum RAM capacity and/or matches one of the supported configurations,
- and ideally, that the speed of the RAM is that same as the maximum speed your laptop can accept.
Install the RAM
So you've got your RAM.
Now all that's left to do is install it! Here's how:
- Completely power off your laptop.
- Unplug absolutely everything from your laptop. This includes the charger and any devices attached to it.
- Remove the laptop's battery. On some laptops, you can just remove it without using any tools. On most newer laptops — including this one — you'll have to remove the back panel first.
Every laptop is a little bit different, so... you know... Google...
- Hold the power button down for 30 seconds.
- Locate and remove the RAM modules you are replacing. You may need to remove a cover panel to find them. The modules will look something like this:
- Remove each one by first pushing outwards the two tabs that lock them in place — which will make the module pop out just a little bit — and then by pulling upwards on the module.
- Install the new RAM.
- Install the RAM by putting each stick in its socket at a slight angle, gently nudging it in until it's nicely seated in its socket, and then pushing it down until you hear the tabs click.
- These RAM modules aren't particularly delicate, but of course, be careful with them, and try especially hard not to touch the metal contacts that plug into the socket.
- Nothing during removal or installation requires any large amount of force. Be gentle. The modules can only go in one way, so to be sure you're installing them the correct way, make sure the notch in the module lines up with the tab on the socket.
- Great! With the new modules installed, you're almost done.
- Put your laptop back together, but do NOT plug anything back in.
- Power the laptop back on and get to your desktop.
- Now plug everything back in.
You don't have to change any settings!
That's it! You're done! You do not have to do anything in your laptop's BIOS or operating system. It'll automatically detect and begin using the new RAM.
Verify you installed the RAM correctly
Verify your handy work by opening up the task manager and checking how much RAM your laptop has now.
Keep in mind that it might say that it has slightly less than how much is actually installed. This happens for various reasons... as long as it's just a few hundred MB less than is actually installed, everything is okay.
If your laptop does not detect the correct amount of RAM, or if it didn't even start up, your RAM modules may not be installed correctly. Try re-seating them again by repeating the process from before — taking out the RAM modules, and re-installing them even more carefully than last time.
If that still doesn't work, the RAM you purchased may be defective, or... you broke something. 😬
Try reinstalling your old RAM to see if it still works.
- If the old RAM works, then your new RAM may be defective. Call the manufacturer and try to get replacement RAM on warranty.
- If the old RAM doesn't work, then you may have indeed broken something... don't forget! I am not responsible for any damage you do to your laptop! 😁
Run the same test from before
Once your laptop is back up and running, run the same test from before, opening up all your usual programs.
If you still max out your RAM, you may need even more RAM, but at least you're better off now than you were before.
But if you're not maxed out, give yourself a pat on the back — you did a great job, you tech genius, you!
What should you do with your old RAM modules?
If you replaced working RAM modules in your laptop with a new ones, you now have spare RAM modules! You can:
- keep them around as backups,
- keep them so that you can reinstall them later and sell your laptop as stock,
- throw them at your friends,
or... your most profitable option:
- sell them!
- Take a few pictures. List them on a few local listings sites, and consider any income a discount on the RAM you just bought.
If you do go selling them, don't worry about erasing any data off of the old RAM module(s). For all intents and purposes, these RAM sticks lose all the data that was on them almost immediately after being removed from a power source. If you want to learn more about why, research "DRAM" and "volatile memory".
And that, my good friend, is all you need to know about upgrading the RAM in your laptop in 2019, and probably for at least the next few years — until we all have personal robots that automatically install more RAM when they need it.
Thank you so much for checking out this guide. Tell me why you loved or hated it and feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments.
If you want to upgrade you RAM for free, all you have to do is follow me on Instagram (@jacobmarciniec) — I'm serious, it works.
... I'm not serious. It doesn't work. But I would really appreciate it. 😉
Thank you again so much for reading, have a great day!