If you don’t have enough memory (“RAM”) in your computer, it will run very, very slowly. Once you have a reasonable amount of memory, performance won’t change very much if you add more. Memory has been so cheap for the last few years that most people don’t need an upgrade but I still run into underpowered systems occasionally, usually when someone has complained to me about how slow their computer is.

You can check how much memory is installed by right-clicking on My Computer (WinXP) or Computer (Vista) and clicking on Properties. You’ll see the amount displayed there. Typical business computer users should have a minimum of 512Mb RAM for Windows XP and 2Gb (or 2048Mb) for Vista. If you have less, then add more or replace your existing memory sticks with higher capacities and you’ll get an instant, noticeable speed boost, typically for less than a hundred dollars.

Memory is easy to install – once you’ve done it a couple of times, it takes less than a minute. (It’s a little unnerving the first time because it takes a harder push than you expect before the tabs click into place to hold the memory.) The difficulty has always been the process of buying the correct type of memory from the hundreds of choices. It would be nice if the industry had settled on generic memory chips that you could pick up at Costco but no luck – it’s a blur of different shapes and sizes and speeds and acronyms. I long ago stopped helping people upgrade memory and started sending them to a hardware outlet – even Best Buy! – where there are shelves of inventory and the store can find the part that will work.

There is an online tool that looks genuinely helpful and might even tempt me into doing upgrades again. Crucial, a long-established memory manufacturer, has a memory scanner on its web site that will identify all the details about the memory currently installed on your system and show you the compatible upgrades from its inventory, right down to the available slots and the details of whether the memory sticks have to be purchased and installed in pairs. It’s a lovely tool! You can buy directly from Crucial and in no time you’ll feel all speedy again.

Crucial memory scanner

[Addendum 10/29 10am: My enthusiasm is tempered a bit by the experience of the very first person who tried this and reported back to me – the Crucial scanner confidently proclaimed that his computer has no memory at all and therefore is at its maximum and would he like to buy an upgrade? Sigh. Okay, maybe it works most of the time.]

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