Memory is one of the easiest components in a laptop to upgrade. However, at the same time, finding a compatible supplement or replacement for your existing module can be a confusing process.
If you’re looking to upgrade RAM in your laptop, you need to understand the types of RAM, RAM frequency, and cache latency timings. Furthermore, you will need to ensure that you have a free SO-DIMM slot for the upgrade.
This information might seem like a lot, but don’t worry. The article below has broken down what these terms mean, how to find a compatible memory module for your RAM upgrade, and how to install it properly.
Benefits of Upgrading RAM
- Faster computer startup time.
- Better multitasking.
- Smoother browsing and productivity operations.
- Improved applications experience.
How to Upgrade RAM in Your Laptop
Before getting started with the process of upgrading RAM in your laptop, you must first determine whether you have a free SO-DIMM slot available for the upgrade. You can check out the article we have, where we have explained in detail to find out if there is a free RAM slot available.
Once you’ve determined that you can upgrade the RAM in your laptop, you need to go ahead and procure a suitable RAM module that is compatible with your system. If you will be using multiple RAM sticks, they must be compatible with each other as well.
RAM module compatibility can be described in terms of RAM type, frequency, and memory latency.
RAM Types, Frequency, and Latency
Different generations of laptops use different types of RAMs, and it is important to identify the type that your laptop is compatible with. The frequency that the RAM module operates at and its latency timing are also important factors to keep in mind while looking for an upgrade.
RAM types are classified as DDR, DDR2, DDR3, DDR4, and DDR5. Different RAM types have different maximum bandwidth and data transfer rates, with the newer ones having higher bandwidth and faster data transfer rates.
Besides the speed of data transfer, different RAM types are also physically slightly different. A DDR RAM module has 184 pins, DDR2 and DDR3 have 240, DDR4 and DDR5 come with 288 pins.
Even though you can use different RAMs in different types of slots, there are various other factors to know beforehand. Pinouts in the different modules vary, even when they have the same number of pins. Thus, the placement of notches in the pinout varies.
Thus, we can conclude that RAM modules of different types are incompatible with each other.
Current generation laptops use DDR4, or DDR5 RAM modules. If your laptop is a few generations older, it might be using a DDR3 module.
If your laptop is more than a decade old, however, then it’s possible that you might be using DDR or DDR2 RAM. At this point, we’d like to recommend that you replace your laptop instead.
However, if you still want to upgrade just the RAM, you can do it if you can procure a suitable module.
RAM frequency indicates the clock speed that the RAM operates at. For e.g., a DDR4-3200 is a DDR4 ram module that operates at 3200 MHz.
This frequency also indicates the theoretical maximum transfer rate that a memory module can achieve in MB/s. The maximum data transfer rate can be calculated as:
Data transfer rate = clock speed x bytes transferred.
Since DIMM modules transfer 8 bytes at a time, we can see that our DDR4-3200 module in the example above is capable of a peak transfer rate of 3200 x 8 = 25, 600 MB/s.
You should, however, keep in mind that this is the theoretical maximum bandwidth. In a real-world scenario, you will achieve a transfer rate that is somewhat lower than the indicated maximum bandwidth.
A RAM module with higher frequency and bandwidth is generally more expensive. You can use multiple modules of different frequencies in a system – if they are of the same type.
However, they will operate at the frequency of the lower module, and thus the premium you paid for the higher frequency module will not hold much meaning.
Cache Latency (CL) indicates memory timing. CL timings are indicated in a RAM module via a series of numbers (e.g., 9-9-9-24). These numbers indicate CL, tRCD, tRP, and tRAS numbers respectively.
tRCD indicates RAS to CAS delay, which is the time between activation of line (RAS) and column (CAS) where the data is stored in the matrix.
tRP indicates the time it takes between disabling the current line to enabling access to another line of data.
tRAS describes how long the memory has to wait before next access to memory can be initiated.
A memory labeled CL9 will take up to 9 clock cycles to fetch data. A CL8 module will do the same in 8 cycles. Thus, a RAM module with a lower CL number is better.
If you have memory modules with different memory timings, they will both operate at the timing of the slower RAM module.
Identifying RAM Type from Windows
If you already know that there is a free SO-DIMM slot available for your RAM upgrade, you might not want to open the back panel to identify your RAM type or frequency. You can obtain the information on the type of RAM installed in your system from Windows.
- Launch Windows PowerShell (Press Win + R, type in
powershelland press enter).
- At the prompt, type in:
Get-WmiObject Win32_PhysicalMemory | select DeviceLocator,Capacity,SMBIOSMemoryType,Speed
You can identify the memory type by SMBIOSMemory field identifier.
SMBIOS Memory Type is in the process of being updated with DDR5 RAM type. Thus, if your RAM type is DDR5, you will probably see 0 in the RAM type field.
You can also view your RAM frequency, and whether there is a free SO-DIMM slot available from the task manager.
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to launch the task manager.
- Switch to the Performance tab, and click on Memory.
Information on memory speed is given by the field “Speed: xxxx MHz.”
Also look at the “Slots used:” field. If it says “1 of 2” then that means you have a free SO-DIMM slot available, which means you do not need to open the back panel to see if there is a slot to install a RAM module.
Identify the RAM Type Visually
If you’ve opened your laptop’s back panel (or upgrade compartment) and can visually inspect the SO-DIMM slot as well as the module that is currently installed in it, then you should look at the sticker/label on the RAM and read the information written on it.
You will generally find DDR(n)-xxxx or PC(n)-xxxx written on the label.
DDR(n) – this indicates the type of memory chip.
PC(n) – this indicates the type of memory module.
The number that follows the DDR or PC label should be the same. It indicates the type of DDR RAM module. For example, if you see DDR3-1333, it means your currently installed RAM is DDR3 type. Similarly, if you see PC3-10600, again your RAM module is DDR3.
Thereafter the number xxxx indicates the memory frequency (when attached to DDR identifier), or transfer rate (when attached to PC identifier). That is to say, DDR3-1333 indicates that your memory frequency is 1333 MHz. PC3-10600 indicates that the memory’s peak transfer rate is 10600 MB/s.
Finally, look at the CL timings. As explained above, the CL timings are indicated as a sequence of numbers x-x-x-x.
RAM modules installed in your computer communicate with the CPU via a memory controller that is located in the CPU itself (or the northbridge on your motherboard on older systems). The data is transferred via 64 lanes – called the bus.
A single memory module can only utilize 64 lanes for communication. If you’ve only installed a single RAM module, then your system will utilize this 64-lane bus and your memory runs on a single-channel configuration.
However, the CPU is much faster than the RAM and it might idle waiting for data to arrive from RAM. Hence, you can install another RAM module in the second SO-DIMM slot, effectively doubling the bus size to 128 lanes. This configuration is called dual-channel mode, and theoretically, you will double the data transfer speed compared to the single-channel mode.
Thus, it is usually a good idea to run your system RAM in a dual-channel configuration. For example, if your target is 16 GB of total RAM, it is better to run 2×8 GB of RAM than to run a single 16 GB module.
Installing RAM Module
You’ve identified your RAM type, frequency, CL timings, decided whether you want to run your laptop in a single-channel or a double-channel configuration, and procured a suitable memory kit for the upgrade. So, let’s finally get down with the upgrade process by following the steps outlined below:
- Shut down the laptop.
- Open the back panel or SO-DIMM access compartment in the back panel, if your laptop has one, and access the SO-DIMM slots.
- To remove an already installed RAM module, gently press on the clips on either side of the slot. This will release the installed module and you can pull it out easily.
- Align the RAM module with the SO-DIMM slot in a correct configuration (align the notch) and press it down gently but firmly. The clips on either side should snap back in place when installed correctly.
- Close the back panel and turn on the laptop.