BOOT CAMP 315 (02/03/04)




If after last weeks cleanup operations your PC still feels a bit sluggish and the reclaimed space on your hard disc has bought only temporary respite then it might be time to consider a simple upgrade or two that could give your computer a new lease of life.


There are several things you can do to perk up your PC, from wiping the hard drive re-installing Windows and starting afresh, to replacing the Motherboard and CPU but these are fairly drastic and time consuming measures that need careful planning. The two upgrades we’ll be tackling are usually very straightforward and involve increasing the size of your computer’s RAM memory and adding or ‘slaving’ a second hard disc drive, but more about that next week.


If your PC is more than three or four years old then there is a good chance that it does not have enough RAM and adding extra memory will almost certainly yield a noticeable improvement in performance. Until recently computer memory tended to be expensive and PCs were sold with a minimum allocation to keep the cost down. Memory prices have fallen and there’s no longer any need to cut corners but the optimum amount of memory varies according to the PCs specification, the operating system and what it is used for so the first thing to do is find out how much you have and then work out how much you need.


In all versions of Windows the amount of installed memory can be easily found by right clicking on My Computer and selecting Properties, it’s shown under the heading ‘Computer’. Jot down the number of Megabytes (Mb) and then pay a visit to:




Both web sites have simple to follow charts that tell you how much memory you should have. Additionally the Crucial web site has a database of 20,000 systems and should be able to help you determine the exact upgrade for many recent PCs, otherwise consult your local expert or keep reading for the DIY method.


Once you have worked out how much extra memory you need, you need to determine how many and what type of memory modules you require. Your PC’s motherboard manual has the two key items of information, namely memory module format and ‘speed’. Most standard desktop PCs made in the past five years use either 168 or 184-pin Dual In line Memory Modules or ‘DIMMs’ (184-pin modules are also referred to as Double Data Rate or DDR DIMMs). Speed is denoted as a ‘PC’ number, i.e. PC100, PC133, PC2700 etc. If you can’t find this information then it’s a lid-off job, but before you do that disconnect the PC from the mains (and find a torch or a good desk light). Your PC’s memory modules should be easy to find, they are thin strips, around 5.5-inches (13.5 cm) long standing vertically in a group or ‘bank’ of four or six sockets.


If one or more slots are empty shine your light onto one of them and look for lugs between the rows of contacts. 168-pin module sockets have two lugs whist 184-pin types have one. If you are still not sure then carefully remove a module by pressing down on the two small levers at either end of the socket and the module will be released. Remove the module by carefully gripping it by the chips; the notches on the contact strip (look but don’t touch) correspond with the lugs in the socket, and the speed should be on a label or printed on the board or one of the chips. If you can’t establish the speed play safe and seek expert assistance.


Replace the module by making sure the latches are in the open position, line the module up and press it firmly into the slot (being sure to observe the position of the lugs and notches). The latches will automatically close and lock the module into position. Refit the lid and make sure the PC is working properly.


You should now be in a position to order your new memory modules. There are two possible upgrade paths. If you have free memory slots you can add extra modules to bring your PC up to the desired capacity, or you can replace the old module(s) with just one of the required capacity. Again if in doubt seek advice, PC component dealers are normally only too pleased to advise. Given the current low cost of memory modules and the possibility that mixing modules of different capacities and from different manufacturers can cause problems I suggest installing a single module but don’t throw the ones away, they might come in handy in an emergency, or you can recover some of the cost by selling them on ebay.


Installing the new module follow the same procedure outlined a moment ago, when the lid is back on the PC and it boots up listen out for any unusual bleeps, which might indicate a faulty module. Check the new higher capacity, if shown, during the boot up routine and after Windows has finished loading, by right-clicking My Computer and selecting Properties as before. Open Word or another heavyweight applications and watch your PC fly along…


Next week – Spring Clean and Upgrade, part 4





Central Processor Unit - the main microprocessor chip in a PC



The main printed circuit board inside a PC, containing the processor chip memory modules and expansion cards



Random Access Memory, a computer's working memory, where programs store data and information when they are running. RAM memory is ‘volatile’ and all stored data is lost when the PC is switched off




If you are not comfortable about installing a RAM upgrade just yet but would like to keep an eye your PC’s memory resources download and install this handy little utility. RAMpage constantly monitors your system memory showing how much is free from a display in the System Tray. If you need to free up more memory, to run an application simply click on the display, or right click to configure. The program works with all versions of Windows, the Zip file is only 170k and it is freeware. You’ll find the download file at:

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