Before Buying a New PC: Part 1

Posted by Tony Thompson

If your home PC or laptop is slow as a slug – but otherwise does its job – stop and take a deep breath before you pull the plug and buy new.

There are three relatively easy and inexpensive improvements that will give new life to most home computers: boosting horsepower,  killing bugs, and adding square footage.

First, the horsepower. In this case, that means computer memory. The RAM.

Quick: How much RAM does your computer have? Exactly what type of RAM module is compatible with your system? How is the RAM currently configured on your motherboard? What is the maximum amount of RAM your system will support?

If you can answer those questions, you probably speak Klingon and own a lot of Star Trek memorabilia, too. But for the rest of us, finding that information is a daunting task. Which is too bad, because a RAM upgrade can nicely boost an older PC’s performance for a budget price.

Here is how I recently upgraded the RAM in two older laptops. While we make no guarantee or warranty that it will work for you, I would recommend this procedure to friends and family:

1. Go to and download and install the Crucial System Scanner. That remarkable little tool will tell you what RAM is installed on your PC and present you with upgrade options. It will even tell you what ‘denominations’ will work in your system, and  exactly what type of RAM is compatible. You can buy the RAM directly from the web site, or take the info to Wal-mart, Best Buy, or wherever RAM may be on sale.

2. Now that you know exactly what kind of RAM to buy, the next scary part is actually installing the stuff. Web 2.0 to the rescue: Just Google ‘How to install RAM in a <insert make/model of your PC>’ and chances are very good you will find detailed, illustrated, step-by-step instructions for your specific machine.

Friendly tip: Only do this once, and upgrade to the maximum amount of RAM your system will support, even if it means ditching the installed RAM and replacing with new, larger ‘denominations’ of RAM. And watch the cost/benefit ratio: Most RAM upgrades should cost less than $100 total. Nowadays you can buy a powerful new laptop for less than $500 that will include a gigantic hard drive and a CD/DVD burner, so if your RAM upgrade starts sounding expensive, it may not make economic sense.

Coming next in Part 2: Killing bugs.