How to Increase the Memory Size of Your Notebook Computer

It's not uncommon to discover that the laptop you bought was so inexpensive because it didn't contain enough memory. Neal Nelson, president of Neal Nelson & Associates, explains how to increase your computer's memory.


In some ways a computer is like a car because there are some changes and repairs that the owner can perform on their own. Increasing the size of the computer's memory may be one of them.

CAUTION: By attempting the steps described in this procedure you may ruin your computer. A small spark of static electricity can burn out critical computer circuits. Incorrectly installing a memory module can bend delicate electrical contacts and damage the memory socket. An improperly "seated" module can keep the computer from booting when it is powered up. Be careful and good luck.

Step 1: Determine the Current Size of the Computer's Memory. For computers running Windows, Microsoft provides a program called "Task Manager" that provides a quick display of the system status. Run this program by clicking the right mouse button while the mouse pointer is positioned on the task bar (normally at the bottom of the screen), and then select "Task Manager." Click on the "Performance" tab. Make a notation of the number listed for "Physical Memory (K) - Total." For computers running Linux, login as "root" and type the command "cat /proc/meminfo<RETURN>." Next, note the value for "MemTotal."

Step 2: Locate the Memory Modules in the Computer. Power down the computer and unplug the computer's power cord. Remove the laptop's battery. Begin to search for the memory modules. Laptops and notebooks frequently use SO-DIMMs (Small Outline-Dual Inline Memory Modules) like the ones pictured below. Oftentimes the memory modules are located under a small cover on the bottom of the laptop. I have one notebook in which the SO-DIMM socket is located on the top of the machine, but I have to remove the computer's keyboard to access it.


Step 3: Plan Your Upgrade. Consider the total size of the computer's currently installed memory, the number of SO-DIMMs currently installed, if there are any empty SO-DIMM sockets and the desired increase in memory size. Some laptops come with some memory soldered onto the motherboard. This memory is fixed and cannot be removed or upgraded. It is quite possible that you will have to remove one or more existing memory modules to make room for the larger modules that you want to install. You must also determine exactly what type of memory you need. There are many different types of memory modules and only certain ones will be compatible with your machine. If you buy the wrong type of memory, the computer may not boot or you might even "burn out" some components. Many computer and motherboard manufacturers have copies of manuals on-line that will provide the specifications for the memory modules that are compatible with your computer.

Step 4: Obtain the New Memory Modules. Memory modules are available from a number of sources. These sources include the company that built the computer such as Dell or Hewlett-Packard, retailers such as Best Buy or Circuit City, online merchants such as or, auction sites such as or, and special memory Web sites such as The safest option is to purchase the new memory from the company that originally built the computer. Another safe, and usually less expensive, option is to buy it from I generally recommend to someone who is new to upgrading memory. has an excellent online system to help you find the right memory module. It shows you detailed technical specifications for the recommended memory, provide instructions on how to install the memory, offer free shipping and has a 30-day, money-back compatibility guarantee.

Step 5: Remove the Old Memory Modules. If you need to remove an existing memory module, the removal procedure is:

1. Be sure the computer is powered off, the power cord is unplugged, and the computer's battery has been removed

2. Wear an anti-static wrist strap or touch the chassis frequently to drain static electricity

3. Push the small metal or plastic clips at the opposite edges of the module away from the SO-DIMM. The module will likely pop up because of a spring that is part of the socket

4. Adjust the angle of the SO-DIMM until it easily slips out of the socket.

Step 6: Install the New Memory Modules. The installation procedure is:

1. Be sure the computer is powered off, the power cord is unplugged and the computer's battery has been removed

2. Wear an anti-static wrist strap or touch the chassis frequently to drain static electricity

3. Orient the module by matching the module notch with the bump in the socket, and then insert the module at an angle similar to the angle shown in the right picture above. When you have the correct angle, the module will easily slide into the socket

4. Gently press the module down until the metal or plastic clips at each end catch the edges of the module and hold it almost parallel to the main circuit board.

Step 7: Test for Proper Operation. Connect the computer's power cord and boot the machine. Repeat Step 1 to check if the new memory size agrees with your expectations. You might also want to run a thorough diagnostic test of the computer's memory. There are low-cost and free test programs available from and Consider executing the test for many hours (for example, overnight).

Step 8: Possible Problems. If there is a problem during the upgrade, the computer may display a smaller-than-expected memory size, or it may not boot at all. Check very carefully to see if the memory modules are properly seated in the sockets. You might also check to see if you have accidentally bumped some other card, such as the computer's video card, so that it is no longer properly seated in its slot. Try removing the new SO-DIMMs and booting with the original memory configuration. Consider contacting the company that sold you the memory. They might have a support center that could help you solve the problem. Otherwise, it would be time to call a professional and ask for help.

A memory upgrade is a procedure with medium difficulty and moderate risk that can provide significant benefits for a modest cost. As I said at the beginning of this article, be careful and good luck.

Neal Nelson has more than 35 years experience with all aspects of complex computer systems. As the chief developer, owner and president of an independent hardware and software performance evaluation firm, he has tested more than 500 computer systems. A Web site with some of his test results can be found at For further information send an e-mail to