At some point during the life of a computer, there almost always comes a time when it would benefit the owner to install more memory. If you find your computer is getting sluggish when you have quite a few programs running, then you are probably a good candidate for increased RAM (random access memory).
Even when buying a new computer, you should be wary about buying a more expensive model of the same computer just because it has more RAM. It is very common for the price of a laptop to jump by $100 or even $200 just because it has a little more RAM and maybe a slightly bigger hard drive. Please please please, don’t fall for that trick! Go ahead and buy the cheaper model and just upgrade the RAM yourself.
VIDEO: Don't miss the video near the bottom of the article where I walk you through the entire process of buying cheap RAM online.
Computer Memory Is Extremely Cheap
Computer memory is manufactured en masse these days and it basically all works the same way so companies that produce it are able to get manufacturing costs down very low. As long as you are looking for a reasonably popular type of RAM, then you won’t end up paying much.
Older Computer Models Can Be Expensive
If you have an extremely old computer, then the cost is generally higher because far fewer companies, if any, will be manufacturing it anymore which is a good reason to upgrade after a couple of years of owning your computer before it’s too late.
Be Aware That Prices Fluctuate
Prices for RAM do rise and fall in cycles depending on various global factors and I discovered while researching this article that prices are actually very high in recent months as opposed to the last years. Prices have easily doubled in the last year alone, but the price of buying extra RAM yourself is still much cheaper than paying for more RAM at the point of sale.
Hopefully this trend will reverse soon and prices will fall back to more typical levels.
RAM Is Easy To Install
You don’t need to be a computer wizard or technician to install RAM in most computers. If you look up the manual for your particular model it should give you details on exactly how to do it, but it usually amounts to removing a single screw and “popping” the RAM in place with a firm push.
If you have a desktop, you typically just need to open your case. Most laptops are either a single screw to remove a small RAM cover or, in some cases, you will need to remove 5 or 6 screws to take the entire bottom panel off. Turning your device over and taking a quick inventory of the screws and separations on the bottom should give you a clue how easy it will be to access the RAM. There is often a tiny image that looks like a stick of RAM right on the bottom showing you where the memory is located.
If you have a tablet or a more integrated device like a surface or an iPad, you may be out of luck. Some of these devices have the RAM soldered right to the motherboard and can’t be upgraded and others might be much more difficult to access. In this case, it can make sense to pay extra for a model with increased memory as much as I hate to admit it!
Figuring Out What RAM You Need
There are several easy ways to figure out what RAM you need. A good place to start is your computer’s manual, which you can typically find online by searching for it using the model number of your computer if you don’t have a hard copy.
Stay with me now! What you’re about to read may seem complicated at first, but it really isn’t if you give it a chance.
Tip: Use A Memory Finder Utility
Crucial, a major manufacturer of computer memory, has a great System Scanner tool that you can download and it will automatically detect what kind of RAM you have in your computer so you can buy more of it. It should also give you all the other information you need like total memory capacity, number of RAM slots, RAM type and model numbers, etc.
Here’s a picture of what my RAM configuration looks like when I did a quick scan of my desktop system (this was taken after I installed the extra 16GB of RAM I just purchased in the video so I now have a total of 24GB):
If you don’t want to download the app, you can also use their Crucial Advisor Tool to deduce your type of memory based on your computer’s manufacturer and model number.
RAM Capacity And Number Of RAM Slots
Your first task is to find out how much total capacity your computer has for RAM which is determined by the number of ram slots your computer has multiplied by the maximum RAM size each individual slot can hold. Most laptops typically come with 2 slots but they sometimes have more and desktop computers will often have 4 or more.
Today, a RAM slot will typically hold a maximum of an 8GB stick, making your total RAM capacity 16GB if you have 2 slots and 32GB if you have 4. Check your manual or open your computer up to see exactly what you have. Hopefully, you only have 1 large stick of RAM and at least one open with nothing in it that you can easily slide a new stick into. Unfortunately, some manufacturers cheap out and spread smaller sticks of RAM across all the slots so you’ll have to remove those and replace them with larger sticks if you want to upgrade.
The “specifications” section of your manual should contain all this information, or possibly a separate section devoted to memory. The memory finder utility should give you these details as well.
Finally, to find the capacity of each individual slot, you can just take the total RAM capacity of your computer and divide it by the number of slots. For my computer it would be 32GB / 4 slots = 8GB max per slot.
Desktop Vs. Laptop Memory
There are two basic sizes or configurations that RAM comes in which are referred to as desktop or laptop memory in layman’s terms. The technical term is DIMM (desktop) or SODIMM (laptop). You are going to want to include this as part of your search terms when you are searching for your RAM to make sure you get the right one. Descriptions for RAM can actually be identical for both desktop and laptop RAM except for this one detail so you want to watch out for it.
Memory Type And Speed
There’s one more crucial (pun intended) piece of information you’ll need before you can make your memory purchase and that is the memory type. You can buy RAM from any manufacturer as long as the memory type matches.
Your computer may actually support multiple memory types/speeds, but don’t worry if that is the case and you buy faster or slower memory than what you already have the speed of the faster RAM will automatically be adjusted to that of the slower RAM to keep them in sync. Essentially, you should try to get the exactly same memory type if possible, but don’t worry if you can’t as long as your computer supports the type you are buying.
From the memory scanner results (if you scroll through the entire "Compatible Memory" list), you would see my computer supports all of the following types:
DDR3 PC3-12800 | DDR3 PC3-10600 | DDR3 PC3-14900
In case you are curious (you probably aren’t), DDR stands for double data rate, which describes the type of technology the RAM uses to increase its bandwidth. The 3 means the 3rd version of DDR because it keeps improving. The PC-3 indicates the technology version as well. And finally, the number at the end represents the speed of the memory in megahertz (MHz).
Correctly Searching For Your RAM
To correctly search for your RAM you need to combine all of the information you learned above into one complex search string that will give you what you need. I suggest buying the largest sized stick you can to fill any empty slots, so in my case I would be looking for an 8GB stick and this is what I would search for:
8GB DDR3 PC3-10600 DIMM RAM
I chose PC3-10600 here because I believe that’s what I already have installed. Also note that for desktop memory the DIMM is typically optional and you may get better results if you don’t include it. For laptop memory though you definitely want to include SODIMM in the search string to make sure you don’t get desktop memory by mistake.
Always double check once you make your selection as well to make sure the numbers match your search string and that you are getting a single stick of RAM not a bundle of 2.
Purchasing RAM At The Cheapest Price
Now that you know what you are looking for, you want to get it at the cheapest possible price. Below you find instructions on how to do just that along with a video of me walking you through the process step by step as I use it myself to upgrade my computer from 8GB of RAM to 24GB. It worked like a charm as I paid $110 for two 8GB sticks. If I had just gone to Best Buy, I could easily have paid $100 per 8GB stick plus installation.
Use Price Comparison Sites
Check out the links I’ve compiled to the best Canadian price comparison sites and put your search string into as many of them as you have patience for. Comb through the results until you find a few good prices and take note of the specific manufacturer and model numbers of those individual products.
Next, run a second round of searches through all the price comparison sites using the model numbers this time to make sure you got the absolute lowest price for that specific model.
Check Prices At Top Canadian Computer Stores
Price comparison sites are great, but they typically only list prices for a select few stores they are partnered with and that typically pay them or offer them a commission. If you want to make 100% sure you are getting the best price, then do your search directly on a few of the top sites manually. I've put together a massive list of Canadian computer and electronics stores here to help you out.
Do An Optional Price Match
You may not have heard of a lot of the online retailers returned in the search results of the price comparison sites and some of them may have high shipping rates that ruin your great price. Most, if not all of them, are trustworthy and I have purchased from many of them myself, but you can actually price match any of these sites at a well-known site like NCIX.com. They match all competitors with very little hassle just by completing their online price match form during checkout.
If you’re ambitious, you can also try price matching at MemoryExpress.com because they have a good price beat policy. They will beat all Canadian competitor prices by 10% of the difference. So if you find RAM listed for $50 somewhere that costs $100 at MemoryExpress they will actually sell it to you for $45 after the price beat. They also have outstanding customer service.
Doing a price match is a great way to get the best price and the best shipping rate at the same time!
VIDEO: How To Buy RAM Super Cheap
How Much Can You Save?
Even with RAM prices at abnormally high prices in recent months, you can still save a bundle. For instance, I did a quick check of Apple.ca and when purchasing a 13” MacBook Pro there is an option to upgrade from 4GB of RAM to 16GB for $300.
Using the process above and not being very thorough, I was able to find 16GB of compatible memory for $150. After paying $150 for the new RAM, you would then have the original 4GB leftover to sell on Kijiji bringing your purchase price even lower. You could even advertise it as brand new genuine apple memory, which would be sure to command a higher price from the uneducated.
If you only wanted to upgrade to 12GB by purchasing 1 8GB stick, then you’d only be out about $80 instead, which is way cheaper than $300!
So tell me, are you still intimidated or would you be willing to give this a try?
First Published: October 31, 2013