What type of computer memory to use in a memory upgrade?
Determining the type of memory required
By far the best method of determining the memory (RAM) to use with your computer is through the computer or motherboard manufacturer documentation. If you do not have your product documentation, you can also find it online through the computer manufacturers or motherboard manufacturer website.
For example, your motherboard documentation features may list something similar to the example below.
Supports DDR 400/333/266 SDRAM
Supports up to 3 unbuffered DIMM or 2.5 volt DDR SDRAM
Up to 1GB per DIMM with a maximum memory size up to 3 GB
Use a third-party tool or service
Another option would be to use a third-party software utility or online service that can provide details about the components in your computer. These utilities can scan your computer and give a detailed report of everything in your computer, including memory. For example, the Crucial System Scanner is a free utility to scan your computer and give you computer memory details including available memory slots.
Visually examine the memory
What to look for in memory
Below is a short list of what you should look for or determine when trying to determine the memory your computer has or needs.
What type of memory does the computer use? Some examples of the different memory types include DDR-SDRAM, DDR2-SDRAM, DIMM, DRAM, EDO, FPM, SDRAM, LIMM, RDRAM (RAMBUS), RIMM, SIMM, and SODIMM. Today's computers usually use a variant of DIMM/SDRAM memory.
Amount of Pins
How many pins does the computer accept? 72-Pin, 30-Pin, 168-Pin, 184-Pin, or 240-Pin? This all depends on the type of memory.
Speed of memory
Memory may be listed in nanosecond (ns) speeds such as 70ns, 60ns, and 10ns or MHz such as 266MHz, 333MHz, 400MHz, 500MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz, 800MHz. Make sure you get the correct speed of memory for your computer.
Note: If you mix the speeds of your memory in your computer the computer runs at the speed of the lowest speed memory in the computer. Although the computer is still going to work, you are paying more for a higher speed that is not being utilized.
Does the computer require error-checking memory? For example, Parity or Non Parity (ECC or Non-ECC). If you have an option between the two and are uncertain go with memory that has error checking. Typically all memory used with today's computers only use memory with error checking.
What are the voltage requirements? Make sure you determine the voltage requirements of the memory (e.g. 1.8v or 2.5v).
The contact material on the memory is also important when considering buying computer memory. The contact area is coated in either gold or tin and should match the material of the memory slots. Mismatching the memory and memory slot contact material can cause corrosion.
Finally, is the memory in your computer proprietary, and if it is not, is there a manufacturer that your computer company recommends? If you have a more recent computer (computer made in the last five years) this should not be a concern.
See our memory definitions page if there is any other jargon that is confusing you.
Before purchasing memory
Make sure the computer has the available memory slots for the memory you are installing in the computer. For example, if you are installing an additional 1GB of memory into the computer and plan on using two 512MB memory sticks make sure you have two available slots. If you do not have available slots you can remove pre-existing memory and install new memory. However, any memory removed is subtracted from your total. Below is an example of a possible scenario.
A computer has 512MB of memory, from four different 128MB sticks of RAM and has no more available slots. If you wanted to upgrade to a total of 1GB, either the four 128MB sticks would need to be replaced with four 256MB sticks, or two of the 128MB sticks could be replaced by two 512MB sticks.
Tip: 1GB = 1,024MB