By Max Neopikhanov

With the sheer number of components and parts in a computer, it’s often a challenge to get the most value out of your money when purchasing a new one or upgrading your current one.  You may be ready to pull the trigger and buy that laptop computer you’ve been researching, but you don’t know all the technical jargon and why you should spend extra money on additional, faster components. Or, perhaps you have an older computer that just might need a small upgrade or two to keep up with the Joneses.

Specification sheets and sales pitches frequently say the better computer is one which features a fast processor, good video graphics, and a wonderful, crisp HD screen, all of which wrapped in an attractive form factor, and at a reasonable price.  These particular features are often built into the computer without you, the consumer, having much choice beyond picking a different model or brand.  The computer appears to be exactly what you are looking for and, seemingly, all the choices have been made for you.

But when you arrive at the checkout page you’re met with two important decisions that can mean spending two, sometimes three hundred dollars more than you need to, RAM (random access memory) and Hard Drive (storage) size.

Hardware makers often stress the importance of having ample RAM to speed-up your machine when running multiple resource intensive applications, which is certainly true.  Likewise you need plenty storage space to hold all of these applications, along with photos, music, movies, documents and other files.

Unfortunately these two components are often marked-up and sold at a much higher cost to you.   In this guide I’m going to show you how easy and cost efficient it is to purchase your laptop computer, new or used, with the bare minimum RAM and storage space offered, and then upgrade each yourself for much less.

And alternatively, if you are happy with your current laptop computer but wish it were just a bit speedier when loading files or browsing the internet, or had more space for all of your important files, you may just need a cost efficient upgrade without plunking down lots of money for a brand new machine.

This guide will help you do the following:

  • Find out how much RAM and storage space a computer has
  • Identify how much RAM and storage space you need
  • Locate where on your computer you may access the RAM and storage drive
  • Purchase and install your new RAM and storage drive

If you already own the computer you wish to upgrade you may skip below to identifying how much RAM and Hard Drive space you need and how to find out what you currently have.

What Am I Being Offered?

If purchasing a brand new computer, whether at a computer shop or website, it is a good idea to find out how much RAM and storage space is being offered and for how much. Individual laptop RAM modules, or sticks, are called SODIMMs and are usually installed in singles or pairs in laptop computers.  If you plan on upgrading RAM yourself, choosing the most inexpensive option with only a single SODIMM is the best course of action because a second SODIMM can be cheaply purchased and easily installed without much hassle.  If in doubt about how many RAM slots a particular computer has, look over the specifications page or ask a sales representative.

For data storage most laptop computers have only a single slot for a single Storage device, either a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), which is the traditional storage solution, using very dense magnetic coated discs to store data, or a newer Solid State Drive (SSD), the newer storage technology that uses non-volatile flash memory that utilize fewer moving parts and less power.   Storage devises can range from a relatively small 32 Gigabytes, or GB, with each Gigabyte being 1000 Megabytes, well into the stratosphere of a Terabyte, being 1000 Gigabytes.

But why swap out one storage device for another when you can simply purchase your computer with a larger one to begin with? Well, aside from HDDs being available for cheaper when bought separately, you can turn the HDD or SSD that came with your laptop into a very nifty external drive that you can take anywhere!  With an inexpensive hard drive enclosure, a small box attached with a USB data cord, an extra unused HDD or SSD can become a supplementary mobile drive which you can use to transfer files to and fro different computers, very similar to a USB thumb drive, albeit with much more space!

How Much Do I Really Need?

For those using their computer primarily for document editing, web browsing, and streaming video will probably do  well a 500GB drive.  Audiophiles, video editors, and video gamers might need some more space;  a 1TB or larger drive, while on the more expensive side of things, would provide enough space to not have to make any compromises when storing large video files, music collections, and video games.

Most HDDs are fast enough for daily computer tasks, but for those in need of  faster performance instead of copious storage space might do well with purchasing a Solid State Drive.  These drives have no internal moving parts and instead of using a Disk to store data, use low power, high-speed flash memory that doesn’t need to spin at a high rate, like a standard Hard Drive, to be accessed by the computer.  SSD is a technology which has slowly been gaining recognition by technology enthusiasts and hardware manufacturers to the point of becoming quite affordable for many computer users.  The downsides to the technology include the limited amount of space compared to traditional HDDs and the higher cost per GB – as much as three times the cost, depending on the model of SSD.

Random Access Memory (RAM) isn’t nearly as expensive, and can be vital to a computer’s performance, especially  when using resource demanding applications.  A lot of numbers and nomenclature are thrown out at you in the computer’s spec sheet, Double Data Rate (DDR), and DIMM and SODIMM, 1066 MHz, for example.  Generally speaking, the higher the numbers, the faster the RAM will be.  It is important to note, however, that you must upgrade RAM modules with those of identical specification, such as DDR and speed ratings.  RAM is generally cheap enough that at least 6GB, which is plenty for all current operating systems and likely Microsoft’s next one as well, is a good idea to have.

 I Already Have My Laptop Computer, Which Sort of RAM and Hard Drive Does it have?

Most laptops feature an access panel on the bottom of the machine where you can have access to the RAM and storage drive.  Sometimes there are two separate panels for each, but swapping them out should be the same.  Once the panels are removed, take a look at the RAM modules and the storage drive.  Pushing back on the metal springs will release the RAM modules which you can then slide out from their slot.


On each RAM module should be a sticker, where written are its specifications, such as the Double Data Rate (DDR) and speed in Megahertz, along with the capacity in Gigabytes.  Make sure the replacement modules, or additional modules you might be installing, match the DDR and Megahertz specification of those already present.  If upgrading a system with a single slot, most machines will generally accept at least up to 8GB.  Whether using single or dual RAM modules,  running a 64-bit operating system is required for the operating system to use more than 3.26GB of RAM.  When using a 32-bit operating system, the machine will simply not be able to take advantage of more than 3.26GB of RAM regardless of how much is actually installed.

If using a Microsoft Windows operating system you can check if your computer is using a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system by right-clicking on My Computer  and then clicking on properties.


A storage drive, whether HDD or SSD requires only slightly more work to remove and should not pose much difficulty to anyone with a screwdriver.  The Drive generally sits inside a small metal case called the Caddy, which keeps the Hard Drive in place inside the computer.  Once the Drive is free from its alcove, you should be able to read its specifications written on its sticker.  Unlike replacing RAM modules, you are not limited to replacing your current drive with a drive with the same speed and technology.  The only requirement when installing a new drive into your laptop is that the replacement drive is of the 2.5” variety – it can be faster or slower, smaller or larger, Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive.