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PC Memory Shopping Tips

Posted on 7/9/2012 12:43 EST

One of the easiest, cheapest, and best ways to improve your PC's performance is to add more memory to your system. Installing cheap PC memory sticks isn't difficult to do, and it only takes a few minutes. But pumping up your PC from 1GB or 2GB to, say, 4GB or 8GB should give your system a noticeable speed boost.

Photo by sxc.hu/ArminH

Find the right memory for your PC.

Memory sticks aren't universal. You have to find the right type and speed of cheap PC memory for your computer. We recommend downloading and using the Memory Adviser Tool to determine the type of memory that's compatible with your system. After running the scan, the results will appear on a web page, with compatible memory types listed on the left. You'll see whether your PC supports DDR2 memory or DDR3 memory and what speeds you can use (for example, PC3-8500). Older systems probably use DDR2 whereas newer PCs use DDR3; DDR3 memory has a faster data rate than DDR2 and is not backward-compatible with DDR2.

The scan will also show how many memory slots your PC provides. Most PCs have four, but most users only install one or two memory sticks. Not sure how to install cheap PC memory? Crucial.com offers a video on its site to show you how.

Memory speed.

Cheap PC memory is available in several different speeds, but your PC will probably only support three or four speeds. The speed of memory can be listed two ways, which can be confusing. For example, an older PC may use DDR2 memory that runs at an effective rate of 800MHz, listed as DDR2 800 memory. But that same memory may be listed as PC2-6400 memory. The "6400" refers to the data transfer rate of the memory, 6400MB/s. The higher the memory's number, the faster it transfers data. Manufacturers should list both the megahertz and the data transfer rate on their memory modules. Some web retailers also list both numbers. Newegg's memory web page displays both numbers in the Speed subsection on the left side of the page.

Photo by sxc.hu/pipp

Memory size.

Most users like to have at least 4GB of memory on their systems, and that's about right for the average person. Some power users, such as gamers and those who do lots of video editing, will benefit from having up to 8GB of RAM. Some PCs can use as much as 32GB of RAM, but that's overkill, especially for typical PC users. You'll need a 64-bit operating system, such as the 64-bit version of Windows 7, for your PC to recognize and use 4GB of RAM or more. Older operating systems, such as Windows XP, can only recognize up to about 3GB of RAM.

Two sticks or one?

You can install cheap PC memory stick but you're better off installing two. Most PCs support "dual channel" memory, meaning the PC uses both memory modules at the same time to improve speed and efficiency. Both cheap PC memory modules must be of the same type and speed, and it's a good idea to buy them from the same manufacturer. Lots of memory manufacturers sell pairs of memory sticks, such as two 2GB or two 4GB memory modules in the same package.

How much does cheap PC memory cost?

Desktop PC memory is pretty cheap as far as PC components go. You can buy a pair of 2GB, DDR3 memory modules for as little as $20. Note that older, DDR2 memory is actually more expensive than DDR3 modules because it's becoming obsolete. Expect to pay $50 or more for 4GB of DDR2 memory. A pair of 2GB DDR2 Corsair memory sticks will run you about $55 at Directron, for example, but the same amount of DDR3 Crucial memory only costs about $24 from the same Web site.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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