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Laptop Memory - Specification Analysis
Getting the Right Amount of RAM and Future Upgradeability
Certainly the more memory in a laptop system the better just like desktops, but there are other concerns regarding memory in laptops. Laptops are generally more restricted in the amount of memory that can be installed into a system. Sometimes access to that memory can also be a problem if you plan a future upgrade.

How Much is Enough?

The rule of thumb that is used for all computer systems for determining if it has enough memory is to look at the requirements of the software you intend to run. Pick up the boxes for each of the applications and the OS that you intend to run and look at both the "minimum" and "recommended" requirements. Typically you want to have more RAM than the highest minimum and ideally at least as much as the highest listed recommended requirement. The following chart provides a better breakdown of what is acceptable for different computer tasks:

Tasks Functionality Amount of RAM
Enough to Boot Absolute Minimum 128 MB
Word Processing Barely Functional 128 MB - 256 MB
General Computing/Web Surfing Functional 256 MB - 384 MB
Gaming/Music Optimal 384 MB - 512 MB
Heavy Graphics/Gaming Smooth Sailing 512 MB and up

The ranges provided are a generalization based upon most general computing tasks. It is best to check the requirements of the intended software to make the final decisions. The lower part of the scale is the minimum while the higher number is better. This is not accurate for all computer tasks because some operating systems use more memory than others.

Memory Restrictions

Laptop computers generally have two slots available for memory modules compared to three or four in desktop systems. This means that they are more limited in the amount of memory that have available. With current memory module technologies, this restriction generally comes to either 512 MB of 1 GB of RAM in a laptop system based on either 256 MB or 512 MB modules. Some ultra portable systems are even fixed with one size of memory that cannot be changed at all. So what is important to know when you look at a laptop?

First, find out what the maximum amount of memory is. This is generally listed by most of the manufacturers. This will let you know what upgrade potential the system has. Second, determine how the memory configuration is when you buy the system. For example, a laptop that has 256 MB of memory can be configured as either a single 256 MB module or two 128 MB modules. The single memory module allows for better upgrade potential because by adding another module you are gaining more memory without sacrificing any current memory. Upgrading the two module situation with a 256 MB upgrade would result in the loss of one 128 MB module and a resulting memory total of 384 MB.

Self-Install Possible?

Most laptop systems today have a small door on the underside of the system with access to the memory module slots. If it does, then it is possible to just purchase a memory upgrade and install it yourself without much trouble. A system without an external door or panel for memory access will require installation by a service technician. This generally will add additional expense to the memory upgrade in the future or possibly even the requirement that the system be sent in to a service center which means the lack of a computer until the upgrade is completed.

Do It Yourself:: Installing Laptop Memory

 2003  Computer Memory Upgrade