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How to build your own personal computer - Kitchen Table Computers
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Installing the RAM (Memory) Modules

 

Anti-Static Precautions

Handle RAM modules only by their edges.Like processors, RAM modules are extremely sensitive to static charges and should be handled very carefully. Never touch the metal conductors, and only handle RAM modules by their edges. Nothing feels quite as bad as destroying a perfectly good stick of RAM.

You can learn more about anti-static precautions here.

Before actually installing the RAM modules in your computer, check again to make sure that the RAM you have is of the correct type and speed for your motherboard. Most computers nowadays use DDR-II or DDR-III memory modules, but double-check to make sure.

 

Proper Insertion of the RAM Modules

RAM modules are keyed to fit into their slots in the proper orientation.RAM modules are keyed with little notches that fit over corresponding tabs in the RAM slots. We've circled them in the picture on the right (click the picture for a close-up).

Before inserting the RAM module, make sure that the notches and tabs are correctly lined up. If there are more notches than there are tabs (or vice-versa), then you have the wrong RAM for your motherboard. Same thing goes for if the notches and tabs don't match up. You have the wrong RAM, and all the force in the world won't make it the right RAM.

Once you're sure you have the right RAM, to actually insert it, simply push it firmly, straight down into the slot, and push the retainer clips inward. That's it.

 

Which Slots to Use

If you are using SDRAM or single-channel DDR-SDRAM, then it usually doesn't matter which modules go into which slots. But a few motherboards require that you start with the first slot and fill them in order, so you may as well do it that way.

If you are using DDR memory in dual-channel configuration, however, then you must fill the first slot of each of the two RAM banks with an identical stick of RAM; and you must do the same with the second slots of each bank, if you are using them. The RAM sticks in each bank must be identical to each other. In addition, although it is not required, I recommend that the two banks also be identical.

Huh?

Okay, in other words, a motherboard that supports dual-channel DDR will usually have two (or more) RAM banks, which usually are identified by different color slots. Each bank has two slots, and both slots in each bank must have identical RAM. So if you put a 1 GB stick of PC2-5300 667MHz DDR2 in the first slot, then you must also put a 1 GB stick of PC2-5300 667MHz DDR2 in the second slot in order to use the dual-channel configuration.

If you choose to use the additional banks, then the same rule applies. Each stick in the bank must be identical, but the banks need not be identical to each other. In practice, however, I usually just fill all the slots with identical RAM sticks. Makes life easier, and I find I get far fewer conflicts this way.

When using SDRAM or DDR-SDRAM, any unused RAM slots are simply left empty. But if you are using RAMBUS RIMM modules, then you will have to install "continuity modules" in any unused RIMM slots. Remember: RAMBUS modules must be installed in identical pairs.

 

Manufacturers and Speeds

In theory, it shouldn't matter if the RAM modules installed in a computer are made by different manufacturers, as long as the type and speed are the same. There are standards for this sort of things, so memory from different manufacturers should be compatible. But sometimes subtle differences between manufacturers can cause problems; so I recommend that you purchase RAM made by the same manufacturer, if possible.

Also in theory, when different speed RAM modules are used, all of the RAM should clock to the speed of the slowest module. But in reality, I've found that mixing RAM speeds sometimes causes system instability. I've had plenty of cases where RAM sticks that tested just fine alone wouldn't play well together. So I strongly recommend that all of the RAM installed in your computer be of the same speed.

In fact, in practice, I just use all identical sticks in any given computer. Whenever possible, I'll even remove perfectly good RAM when doing an upgrade, just so all the sticks I install are identical. (And again, you must use RAM pairs of identical size and speed when using RAMBUS or dual-channel DDR.)

Selecting the right kind of RAM can be confusing. For the latest information about RAM, as well as for help deciding what kind and how much RAM you need for your computer, post your questions on the Computer Memory page of our Home-built Computer Forum.

 

Now that you've installed your computer's RAM, let's move on to the next step: Installing Expansion Cards.

 


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