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   preview   Computer Memory Upgrade Guide -- October 16, 2015

One of the easiest ways to boost performance for an older PC is to add memory to the system. But before you go to get that memory upgrade, be sure to gather information about your computer to ensure you get the right memory for your system. It's also useful to know how much would be beneficial without overspending and getting too much.

How Much Memory Do I Have?

Find out how much memory is in the computer by examining the BIOS or operating system.

For Windows, this can be located by opening up the System properties from the Control Panel. In Mac OS X, open up the About This Mac from the Apple menu. This will tell you the total memory but not necessarily how the memory is installed. For this, you might need to open your computer and look at the physical slots.

How Much Do I Need?

Check your operating system and application programs. Often they will have a printed "Minimum" and "Recommended" memory listing somewhere on the package or in the manual. Find the highest number out of "Recommended" section and try to plan on having this much or more memory by the time you are done upgrading your system memory. I have found that 8GB seems to be the best amount for laptops and desktops. More than this is only useful if you are using very demanding programs.

Desktop Memory Buyer's Guide

Laptop Memory Buyer's Guide

What Type Does Your Computer Support?

Look through the manuals that came with your computer or motherboard. Included in the documentation should be a listing of the specifications for the memory supported.

This is important because it will list exactly the type, size and number of memory modules that are supported. Many retailers and memory manufacturers have this information in case you can't find the manuals. Most systems use DDR3 now and either 240-pin DIMM for desktops and 204-pin SODIMM for laptops but use the manuals or a memory configuration tool from a memory company to double check.

How Many Modules Should I Buy?

Typically, you want to buy as few modules as possible and buy them in pairs for the most efficient performance. Thus, if you have a PC with four memory slots of which just a single one is used with a 2GB module, you can purchase a single 2GB module to upgrade to 4GB of total memory or buy two 2GB modules to go to 6GB of memory. If you are mixing old modules with new ones, try to match their speed and capacity to try and allow dual-channel memory if your systems supports it for best performance results.

Memory Restriction

Laptops generally have two slots available for memory modules compared to four or more in desktop systems. This means that they are more limited in the amount of memory that can be installed. With current memory module technologies for DDR3, this restriction generally comes to 16GB of RAM in a laptop based on 8GB modules if the laptop can support them. 8GB is the more typical limit at this time. Some ultraportable 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. Next, determine how the memory configuration is when you buy the system. For example, a laptop that has 4GB of memory can be configured as either a single 4GB module or two 2GB modules. The single memory module allows for better upgrade potential because adding another module you are gaining more memory without sacrificing any current memory. Upgrading the two module situation with a 4GB upgrade would result in the loss of one 2GB module and a memory total of 6GB. The downside is that some systems may actually perform better when configured with two modules in dual-channel mode compared to using a single module but generally those modules need to be of the same capacity and speed rating.

Self-Install Possible?

Most laptops today have a small door on the underside of the system with access to the memory module slots or the entire bottom cover may come off. 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 typically means that the memory cannot be upgraded at all as the systems is probably sealed. In some cases, the laptop may still be opened by an authorized technician with specialized tools so that it can be upgraded but that will mean a much higher expense to have the memory upgraded than just spending a bit more at the time of purchase to have more memory installed when it was built.

This is especially important if you are buying a laptop and intended to hold onto it for some time. If the memory cannot be upgraded after purchase, it is generally advisable to spend a bit more at the time of purchase to get it at least to as close to 8GB as possible to offset any potential future need. After all, if you then need 8GB but only have 4GB that can't be upgraded, you are hampering the performance of your laptop.


   preview   Supercharge your PC's storage with a RAID setup: Everything you need to know -- September 3, 2013

Ah, storage. Every PC needs it it, but your standard PC storage solutions suffer from two glaring frustrations.

First off, storage performance tends to be one of the main bottlenecks in a typical PC, although the situation has vastly improved with the advent of solid state drives. (Yes, it’s probably your hard drive holding back your high-end PC from even greater glory.) Second, drive failure can lead to the loss of valuable data, and no one wants that.

Thankfully, there’s a way to help mitigate both of these problems using a feature that’s supported on virtually every modern computer system: RAID.

RAID was originally an acronym for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, but that has since morphed into the more commonly accepted Redundant Array of Independent Disks. As its name implies, RAID is a way to pair multiple drives together to improve performance, redundancy, or both.

RAID storage arrays make multiple drives work together in concert.

RAID used to require expensive hardware purchases and was sometimes difficult to configure. Now, though, all but the lowest-end desktop systems (and even some laptops) feature integrated drive controllers with RAID support built right in. Most operating systems—including Windows—also give users the ability to configure what’s known as software RAID. Expansion cards are available too, which can add RAID support to any system with an open PCI-E slot.

Setting up a RAID array is easy in most cases. Typically, the process requires little more than installing some drives, attaching them to a RAID or drive controller, and stepping through a simple wizard that’s either embedded in firmware or available within your operating system.

When to use RAID
Budget permitting, there are many good reasons to use RAID.

Today’s hard disks and solid state drives are far more reliable than their predecessors, which make them perfect candidates for RAID. As we’ve mentioned, RAID can increase storage performance or offer some level of redundancy—both things most PC users want.

Common RAID modes
Choosing the right RAID mode is paramount. Over the years, many RAID modes, or levels, have been defined. On most of today’s desktop systems, however, only a handful of modes are typically supported. Here are the ones you'll see in the PC space.

RAID 0 – Striping:

RAID 0, or striping, distributes data among the drives used in the array. And because the workload is parallelized and spread across the drives, read and write throughput in many circumstances is improved. RAID 0 requires a minimum of two drives and the total capacity of the drives in the array are combined into a single volume, due to the way data is distributed. Two 1TB drives paired together in a striped RAID 0 configuration, for example, will be recognized as a single, 2TB volume. RAID 0 does not mirror or store any parity data though, so the loss of a single drive will take down the entire array.

Configuring SSDs in RAID 0 can result in some truly jaw-dropping transfer speeds. More on that at the end.

RAID 1 – Mirroring:

RAID 1, or mirroring, also requires a minimum of two drives. But instead of striping data, the data stored on the drives in the array is duplicated across all the hard drives. RAID 1 offers a level of data redundancy, and the array can be rebuilt in the event of a drive failure without any loss of data.

Performance can also be improved somewhat, at least when using hard disk drives, since any drive in the array can be accessed to read data, and one drive may offer lower seek or rotational latency due to the position of its drive heads. Write performance is usually lowered, however, because data is mirrored to all of the drives in the array. The total capacity of a RAID 1 volume will equal the capacity of a single drive on account of the redundancy: If two 1TB drives are used, the total capacity of the RAID 1 volume will still be 1TB.

RAID 5 – Striping with Parity:

RAID 5, which requires a minimum of three drives, improves performance by striping data like RAID 0, but it also offers a level of redundancy in RAID 1-like fashion by storing parity data across the drives in the array.

In a RAID 5 setup, a single drive in the array can fail without any loss of data, but performance will be degraded until the bad drive is replaced and the array rebuilt. Depending on the capacity of the drives used, rebuilding a RAID 5 array can take some time, so it’s usually recommended for smaller volumes. Also note that the total capacity of a RAID 5 setup will be the sum of all of the capacities of the drives used in the array, minus the capacity of one. Three 1TB drives used in RAID 5, for example, will offer a total capacity of 2TB.

JBOD – Just a Bunch Of Disks:

Technically, JBOD is not RAID, since it doesn’t offer any sort of redundancy, but it is a mode supported by most drive controllers. JBOD gives users the ability to link multiple drives together to create a single, larger-capacity volume. There is no performance improvement nor data protection though. JBOD is used to simply increase the capacity of a volume; when one drive in a JBOD array is filled, data spills over to the next drive, and so on.

Prepping for RAID
There are a few things to keep in mind before setting up RAID on an existing system. If you’re starting fresh with a new PC, there’s no preparation needed short of making sure you’ve got the drives connected to the right ports on your motherboard or RAID card/controller. But on an already-configured system, there are many, many considerations.

As ever, back up your data before fiddling with your storage.

The first thing we’d recommend is backing up all of your data. Ensure that all of the data on your existing drives is backed up and that you’ve taken a fresh image of your OS installation. (This guide has nitty-gritty details on how to do just that.) If something goes wrong and you lose data, you’ll be happy to have a backup in place. And if setting up RAID somehow mangles your OS, having a fresh image on hand will help you recover in no time.

Note, however, that if you plan to migrate an existing OS installation that resides on a single drive to a new RAID volume, the configuration changes necessary to set up RAID may cause problems with the OS and render it non-bootable. It’s best to install a fresh OS onto a new RAID array whenever possible.

RAID hardware considerations
The vast majority of motherboards sold today have built-in support for RAID. The drive controllers integrated into Intel’s and AMD’s chipsets offer RAID (as do most other lesser-known chipsets) and many motherboard manufacturers often integrate additional RAID controllers, from companies like Marvell, onto their boards as well. It’s common for on-board RAID controllers to support RAID 0, 1, 5, and JBOD, though some also support RAID 10. Keep in mind though, that even on the off chance your motherboard doesn’t have built-in RAID support, software RAID is still most likely possibly, provided the board has a couple of open SATA ports to connect additional drives.

All but the most basic of today’s motherboard have built-in support for RAID.

Though the RAID controllers integrated into most motherboards should be adequate for the vast majority of users, higher-end add-in solutions are also available. Typically, inexpensive add-in boards (think under $150) feature the same basic standalone controllers found on many motherboards, but some higher-end offerings like those from Areca, LSI, or 3COM offer true hardware RAID, with dedicated storage processors and cache memory.

Setting up hardware RAID

Add-in RAID cards can be used to add RAID capabilities to a system or to leverage a true hardware RAID configuration.

Configuring an array with a hardware RAID controller is fairly straightforward. If you’re using an add-in board, the first step is to actually install the card. Power down your system, insert that card into an available PCI-E slot, power up the system, and install whatever drivers are necessary for your OS. Installing a RAID controller card is really no different than any other add-in board.

If you’re planning to use your motherboard’s on-board RAID controller, the first step is to enter your system BIOS/UEFI, navigate to the integrated peripherals or SATA menu, and enable RAID, since most of today’s motherboard default to legacy IDE or AHCI modes.

After entering the RAID option ROM, choose the option to create and array and follow the on-screen instructions.

Once RAID support is enabled (or your add-in card is installed), the next step is to physically connect your storage drives. Mount the drives into any available bays in your system, connect their power and data cables, and that’s basically it. When you boot your system with RAID enabled, you’ll see a prompt to enter the RAID controller’s option ROM, usually by pressing CTRL + I or CTRL + S.

After entering the RAID controller’s option ROM, you’ll be presented with a menu with the RAID management tools. It’s here where you can create an array, name it, select the drives and RAID mode, and configure options like the stripe size or total capacity. The exact steps will vary from controller to controller, but the process is usually quick and easy.

When you’ve completed configuring the array, save your changes, and it should be ready to use.

Setting up software RAID

The first step in setting up software RAID is selecting a drive. Right-click on an available drive and select New Striped, New Mirrored, or New RAID-5 volume (if available) from the menu.

Using Windows’ built-in support for software RAID is simple. Assuming you’ve already got your drives connected, launch the Disk Management utility by right-clicking in the low-left corner of your screen (Windows 8/8.1) and select Disk Management from the menu. In Windows 7, click your Start button, right-click on Computer, choose Manage from the menu, and in the window that opens, click on Disk Management in the left column.

If your drives are brand new, you’ll be presented with the option to initial the drives. Do so and you’ll be brought to the main Disk Management menu, where all of the drives are listed.

To configure a software RAID, right-click on one of the drives you’d like to include in the array and select the option to create a new Striped (RAID 0), Mirrored (RAID 1), or Spanned (JBOD) volume. RAID 5 may also be an option if you’ve got at least 3 eligible drives installed. After selecting the volume type, a wizard will launch to walk you through the rest of the steps.

When you’ve completed all of the steps in the wizard, Window’s Disk Management utility will color code the drives in the array and list then as dynamic disks.

In the second part of the wizard, you’ll be asked to select the rest of the drives to include in the array. The drive you originally selected will already be added. To add more, simply highlight them in the left pane and click the Add -> button.

Once you’ve added all of the drives and continued through the wizard, you’ll be asked to select a drive letter and format the array. After it’s formatted, the array is ready to use.

Side note: Windows 8 also has a feature dubbed Storage Spaces that allows you to pool multiple drives into a single large volume, complete with some optional resiliency features. It's kind of like RAID light and is dead simple to set up.

OS installation considerations
If you’re planning to create a new RAID array to install a fresh OS, follow the steps outlined in the hardware RAID section and then begin your OS installation as normal. Windows may recognize the array without any intervention because Microsoft includes drivers for many RAID controllers, but if the Windows installer doesn’t find your storage, you'll have to install your RAID controller drivers manually.

To install Windows (or many other operating systems) to a RAID array, you may have to manually load drivers for the RAID controller.

During the initial part of the OS setup phase, there will be a button to load drivers. Place the drivers for your RAID controller on a flash drive, optical disk, or external HD, connect it to your machine, and browse to the drivers during the installation. Once the drivers are installed, you should be able to select the array as your Windows installation destination and continue on as you would with a single drive.

The final word
If you've got the cash (or the spare drives), setting up RAID is quick and easy. And if you decide to configure RAID on your PC, you’ll either enjoy the peace of mind that comes with redundancy or reap the benefits of additional performance.

To give you an idea of what a two-drive RAID 0 array can do with a pair of Intel 730 SSDs, consider this: A single Intel 730 series SSD offers approximately 536MB/s and 483MB/s read and write bandwidth with large sequential transfers. Pair up two drives in RAID 0, however, and those read and write numbers jump to an insane 1061MB/s and 924MB/s, respectively.

Now that’s face-meltingly fast storage. Be sure to back up your data regularly in case one of the drives fails though!

   preview   How troubleshoot your CD / DVD drive. -- July 8, 2010

CD problems can be very hard to solve. Troubleshooting usually involved the Hardware, Drivers, and Software. Here are a few scenarios and some possible fixes:

The cd drive somehow got lost:

1. Clear the CMOS and auto-detect the drives.

2. Look in Device Manager and determine if the CD has a drive letter assigned to it, if it does not assign a valid drive letter.

3. Boot to safe mode and look for multiple instances of the CD. If there are, delete all instances of the CD and allow the system to redetect the drive.

4. Verify that the drive has been jumped correctly. It is best to place the drive on the Secondary drive controller and jumper has Master or Cable Select if the only CD in the system. Make sure the drive is at the end of the cable. (This assumes that you have your hard drives on the Primary controller.

5. Disable the screen saver and boot into safe mode, run scandisk and defrag in case there are cross-linked or fragmented files.

6. Try the CD in another computer, if it works replace the cables in your original system when re-installing it.

7. If this fails, try re-installing the OS and all drivers on type of the existing system. Reboot after each installation testing the CD each time. This might identify a conflicting driver or .dll file.

8. Wipe the PC and install the OS and all drivers from scratch.

9. Re-flash the BIOS. If this fails, you probable have a bad motherboard.


This sometimes works with controller problems:

First right click on "My Computer" and choose "Properties" from the menu. This should give you the "General" tab of the "System Properties". Please click on "Device Manager" tab. if you see yellow "?"s or red "x" on primary /secondary IDE controllers continue if not skip the rest of my post. If they are splatted (the tech term for the yellow "?" OR red "x") you need to pull a key in the registry... make certain you have a backup done. Navigate using "Start | Run" REGEDIT (press "OK") to :HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINEEnum" select and delete the mf key. Close REGEDIT and restart the computer "Start | Shutdown" and then "Restart"). When you reboot new hardware should be located. If it is Windows may suggest that you need to reboot to continue setting up changes SELECT "NO" when you are all the way up into Windows restart as above this may take up to three restarts.


*** CD Won't read:

Examine the CD and clean it, if necessary, with a soft, clean, lint free cloth or use a CD cleaning kit. If the problem only happens with one particular disk then it may be that the disk is damaged.

If the CD is not a store bought CD then it may have been written on a machine that is "incompatible" with yours, often these disks will read fine on another machine. If the disk is software or music from a store then it may be your drive at fault but if that is unreadable on another machine then it is the disk itself. If you find that a recently bought disk is at fault then take it back and ask for another copy.

If you cannot read any disks then clean the disc drive using a CD-ROM or DVD drive-cleaning disc if you have one. If you do not have one you can get hold of one from hi-fi, electronic shops, music stores and some supermarkets. They range in price from cheap to ridiculous so shop around for one.

*** Can you now read the CD drive?

If "NO", then press CTRL+ALT+DEL to display the "Close Program" window. If any program other than "Explorer" is listed, click it, then click Remove. Repeat this step until all programs except "Explorer" have been removed. "Explorer" is the Windows user interface and you need these to continue running correctly.

*** Can you now read the CD drive?

If no then if you have Windows 95 or Windows 98, make sure that you are using protected mode (32-bit) drivers for your CD-ROM or DVD drive. To do this, follow these steps:

Click "Start | Settings | Control Panel | System".

On the "Performance" tab confirm that the "File System" entry is "32-bit". If the File System entry is "Some drives are using MS-DOS compatibility MODE" you are using MS-DOS disc drivers (real mode or "16-bit" drivers) and you may not be able to read certain files on the CD-ROM since some programs only work correctly with protected-mode drivers. To obtain protected-mode drivers for CD or DVD drives.

See the following article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:


Click "OK", and close the Control Panel

Reboot and try accessing the drive again, if still unsuccessful then, if you are using Windows 98 or Windows Me, change the UDF setting thusly:

Click "Start | Run" type MSCONFIG in the box, click "OK"

Click "Advanced"

Click the "Disable UDF File System" option, click "OK".

When prompted to restart your computer, click "OK", click "Yes"

When your computer restarts, UDF support has changed. If this makes no difference, change the setting back and reboot.

* NOTE : Generally, UDF should be enabled. However, some drives do not support UDF. For these drives, UDF should be left disabled. These drives will not be able to be read discs that only use the UDF file system. DVD-ROMs require the UDF file system, unless they are a UDF Bridge disc (mastered for both ISO 9660 and UDF).

Can you now read CD's? If NO then continue

Next disable DMA for the CD-ROM or DVD drive:

Click "Start | Settings | Control Panel".

Double-click "System | Device Manager | View Devices By Type".

Click the plus sign (+) next to "CDROM" to expand the branch.

Click the CD-ROM or DVD drive that you want to change

Click "Properties" Settings tab, click to clear the DMA check box, click "Close".

Close "Control Panel" and restart the computer.

Can you now read CD's? If no then reduce CD-ROM or DVD drive caching,

Click "Start | Settings "Control Panel | System | Performance " File System"

On the "CD-ROM" or "DVD" tab, move the Supplemental Cache Size slider to the "Small" position.

In the "Optimize Access Pattern For" box, click "No Read-Ahead", click "OK", click "Close".

When prompted, restart your computer.

Can you now read CD's? If NO then try disabling your "Auto-Insert Notification", (your programs will no longer start automatically if you disable this but carry on....)

Click "Start | Settings | Control Panel | System | Device Manager"

Click the (+) next to "CDROM" to expand the branch, click your "CD-ROM" or "DVD" drive, click "Properties".

On the "Settings" tab, click to clear the "Auto Insert Notification" check box. Click, "OK", "OK", close the "Control Panel" and restart the computer.

Still no success?

Remove any duplicate CD-ROM or DVD drives being loaded by Windows.

Click "Start | Settings | Control Panel | System | Device Manager"

Click "View Devices By Type".

Double-click the plus sign (+) on your "CDROM" or "DVD" branch to expand it.

Note the "Properties" for each device listed in the branch by clicking a device and then clicking "Properties".

Click each tab in the "Device Properties" dialog box, and then record the device information and settings.

Click "OK", click "OK", and then close "Control Panel".

Next you will have to restart Windows in "Safe mode". You can do this in Windows 95 by pressing the "F8" key when you see the "Starting Windows 95" message. Select "Safe Mode" on the "Startup" menu. In Windows 98 and ME you should restart your computer and press and hold down the "CTRL" key when your computer completes the "Power-On Self Test" (POST) you then select "Safe Mode" on the "Startup" menu. You can also use the "F8" key to get to this menu and you should tap the "F8" key repeatedly after the memory count has completed during the boot sequence.

When Windows starts in "Safe Mode", click "OK"

Click "Start | Settings | Control Panel | System | Device Manager | View Devices By Type".

Double-click the "CDROM" branch to expand it.

Check that there are no changes in the list of devices in the branch.

If you can see a device that is not in the list of devices you noted above then click the new device, and then click "Remove". Do this for each device in the branch that is not in the list of devices you noted.

* NOTE: If you see new copies of a device that is in the list of devices you noted in step 5, check the "Properties" of each copy of the device. If the properties for the device match the properties you recorded, keep the device but if they do not match then you should delete it.

Click "OK" then when you are prompted to restart the computer, click "OK".

Still cannot read CDs? If you have got to this point then your CD has probably died. If you can try the drive in another machine then do a swap and see if the problem follows the drive