Windows 7 : Installing and Removing Hardware (part 3) - Not-So-Hot-Pluggable Devices - Installing more memory, Installing a second hard drive

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4.2. Installing more memory (RAM)

Installing more RAM isn't exactly like installing other devices, because you're not likely to get any feedback at all on the Windows desktop when you're done. RAM is such an integral part of the computer that it doesn't really get "installed." The processor just detects it as soon as you turn on the power. One of the few places you'd even see that you have more RAM is on the General tab of the System Properties dialog box.

The key consideration to adding more RAM is finding the right type of memory. You need to match the type and speed of your existing RAM chip, and you need an available DIMM slot on the motherboard. Also, every motherboard has a limit as to the maximum speed and type of memory it can handle. When you build a PC, you know exactly what's involved. But when you buy a prebuilt PC, it's not always easy to find out what you need to know.

Figure 10. Slots on a computer motherboard.

Figure 11. A sample expansion card.

Upgrading the CPU

Every motherboard has a certain maximum CPU speed it can handle. You won't know what that is unless you can get the specs on your exact motherboard. Rather than try to upgrade just the CPU, you'd probably be better off upgrading the motherboard, CPU, and RAM while you're at it. That way you can speed up everything, but still use your existing hard drive, CD/DVD drive, mouse, keyboard, monitor, and everything else. Or, for a little extra, you can probably purchase a new PC almost as inexpensively as upgrading your old one.

A barebones kit might be the best way to go. With a barebones kit you can get a motherboard, CPU, RAM, and power supply already assembled in a new case. You then transfer your existing hard drive, CD drive, mouse, keyboard, monitor, and everything else to that new case. You get the benefits of a newer, faster computer without the expense of buying an entirely new PC.

Your best bet is to go to the computer manufacturer's Web site and find the main Web page for your exact model of computer. You can often find out exactly what type and speed of RAM chip is currently installed using that method. PNY (a company that sells RAM chips) has a Memory Configurator link on its home page ( When you click that link, it asks some basic questions about your system and then tells you which RAM chips will work with that system.

The PNY site also has installation guides, which might help you get the feel for what you'll be doing when you purchase more RAM. Remember, you have to look inside the computer and see if you even have an available slot for adding more RAM first.

Even so, installing more RAM isn't really something for the technologically timid to undertake. Even the slightest mistake could prevent the computer from starting at all. If the speed of the new chip doesn't exactly match the speed of the existing chip, the computer will start but you're likely to end up with endless error messages when you try to do just about anything.

4.3. Installing a second hard drive

If you need more hard disk space, installing a second hard drive is a good option. Hard disk space is cheap, and it's a lot easier to just add another drive than it is to try to pinch a few more megabytes out of a single drive by compressing files and moving things out to removable disks.

Most internal drives are relatively easy to install. What's more, with today's computers, the computer will automatically detect the drive type on boot. If you don't feel up to the task of installing a new internal drive, however, consider an external drive.

If the computer doesn't recognize the new disk, enter the computer's BIOS Setup program and make sure the BIOS is configured to auto-detect drives on the new drive's interface.

External hard drives are relatively simple to install. Basically you just connect the drive to a USB or FireWire port. If you already bought an internal hard drive but haven't connected it yet, you can convert it to an external drive just by putting it in an external drive enclosure. Just make sure you get an enclosure that has the right internal connectors (IDE or SATA) for your drive.

To see examples of hard drive enclosures, search an online retailer such as,, or even for external drive enclosure. Drives that connect via USB 2.0 can move data at 480 Mbps, which is plenty fast for a hard drive and won't be a performance bottleneck.

Hard drives for most non-server PCs fall into two main categories, SATA (Serial ATA) and PATA (Parallel ATA), more commonly referred to as IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) drives. (The ATA stands for Advanced Technology Attachment.) SATA is the newer, faster, and easier technology.


Servers and some workstations use SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) drives. However, SATA drives provide faster data rates than SCSI drives.

The original SATA drives moved data at a good 150 Mbps (150 million bits per second). The newer SATA II drives move data at 300 Mbps, and third-generation SATA drives support 600 Mbps. Before adding a second SATA drive, you'll need to make sure your motherboard has SATA connectors, and whether they are the appropriate connectors for the type of SATA device you want to install.

IDE drives come in multiple speeds too, ranging from 33 Mbps to 133 Mbps. The maximum speed your PC can use depends on the speed of the IDE connectors on the motherboard.

IDE drives have an unusual configuration where you can connect two drives to a single IDE port. One drive is called the master drive, the other the slave drive. You have to physically set a jumper on the drive to make the drive either master or slave. Then you have to connect the drive to the right place on the cable. The master goes at the end of the cable. The slave goes on the plug in the center of the cable, as illustrated in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Older style internal IDE drives.

Again, your best bet before installing any hardware device is to follow the instructions that came with the device — to a tee — before you even turn the computer back on and use Windows to configure the device. If in doubt, have a pro install the hardware for you. But, assuming you've installed the drive, either internally or externally, you can then use Windows 7 to partition and format the drive.

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