Adding or Replacing Hardware Tips for the Do-It-Yourselfer

By Kenny Williams

Every time I go to a computer store I am overwhelmed with the selection of bigger and better computer parts. The promise of a faster system is always so tempting. I realize that the idea of opening up your computer case to add hardware may seem like a bad idea, but it is not as much of a nightmare as you might think.

Don't let your preconceptions prevent you from walking the path of computer enlightenment. Adding and replacing hardware is not really very difficult. If you can turn a screwdriver, you can probably install just about any component on your system. Computers are fairly standardized, and modern-day BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) routines and OSes (operating systems) are good at detecting new hardware automatically. All you really have to do is plug it in. In the next few columns I am going to cover a few of the simpler upgrades that just about anyone can do.

Now gather up the tools you'll probably need. Cracking open a computer case is not heavy-duty work, but a little gear is necessary. First up for your tool belt should be a Phillips screwdriver, preferably one without a magnetic tip because electronic components are sensitive to magnets. You may also need needle nose pliers to reach in and disconnect wire connectors or switch tiny jumpers.

Shut down your computer and unplug all electrical cords. You're pretty well separated from any dangerous current inside a computer case, but even if low-voltage charges can't harm you, they can definitely fry electronics should a stray wire or metal part short a circuit. Move the computer case to a table or other area where you'll have room to work on all sides.

Before handling new parts or removing existing components, touch your hand to something nearby that is made of metal. This helps prevent any static electricity buildup from damaging sensitive components. Another potentially useful first step is to make a few notes or draw a simple diagram of how the wires you need to disconnect are situated before you start pulling things apart. Remember that you will have to put it all back together again. Colors or stripes on a particular wire can help you remember where it fits. Pay attention not only to the connectors to which wires attach, but the orientation of the connection. Some connectors are made so they attach only one way, but others are more frustrating and confusing.

Memory is the easiest upgrade you can do to speed up your computer. The only really hard part about installing more memory is figuring out which kind your system uses. The number of RAM types on the market has exploded in the last few years. Most PCs accept SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), while some of the newer models accept the faster DDR SDRAM (double-data-rate SDRAM). Read your system documentation or do a bit of research on the Internet to see what works with your computer.

When you have the correct RAM chips, you are ready to put them in their place. Never touch the metal contacts on memory chips because the oil from your fingers can slowly corrode those contacts. Press down on the clip handles you see on both ends of a memory socket; this ejects the existing chip. Next, place the new chip into the slot vertically, making sure that any notches on the chip line up with the equivalent notches of the socket. Press firmly down on both ends of the chip until the clips lock into place. You might have to squeeze the clips back into place a little.

Pay attention to your computer for the first few hours to see if any strange errors crop up. You'll probably see a memory check near the beginning of the startup routine. If you have any suspicions, enter your system's BIOS utility and follow the menu to memory readout to make sure your computer recognizes all of your new chips. Most likely, everything will work faster than before and no problems will arise.

Next week I will discuss adding a new CD drive to your system.

If you have any questions or comments or would like computer lessons I can be reached at

The WebServer is a weekly computer column with a circulation of over 120,000 readers in three different publications. Look for your weekly dose of WebServer in The Caribbean Connection in Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami and in The Observer News in SouthShore.

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