A little more RAM can improve your computer's performance.

© iStockphoto.com/nicholas_

One of the frustrating things about owning a computer is that, sooner or later, it can't keep up with the demands of your software. There are dozens of jokes about a customer buying the fastest machine on the market only to find out that it's been left behind by the time he gets home. But there's some good news: you can help your computer keep up with the times by upgrading its random access memory (RAM). And better yet, it's one of the simpler modifications you can make to your computer that doesn't void your warranty!

Before we dive into the guide, it helps to understand RAM. The acronym stands for random access memory. It helps to imagine RAM as if it's laid out like a big grid -- kind of like the board on a game of Battleship. Each box in the grid represents a memory cell, and each cell can store information. You can access any cell within RAM if you know what row and column it's in.

Information in RAM memory cells can be overwritten or erased. That's one of the ways it's different from read-only memory (ROM). Your computer's ROM is hardwired into your machine's circuitry. It contains the information that allows your computer to perform basic functions like initiating the operating system or activating hardware.

RAM helps your computer run applications. Your computer stores temporary information within the memory cells and refers to the data as it runs applications. If the information isn't in your computer's RAM, the computer has to refer to its hard drive. This is slower than pulling information from RAM. So if your computer doesn't have enough RAM to run multiple applications or even one big program, it may feel like it's just crawling along.

Every computer has a maximum amount of RAM it can handle. Once you hit that limit, you've gone as far as you can go with your hardware. But unless you've customized your machine, chances are your computer has plenty of capacity for more RAM.