How can I get more RAM for our school's slow computers?
February 1, 2012 7:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I come up with 250 sticks of 1GB DDR2 PC2-4200 RAM? (Our local high school has 150 PCs running Window 7 with just 1GB of RAM.)

I am a computer tech. I volunteer in our community particularly for schools whenever I can. Often, as every computer tech knows, computers inevitably come into play.

Furthermore, at my business, I train high school students the way of the computer. Students apprentice with us at learning computers as a trade.

Eventually, between the one and the other, I learned of a problem with the PCs at our high school. That is, they are nearly unusable. I contacted the principal about helping with this—an idea she loved—and she directed me to the school's technician who confirmed the problem.

These are 150 PCs which are HP DC5100 SFF machines. These all have 1gb of DDR2 PC2-4200 RAM. There are four ram slots. Most have two 512mb chips.

In order to bring these machines up to functional, it is going to require an upgrade to 3gb of RAM.

Naturally, with the economy as it is, there is no budget for this. Our school system, like most others in the US, is running bare bones. Pricing the sticks individually, it would cost $3k for that RAM.

I am open to creative solutions to solve this. Is there some place that sells "bulk" RAM? Could I locate some other school or business which has retired the same machines or same RAM? Is there some group that recycles or donates RAM for projects such as this?
posted by Mike Mongo to Technology (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
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posted by peakcomm at 7:49 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there some group that recycles or donates RAM for projects such as this?

Yes, but those projects are usually run on a local basis. You might have better luck with the kind of people who take ex-lease or old corporate hardware and refurbish it to resell, or trawl Goodwill and/or government surplus auctions, especially those which may be open to the school but not the general public.

Somewhat creative: perhaps see if it's possible to cut down the number of running services on those boxes (and turn off the visual foof) and get better performance out of either the existing RAM, or lower the potential requirement to an additional 1GB per box?

I'm sure that some people will say "wipe 'em all and run Linux", which could conceivably reduce the memory requirements, but that's probably not feasible if there's a software base that can't be replicated, or the techs don't have the skills to administer them.
posted by holgate at 8:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm curious how did the machines get Windows 7 on them? They were sold with XP which should have run OK enough on it with 1gb. And I can imagine that all the school software on them would be written for XP.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:29 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are donations to your school tax-deductible? Could you maybe ask local electronics stores, wholesalers, or memory manufacturers if they would be willing to trade RAM for a tax write-off?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:33 PM on February 1, 2012

You might find some luck purchasing some 2GB flash drives and using ReadyBoost. has plenty of vendors, but this place has 2GB of RAM for $5 a stick. If necessary, attach them in the back to prevent theft (or would superglue do the trick?).
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:28 PM on February 1, 2012

You might find some luck purchasing some 2GB flash drives and using ReadyBoost.

Perhaps that would work, but performance would reek. The USB channel is painfully slow compared to the standard memory bus.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:35 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could ask Free Geek
posted by cosmologinaut at 10:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are all the PCs being used? Figure out how many pcs are activly being used. Then take the ram out of the unused ones and put them into more frequently used PCs. They should run better on 2gb. This is, at best, a band-aid. And would require reducing the number of PCs in use, but considering they're low end to begin with, it could last you until you cand find more ram.
posted by hellojed at 10:20 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Picking up on hellojed: perhaps convert a bunch of them to thin clients, runnding something like Windows Thin PC?

There's a discussion of the platform here: it has a lighter memory footprint and can be used either for locked-down standalone installations (e.g. browser-only) or for Remote Desktop. There's clearly a licensing issue to deal with, but if you've got 150 boxes with valid Win 7 licences, then Microsoft might be inclined to let the school convert them so that a few servers do the hard graft and the bulk of the boxes are RD connections.
posted by holgate at 11:07 PM on February 1, 2012

This might be something the folks at ArsTechnica's FS/T forum would be happy to contribute to (they're very into Child's Play and other charities). Anandtech, TechReport, and HardOCP are other tech sites with active forums worth pinging. 1GB DDR2 sticks are practically worthless for technology enthusiasts, even if DDR2 now demands a premium over DDR3 in retail. I bet a lot of people would be happy to donate.

If you'd accept 512MB sticks and maybe cover postage (~$1?) that'd probably significantly increase donations.. My notebook runs Win7 with just 2GB, and does fine with web-surfing and Office.. 2007?
posted by unmake at 11:42 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could also approach it as a fundraising project rather than a sourcing problem. $3k isn't a huge amount for everyone. Perhaps one or more private donors would be willing to pitch in?

Is there some place that sells "bulk" RAM?

I'd call a couple of RAM companies and ask to talk to a higher-level salesperson. This purchase would be big enough that it's worth their time to entertain some negotiation.
posted by jon1270 at 2:57 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing to keep in mind when you source the RAM is that with that many sticks, you are absolutely guaranteed to get a few bad ones, perhaps up to five or six percent of the total number (commodity grade RAM isn't tested very thoroughly). If you aren't getting the RAM from a source that can replace defective sticks, you should order more than you need.
posted by balistic at 11:02 AM on February 2, 2012

Find a big company or university, and then see what they do with their cast-offs. I work in a college and we donate everything to non-profits, but an Ivy League school up he hill sells all their old gear. A private company might be able/willing to pull DIMMs and send them your way.

Also, do you have a sales contact at HP? They seem to treat .edu pretty well.

And does your state have an "approved vendors" list for state agencies? Those companies might not be cheapest but they can handle big orders and are used to working with cash-poor organizations like schools. :7) Call the municipal school department and/or reach out to the School Department's official IT guy. (If that fails, find the IT guy for the police & fire: he should be spending money often enough to know who is available.)

(BTW: good luck! My big brother does similar volunteering work at his kids' school, and it can be hard to thread the needle on some issues like this.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:22 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the fullness of the story, here is the message I got from the high school's IT person:

Please allow me to say thank you in advance for any potential RAM upgrades you may be able to provide us. That would be just ‘what the doctor ordered’!

In the past the IT department has always determined the RAM requirements before moving forward to a new operating system, but this time around we are caught between a ‘hard place and rock’ because the fiscal financial crunch has forced us to move the entire district from XP to Win 7 to reduce the cost of Microsoft licensing fees. Yet, it is that same fiscal crunch that prevents us from having the capital funds to upgrade the hardware in the proper manner.

I look forward to talking to you...and I can be available either before or after your mentoring session so please let me know which is your preference. The screenshot below has the specs of the HP box that we would be potentially upgrading with your donation:

posted by Mike Mongo at 8:15 AM on February 5, 2012

Screenshot: HP Compaq dc5100 Small Form Factor PC AG144AW
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:23 AM on February 5, 2012

Hmm...the screengrab model I was sent and the specific model number I was sent are two different things...I'll have to check that out...
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:28 AM on February 5, 2012

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