I currently use a Dell G15 laptop for work. It has served me well for a little over a year, but recently it has been struggling a little with my day-to-day workload. It came with 32GB of RAM — the highest possible specification at the time — but that is apparently no longer enough for me.
For a recent project, I was working on a Rust library used in an Android app. That meant running the usual glut of Android tools (Android Studio, an emulator and at least one Gradle daemon) alongside a normal IDE (IntelliJ IDEA). Throw in a web browser and a couple of electron apps, and I often managed to use all 32GB.
When you start swapping memory out to an encrypted disk — even an SSD — it doesn’t make for great performance. At first, I tried to work around this by enabling the Linux out-of-memory (OOM) killer, but it turns out that it’s not too good with Electron apps: it will kill the large browser process, but then the small Electron wrapper will just respawn it.
Can it be upgraded or not?
The obvious solution to not having enough RAM is to add more RAM. A quick look in the manual showed this might not be possible, though. The manual includes the following “Memory specifications” table:
|Memory slots||Two SODIMM slots|
|Maximum memory configuration||32GB|
|Minimum memory configuration||8GB|
|Memory size per slot||8GB or 16GB|
|Memory configurations supported||
That unambiguously says that an upgrade from 32GB is not possible. I gave up.
Later though, I was complaining about memory issues to a friend, and he pointed out a Dell forum thread where a couple of people claim to have successfully installed dual-channel 32GB modules. Since the alternative was getting an entire new PC after only a year, I decided to give it a go.
The upgrade attempt
I ordered a pair of Crucial 32GB DDR5-4800 SODIMMs, and after they turned up dismantled the laptop. The G15 comes apart pretty normally: there are uncovered screws on the bottom holding the lower part of the case on. With those removed and some gentle prying, it pops off, and you get access to the battery, GPU and motherboard.
The first thing I saw was this:
Not one but two labels that indicate it will only accept 8GB or 16GB modules. Oh well, what’s the worst that can happen?
I dutifully installed the new modules, reconnected the battery and put the case back together. I pressed the power button, and… nothing. None of the usual garish lights that immediately come on, no screen output, just a dead laptop. After reading some more of the user manual, I found that there is a tiny status LED on the side next to the ethernet port. Forcing the laptop to power off and back on again, the status LED blinked a distress code at me: 2 amber blinks, 4 white blinks. The manual says that is — unsurprisingly — a memory fault.
I figured at this point that the manual and labels on the motherboard were probably right. I took the laptop apart again, reinstalled the original 2x16GB modules, reassembled it, and pressed the power button. It didn’t boot. I don’t spend a lot of time fiddling inside computers, but I’ve done it enough that I’m reasonably confident I can’t entirely break a computer while swapping some RAM modules. I took to Googling, and found an interesting article that said Dell laptops don’t like to boot after RAM changes unless you clear the CMOS by popping out the battery for 15 minutes.
I opened the laptop up, and looked around for the CMOS battery. There wasn’t one. Turns out they don’t exist any more. I left the main battery disconnected for a while to see if it would help, and it didn’t.
I started to get worried: if I couldn’t fix this, I wouldn’t be able to work until I got a new PC, and that wasn’t really in my budget at the minute. I sat reading old forum threads and help guides, none of which were actually useful. Out of nowhere, though, the laptop booted up.
Naturally, I immediately shut the laptop down again, opened it up, and switched back to the new RAM modules. Then I turned it on again and sat waiting. After about 15 minutes of it looking totally dead, it turned on and showed a BIOS warning about the hardware configuration being changed. It then booted perfectly normally, and all 64GB of RAM was visible and usable.
My theory is that the forum threads were right: Dell laptops are funny about RAM upgrades. But somehow in removing the physical CMOS battery, they’ve kept the same “you have to wait 15 minutes” behaviour just without any indication that’s what’s happening. Regardless, I now have enough RAM even for the greediest of IDEs and Electron apps.
Bizarrely, the maximum spec has decreased to 16GB since then. ↩︎
In the generic sense. I use Kagi these days. ↩︎
On my phone because, y’know, the laptop was busted. ↩︎