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What are the ramifications of exceeding manufacturer's memory recommendations?

I've always been curious about manufacturer's memory recommendations.

My Dell Inspiron shipped with 256mb of RAM on the motherboard, and I maxed it out at 512mb by adding a single 256mb stick. I need more RAM in my system. What are the ramifications of exceeding the manufacturer's recommendations on RAM? System instability? Will it catch fire? Will it blow up? Will matter meet anti-matter and destroy the universe?

Just curious.
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It's a laptop, so a new mobo isn't in the cards.  I just didn't want to face reality... sigh. Looks like I have to pony up for a new system.

Just thought I'd ask, anyway. Thanks for the assistance.