RAM Arbitrage

So I finally bucked up and ordered a black MacBook yesterday. It seems like Intel Macs have been out for 10 years now, but this will actually be the very first Intel-based Mac I’ve ever used. I tend not to upgrade computers more than once every couple of years, and the product cycle just happened to dictate the purchase of PowerPC iMacs in the office two years ago and a PowerPC 12-inch Powerbook around the same time.

In configuring this MacBook at the online Apple Store, it struck me how much Apple *still* charges for RAM, and gets away with. This is not a new phenomenon as it’s been happening for many, many years, but the total cost difference between Apple-installed RAM and third-party RAM now stands at a whopping $730 for 4GB of RAM! Note that they are both third-party products, from a manufacturing standpoint.

In other words, to max out my MacBook’s RAM, Apple charges me $850, while if I go through my trusty RAM comparison shopping site DealRam, I am pointed to NewEgg, which ships me the same amount of RAM for $120. As a point of comparison, Dell charges $465 for an extra 4GB… still outrageous, but not a 700% markup!

That is just astounding to me. Surely I’m missing something, but is there another store in the world that charges over $800 for a product that can be had for under $150? And I don’t want to hear any arguments about quality of RAM either. If you happen to get some bad RAM, you can always exchange it (note: I’ve gotten bad RAM from Apple before too… it can fail no matter who makes it).

I suppose I can’t actually be mad about this since Apple makes it perfectly possible for informed consumers to buy their own RAM, but at these prices, I would love the ability to save an additional $150 (Apple’s price for one 1GB stick) by having my MacBook ship with no RAM whatsoever.

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78 Responses:

  1. Even my Apple dealer never sells me ‘Apple’ RAM, they always supply me with third-party reasonably priced chips. If I am buying for personal use I get it from Crucial – once I had bad RAM, they replaced within 48 hours. Apple are not doing themselves any favours in ripping off the unwary with their RAM prices. Someone like my Mum, a big Apple fan, would not think of shopping around as she *trusts* Apple. Shame on them.

  2. allgood2 says:

    While I too consider the Apple mark-up to be pretty high for RAM, I do have to say in Apple’s defense that one should be using the average price of RAM for the size chip you want, to make a comparison, not the lowest or close to the lowest. For example, I used the Crucial upgrade tool, and their RAM may be very good, but its also very cheap. A 4GB RAM Kit—basically 2•2GB RAM Chips for the Mac Book Pro—runs $190.

    That’s a fantastic deal, and makes Apple’s prices seem ridiculously outrageous. I then ran the same upgrade through SimpleTech, who I used to use religiously, since they offer a LifeTime Warranty, and unlimited tech support with their chips, which makes the loss of Apple Memory support more acceptable for our clients, and their pricing is $170 per chip (or $340/per kit).

    Undoubtedly, that still makes Apple prices pretty darn high, but at about double the cost, as opposed to 700% mark-up. Now obviously, Crucial is the low-cost winner, but not knowing anything about them, I can’t really tell if the offer a lifetime warranty or unlimited tech support for the price. I’d assume no. Which means, I’d probably buy them for myself personally, especially since I’m eyeing the new MacBook Pro and was debating the value of having Apple upgrade or just purchase it myself. But I’m not certain I’d buy it for my clients. Support costs money, and if memory starts to go bad, I don’t want to have to say, ‘buy some more’. I like saying, ‘it’s guaranteed, will get the chip replaced.’

  3. Vapor says:

    I like how some people are actually “In Apple’s Defense”-ing this.

    Seriously, it would be interesting to find out how many people actually add the 4GB for $850… Even Steve Jobs isn’t that big of an Apple fan.

    Interesting reading as always, Mike. I think you found out why AAPL has been up so high. :)

  4. Navstar says:

    You guys seem to only focus on individual buyers. Think about corporate buyers. It’s usually easier to buy everything from one vendor with one purchase order. (rather than get approval for a laptop from Apple, and another from some RAM supplier that doesn’t do purchase orders)

    I think Apple’s RAM is higher because corp customers *can* pay more and often will for the simplicity and ease of buying from one vendor. Individual customers who have the flexibility to shop elsewhere, will.

  5. allgood2 says:

    Vapor writes:: Seriously, it would be interesting to find out how many people actually add the 4GB for $850… Even Steve Jobs isn’t that big of an Apple fan. [cut]

    I’m in agreement with Navstar on this, but its not just corporate buyers, think government and educational institutions, and even nonprofits and small businesses. The cost the RAM is just one consideration, others are: (1) if it goes bad, how easy will it be to get support; (2) will the client or a consultant have to handle the support issues; (3) is the total price still cheaper than provided annual computer cost estimates; and (4) how many vendors need to be managed; add that to things like percentage failure, client or myself remembering to swap RAM before shipping or taking product in for other support issues, etc.

    For a number of nonprofit and educational institutions, I provide estimate costs of low-end, mid-range, and high-end desktops and laptops, the spring prior to their purchasing (March or April 2007 for Fall 2008 purchasing). This is so they can properly budget for their computing needs on grant applications, etc. Often, the next year comes around and they can get a much better computer than what the budgeted for; but if they still want a mid-range then maxing out the memory via Apple isn’t that big of a deal.

    Especially, when you add in reduction of support costs. If the Apple memory is going bad, after initial diagnosis, I can remove myself from the support process if Apple supports everything. I just call in a repair request, and the staff member packages everything up, ships it and it it gets returned to them.

    If the memory isn’t Apple’s then I typically have to stay involve. Hours on hold here, arguing purchase dates there, waiting for RAM shipments, removing bad RAM, installing new RAM, testing machine, etc. If all goes smoothly, yeah about 1-2hrs of work, if it doesn’t (and it rarely does—except with SimpleTech), then 4-5hrs or more. And your savings is now gone.

    Individuals can afford the luxury of shopping for the cheapest vendor (which sound like an oxymoron) but anything organization with over 10 staff, really need to focus on reduced cost—which may mean your equipment costs more, so your support cost stabilize or can be reduced over time.

  6. I can;t say enough good things about OWC http://www.macsales.com/ for supplying good RAM for your Mac. I’ve always bought my ram from them and the one time that my RAM went bad (actually it was declared non compatible by an OS update) on an old Pismo they replaced it right away for me. I didn’t even have my receipt handy, they simply looked up the serial number on the RAM and shipped it out to me. They run a lot of good deals and ad sponsor one of my favorite tech sites for the mac as well http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/

  7. Sigivald says:

    raf: A lifetime warranty is fine, but it takes a goodly amount of time to get third-party memory replaced.

    If you have the receipt, it’s likely that the seller will handle it, but who keeps a receipt for some ram for several years?

    Without that, you probably have to deal direct with the manufacturer, which takes a lot more time than “drive to nearest Apple Store, get DIMM replaced immediately”.

    Some people value one-stop no-hassle support more than saving some money, or just don’t care that much about saving a little on ram compared with having to install it.

    Not everyone is a computer hobbyist; some people just use the damned things to do “work”.

    (Analogously, some people will say that a person is mad to not do their own oil changes; other say that they value their time more than the money, and don’t want to deal with having the tools or learning to do something other people can do cheaply.)

    (Full Disclosure: I’ve never bought Apple ram for any of my various Macs over the years.)

  8. Jim says:

    The single advantage to institutional buyers is that they only have to point fingers at Apple, and there’s none of the usual shtick where vendor A claims vendor B’s thing broke it.

    That being said, this is certainly not specific to Apple. Xerox sells 512MB DIMMs for their printers for $719. I think I paid $34 for the same thing from Crucial.

    http://www.direct.xerox.com/direct/public/products/xerox_product_details.cfm?category=A&product=097S03382

  9. Andrew says:

    Everything in the BTO is a rip-off.

    You have to remember that the standard machine price is made up of all the initial components. When you upgrade something, it should first remove the price of the base component and then add the price of the new component!

    Instead, you transparently pay for the original part, PLUS the upgrade. The prices are generally (in the case of the RAM – incredibly) overpriced, but when you factor in that you’re still paying for the base components as well, it’s blatant robbery IMO.

  10. […] RAM prices from Apple seem to be alarmingly expensive. Article by Mike Davidson. […]

  11. Jordan says:

    Is no one going to bring up the fact that buying 4GB of RAM is a waste, because you are effectively throwing away 1GB due to memory addressing limits?

  12. Navstar says:

    Jordan, that’s 3GB *per process*. I don’t know of many people who only run on program at once. You can give 1GB to Photoshop and 2GB to After Effects and still have 1GB for the Finder, Safari, Mail, and others. You are only “wasting” RAM if only one app is running.

  13. Jim says:

    The MacBooks have core 2 duos, not sure what addressing limit you’re thinking of.

  14. James says:

    Hey, you should write for the Guardian.

  15. Marcos El Malo says:

    I just wanted to add my voice to those plugging OWC. Great prices and great support. I made the “pilgrimage” to MWSF in 2004 and met some of the staff, and they’re also really great people. OWC Larry, the boss, invited a bunch of us loyal customers out to dinner with his staff as well. I’d like to see Newegg do something like that!

    I usually buy Apple refurbed on the Apple website and I’ve not had a bit of trouble (YMMV). An additional bonus of buying these refurbs is that they often come with extra RAM or larger hard drives at no additional cost. Part of the fun of receiving a refurb is seeing what components, if any, will be upgraded for free. On my last purchase (the 1.5 Ghz 12″ Apple Powerbook) I got an extra 256 of RAM and the next step up in hard drive.

    Of course, I’ve already upgraded the HD (a bit of a pain on the 12″ PBs, since so much is stuffed into such a small space). I’m expecting a 1 GB stick to arrive from OWC today (which will be much easier to install). I’m trying to hold off on purchasing a new laptop until after MWSF 2008 in January.

    Another bit of advice: extended Applecare is totally worth it, especially for the laptops. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but when I sent my Tibook in for a combo drive repair, they also replaced damage to the case (which was user inflicted) and the keyboard (which had gotten a little melty from a cigarette ash). On top of this, the combo drive they used to replace the non functioning one was of higher spec, i.e. faster. I figure the Applecare not only paid for itself, but paid for the next two extended warranties I will buy.

    More: Save your old RAM. If you need to send your Mac in for service, replace your third party RAM with the factory RAM.

    Lastly: I’ve had very uneven service from the Apple Store Geniuses. it’s been about 50/50 between those that know their stuff, and those that don’t know their ass from their elbow. And it’s always the dumb ones that are arrogant and unwilling to learn from someone with a lot more experience. But I guess that’s the case everywhere, not just at Apple Stores.

  16. Lightnix says:

    Firstly, this is terrible on Apple’s front, but I guess anyone willing to pay that much for a RAM upgrade has a large wallet and a small mind.

    Even if RAM took a couple of hours to install, it’d still be far more worth it than paying those prices.

    To be honest, the low range on prices is a valid comparison seeing as Crucial is quite a big company, and their RAM is quite widely distributed.

    And FYI, CL 3 is worse than CL 2, as CL stands for ‘CAS Latency’, higher is slower on that number.

  17. Fady Mohareb says:

    A lot of customers..even though the personal (not bussiness) option get their computers paid by their work, universities, etc..As they won’t be paying themselves, and it’s easier to make one order from a bureaucratic point of view (receipts, signatures,etc.) so they don’t mind ..as well as Apple of course!!

  18. […] little digression: One of the more… idiosyncratic parts of owning a Mac is the whole ‘Apple RAM tax‘. That is, Apple charges a rather hefty premium for RAM upgrades, such that most experienced […]

  19. Craig says:

    I’m a recent switcher; I’m loving my new 20″ imac. All I can say about Apple’s RAM prices are that they obviously do NOT want to be in the RAM business. I believe that they are offering it only because some users demand it from Apple. I just ordered some RAM from OWC for $130 for 4 GB – Apple Store wants $1,000 plus tax and shipping! Heck, the tax and shipping from Apple is nearly more than the OWC entire purchase!

  20. RottenToTheCore says:

    Its disgusting the amount Apple charges for RAM. There is absolutely no reason for it and it’s extremely disheartening that unaware people actually do. Its already known you can get the SAME EXACT Ram for much cheaper. Exchanging corrupt RAM from crucial is no different than an RMA through Apple, and there are other retailers that DO cross ship so you’ll have a replacement in 1-2 days. I actually considered buying a Mac but besides the ridiculous markups they also have no support for high end graphic cards(Nvidia 8800 series). I can’t figure out why but that was a deal breaker for me. Whats the use of having 8 cores but no GPU power to push a 30″ monitor at high resolutions?? I assume Apples are not intended for the gamer. Ah well. :-/

  21. It is quite frustrating in the case of the Mac Mini where *officially* the end customer isn’t allowed to open the case for RAM upgrades without voiding warranty or Apple Care agreements.

  22. Apple Ram is by far superior when using a operating system like Leopard. To save a few dollars buying cheap, Ram on an expensive computer makes no sense. Apple needs good RAM to operate quickly and correctly. Go ahed and buy Crucial, Kingston, it is not nearly as fast. I built my mac from scratch and used only Apple RAM, I used a 3rd party internal drive because my friend built it. Due to the quality of hardware I used from my system, I never have issues, My start-up time averages 30 seconds. I have an external I boot Tiger off of when needed. I have all of my applications working perfectly. Apple Ram is by far the best, as is their operating system OSx. Your cheap RAM is why I am always answering your questions on the Mac forum. Use only Apple certified hardware when up-grading or doing repairs.

  23. Mike D. says:

    Raymond: Frankly, I don’t believe any of that. Your entire post makes no sense to me.

  24. Joe L. says:

    I’m with Mike on this one, Raymond. Basically nothing you say there is true.

    For one, there is no such thing as “Apple RAM”. Apple buys RAM from the same 4 or 5 big companies (Samsung, Micron, Qimonda, Hynix, Elpedia, Nanya) that sell 80% of the RAM for the entire industry and just sticks it in their computers. Companies like Crucial and Kingston are just retail-fronts for the RAM makers like Micron (Crucial) and Qimonda (Kingston). So if whether you buy from Apple or from Crucial, you’re getting the same chips.

    Concerning apple RAM being “faster”, that is just patently untrue. RAM that is rated at a certain speed (e.g. DDR2-667 333) runs at that speed, no matter who you buy it from. Furthermore, when you stick a DDR2-667 DIMM into your machine, the memory controller runs at that speed. If you stick a piece of Apple DDR2-800, but the memory controller or FSB only runs at 667MHz, then the DDR2-800 DIMM is being wasted – it will only run as fast as the memory controller wants it to. Any perceived speed benifit you’re getting from using Apple RAM vs. retail is 100% in your head.

    Having said all that, there IS some crap RAM you can buy out there. But this will not be slow, it will likely just create software errors or boot errors or something. All the big RAM makers have “value brands”, which is sold under a different brand name, mostly to white-box markets in Asia and Russia. There are also some smaller fabless RAM makers who sell cheap junk RAM. But if you stick to names like Crucial, Kingston, OCZ, etc, you will be getting the exact same chips that Apple gets, but for a lot cheaper

  25. I could care less what you believe, my MacBook is the fastest, most reliable laptop around. This is why I’m a tech for Apple. I know the difference, you learned yours on Google. Buy your cheap RAM and than call me and ask me what’s wrong with your computer. I run many applications at once, with three monitors, I know what I need. If you cannot afford quality RAM, don’t take it out on me. As far as I”m concerned, you have nothing to offer as far as intellect. You might as well buy a Windows. My MacBook boots in less than 30 seconds, runs as many applications as I need at once, with my built in server, your computer is junk compared to mine. So, who cares what a know-nothing like you cares.

  26. Mike D. says:

    Raymond: It is definitely people like you who buy Apple RAM.

    I’m off to go buy “a Windows”…

  27. Tim Chambers says:

    Raymond does not work for Apple, but I do appreciate his enthusiasm for paying extra for Apple-supplied RAM, as it increases Apple’s profit margins, and subsequently Apple’s stock price. The shareholders thank you, Raymond.

  28. […] All of this left me pretty annoyed at Apple, and feeling like no matter what I did, I was either wasting RAM (and money) now or later. So, I really had to laugh when I came across Mike Davidson’s post on RAM Arbitrage: […]

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