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. For years I’ve been perplexed by this as well. When people ak me for advice when buying an Apple computer it’s always the first thing I tell them, “Don’t buy your RAM from Apple.” It seems so ridiculous that a company so bent on simplicity and great design encourages a somewhat informed consumer to buy a machine, and then immediately have to open it up, and plug in new chips. Sure, they’ve made it easier over the years but it’s still a bad first experience.

    After years of guess the best I’ve ever been able to come up with is that build to order options are sort of a pain for Apple and they want to discourage users from doing it. By making the price for more ram astronomical it helps them keep that asssembly line humming.

  2. In Apple’s defense . . .

    Macs or OS X or something seems to be really, really picky about RAM.
    Lower quallity, cheaper RAM can cause all sorts of bizarre and unfortunate problems.
    I generally order from Crucial or the slightly more expensive stuff from Memorytogo.

    However, the difference between el-cheapo and solid, high quality RAM certainly ain’t $700. it’s about $50 a GB stick.

    So yeah, Apple’s charging an extreme premium for their high quality RAM but it’s only about a 600% markup, not a 700% markup.

    And doesn’t that make us feel all warm and fuzzy . . .

    (unless of course you factor in that Apple buys this stuff in extreme bulk and probably gets a massive discount, bringing their markup back up to 700%!)

  3. ~bc says:

    This has been true historically, however, when I bought a 24″ intel iMac last year, the price for 2GB RAM was the same as if I got it after-market. So it pays to check, mostly because RAM *does* fail, and having service thru Apple will be a lot easier than thru another vendor. That said, when you look for RAM, make sure you’re getting CL3 quality RAM. This is what Apple specs, and most of the failed RAM I’ve seen (I’ve seen a lot, having been a tech for several years) was mainly because people bought the value RAM (below the CL3 rating, like CL2). Get CL3 from Crucial, Samsung, Hynix – these are Apple’s vendors, and I can’t recall seeing a stick of theirs fail. Spend a few bucks and don’t go totally cheap, because when RAM fails, it’s not always obvious, and it can often corrupt data, including backups (everything flows through it). I’ve had good experiences with datamem.com

  4. Everything that Mac sells is overpriced in comparison with their competitive counterpart. So this this is not much of a surprise, but dang, that is a pretty ridiculous rate for a couple sticks of RAM.

    I guess the cost to be digitally ostentatious has risen!

    I’d be interested to hear the final price of your new MacBook.

  5. Of course there’s a difference. The Apple memory is installed by fairies who sprinkle magic fairy dust on them. They wear extremely small anti-static wristbands.

    The Dell memory is installed by Ogres – who are still quite nimble, though not as delicate as the fairy.

    I buy all my Mac memory from Crucial. No fairies since I install myself, but I’ve been lucky I suppose.

  6. Yeah… but you got the black one :) If you ordered the white macbook would it have been significantly cheaper?

  7. What’s even awful-er is that I’ve heard more than one apple retail associate tell a prospective shopper that if you install non-apple ram in your computer, you void the warranty. Of course, I’ve then seen then casually lean over and whisper “if you take the ram out before you come in we’ll never know.”

    Who voids a warranty for putting third-party ram in a computer? Seems strange and likely untrue, especially considering the obvious design decisions that went into enabling easy installation/removal of memory.

  8. Jackson says:

    “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.”

    Even worse: the lowest amount of RAM is not a 1GB card, it is 2x512MB cards.
    Which, when replaced are just about useless to any other machine. Apple could at least ship the MacBooks with a 1GB card and use only 1 of the available two slots. This would make jumping to 2GB that much easier (and cheaper) for the average user.

    I wonder if anyone has ever created some RAM powerhouse machine that uses everyone’s left over 512MB cards?

  9. Rick Rajter says:

    I think it’s a counter trend. For years apple hardware was chastized for being “so expensive” and every mac hater would be fast to point that out.

    So what did apple do? They actually did a great job of bringing down the price on the entry level consumer and pro models… but they still kept profits up. How? They made the extras more expensive. Now you have to pay for pro-care at the apple store, or a replacement power pack is absurdly expensive.

    It’s a trend reversal. It used to be “buy a mac, and it was bullet proof for 5 years until it finally died… if that” to “you’ll get a solid machine, but plan on spending 200+ dollars a year for maintenance or performance enhancements”

    Am I mad? Not really. My first powerbook (5 years ago) cost me 2600 in 2002 dollars (believe it or not, a dollar doesn’t buy nearly as much as it did 5 years ago, I don’t care what the CPI says). Now I got one decked out with more RAM for 2300. Of course I’ve had to replace the power pack and battery after 1.5 years. But that’s life!

  10. It’s funny how everyone says Apple RAM is “high quality”. I’ve personally had more problems with it (and have heard of people having more problems with it) than the cheap RAM.

    I personally think they charge so much to pay their techs to replace their shit RAM when it breaks – which happens all too often.

  11. Court says:

    They charge what people will pay. Big companies and rich spenders dont care. Just like paying for that $9 whiskey at a nightclub.

    Sean, installing non-Apple RAM won’t void the warranty, but they wont repair it if you have that RAM in your system if/when the computer breaks down. So buy it on up from crucial or wherever, but remember to remove it if something requires service.

    This pretty much applies to anything apple, if you have a card installed in a tower, theyll tell you to take it out before calling them. I’ll leave their reasons of policy to them… I wouldn’t know how to run a support dept as large as apple’s anyways.

    That being said, get the extended warranty. Youll need it, weather you want it or not.

    Sincerely,
    - an Apple hate-to-lover

  12. ManxStef says:

    I’m in pretty much the same boat and did the same thing today, though I didn’t pay the black tax or any Apple upgrades, and also went for after—market RAM. I know there’s something special coming on the 14th of January — my guess would be a drastic MacBook Pro redesign and reintroduction of a smaller model – but I can’t afford to wait any longer, these machines look fine enough and possibly the safer bet over a 1st revision product.

    In the UK the 4GB memory option is £540, which works out at a whopping $1122.61 given current exchange rates. Of course, the dollar’s weak at the moment so it’s not entirely fair, but it is a truly shocking amount.

    @Sean: it seems unlikely given that they devote an entire chapter of the manual to explaining how to install new memory:
    http://manuals.info.apple.com/en/MacBook_Late2007_UserGuide.pdf

    The do say, “If you attempt to install memory and damage your equipment, such damage is not covered by the limited warranty on your computer” but that’s always been Apple’s policy regarding any user—installable upgrades, and you’d have to be really heavy—handed to damage a machine installing some SODIMMs.

    Has anyone investigated the performance effects of swapping out the HDD with a 7200rpm drive on a Santa Rosa MacBook (or MacBook Pro)? I’m tempted to go for a 200GB Hitachi Travelstar 7K200, which seems to be king of the laptop drive hill at the moment, but I’m not sure if the speed increase will be worth the money.

  13. @Jeremy: I concur. The way I see it, it’s just another way for Apple to gain money off their addicts. A tobacco-esce tactic, if you will :)

  14. Kevin says:

    Looks like you bought your MacBook one day to soon for the new Santa Rosa chipset upgrade. Ah, well; it happens to the best of us.

  15. Mike D. says:

    Josh: Final price was $1795.77 plus $126.67 for the RAM. Both including shipping and tax.

    Kevin: Hell no! I bought it the day the new models were announced. I had been waiting to buy a new laptop for awhile but it just seemed like the wrong time to buy with a model refresh seemingly so close at hand. This was a minor refresh, yeah, but it was enough to put me over the top. Now of course when the subnotebooks come out in January, I’ll probably have to sell this one or give it to my mom… sigh.

  16. [...] Mike Davidson – RAM Arbitrage [...]

  17. Chris says:

    hi Mike

    Techical question: I have several RAM installed in my G5. What would happen if one of the RAM failed? Would the machine fail to work, or just work slower? How would I know the RAM had failed?

  18. Mike Steffe says:

    so what did you do with the 12″ Powerbook? Looking for a buyer?

  19. Brent says:

    I was recently in an Apple store after installing Leopard and overheard a conversation with one of the techs about how when ram is manufactured there are 4 different grades of the same exact ram. They say that some times when they manufacture the ram certain pieces are just better, higher quality, faster then others…He was saying Apple only buys from the grade 1 or 2 types of the same ram and that 90% of the time if someone is having problems with there ram when they bring it in he pops it open and its budget ram. Granted maybe this kid is just drinking the Apple Kool Aid but it must have something to do with it.

  20. Gazzer says:

    My iMac G5 came with Samsung RAM. When I added the new stuff I got Hynix rather than the ‘no branded’ stuff. It was 10% more but certainly not 700% more. Samsung RAM in a Mac is identical to Samsung RAM that you buy anywhere else.

  21. Matt says:

    Yep, I’ve noticed this same thing for years. Sadly, I think the reason behind it is quite simple: Apple did some research and realized that once the average person makes the decision to “buy”, they are then mentally committed to the process and (unfortunately) don’t know enough about RAM prices to realize how egregious Apple’s RAM upgrades are. They just buy assuming the prices is “reasonable”.

    In other words, Apple saw that they could basically charge anything for the RAM and unsuspecting buyers would buy it.

    Think of it this way, how many “average buyers” have the slightest idea how much RAM costs these days. I certainly wouldn’t know unless I looked it up since it’s been a couple years since I bough RAM. Apple knows that and so they take advantage of the situation, which I certainly don’t approve of.

    At least more savvy buyers can get RAM cheap and just drop it in themselves. But (as usual) it’s the less suspecting, less educated folks who get shafted. Shame on you, Apple.

  22. Nat says:

    Jackson — Macbook (and Mac Mini) RAM always comes in matched pairs, because it delivers some video performance benefit with Intel’s shared-memory video card. On the MBP, which has a dedicated video card, Apple ships a single module.

    Apple’s deltas on RAM prices had been falling the last couple of years, but the 4GB surcharge on the new Macbooks is unreal. I like memtest for checking third-party RAM post-installation.

  23. Charles says:

    This price disparity used to be true of Apple hard drives too, but lately the prices have dropped and come down more in line with street prices. I remember when I bought my Quad G5, it was almost as expensive to buy the 500Gb Hitachi hard drives on the street as it was from Apple. So I just bought it from Apple, since I was getting AppleCare and everything would be covered together.

    So perhaps there is hope that Apple will wise up and bring RAM prices down too.

  24. such.ire says:

    I think the way Apple Service responds to foreign RAM is a crapshoot. I told my girlfriend, when she was buying an iBook, to buy RAM from somewhere else, but by chance, I was out of town the day she got the RAM, so I couldn’t help her install it. She took it to the Apple Store, and a nice Apple genius helped her install it, even though such things presumably wouldn’t be covered by AppleCare. He talked her through it, and then let her push the RAM into place, as justification for not charging her. So, it may just depend on who you get.

  25. Orion Edwards says:

    > This price disparity used to be true of Apple hard drives too,
    > but lately the prices have dropped and come down more in
    > line with street prices

    … Apparently not for notebook hard drives, at least for the NZ store:
    This is WORSE, as RAM is user-upgradeable, but hard drives are NOT.

    To upgrade a macbook pro’s 120gig hard drive to 250gig on the applestore costs $380 NZD

    However, to purchase a brand new 250gig sata notebook drive costs about $330.
    Seeing as apple get to keep the base 120 gig drive which costs around $140, they should be charging $190 NZD to upgrade to a 250gig drive.

    I can accept a bit of a premium, but DOUBLE the price is just ridiculous

  26. joe says:

    In partial defense of Apple, the ridiculous-looking markup right now is mostly an artifact of the precipitous drop in RAM prices for the past year. In one year, the DDR2 spot-price has dropped 78%!! So, if we give Apple the benefit of the doubt, we can say that they’re just slow on adjusting their upgrade prices. If they had the same prices a year ago for upgrades, it would have “only” been about a 100% markup. Not a bargain, by any means, but nothing to scream bloody murder about. But in the past year, with DDR2 wholesale prices dropping 78%, Apple has just been slow to keep up with their upgrade prices. Maybe they’re being slow on purpose, because they’re making a killing in the meantime, but maybe we will see them start to catch up with the market in the near future.

    @Brent ” They say that some times when they manufacture the ram certain pieces are just better, higher quality, faster then others”
    That’s partially true of DRAM manufacturers, and also partially true about ALL silicon manufacturers.
    That is to say, when a DRAM chip gets designed, it is designed for a certain speed, say 800MHz. That’s the target for all chips. But when it is actually manufactured, many of the chips do not meet that target, because of any number of reasons, mostly having to do with the extremely complicated fabrication process. So after a “Lot” of chips are fabricated (say, 1000 parts per wafer, and 25 wafers per Lot), all those chips are sent through hours and hours of testing. Once they all come out the other end, they are sorted into speed-grades based on the test results. So there will be a certain percentage that do meet the 800MHz target, then another percentage on top of that that meet 667MHz, then hopefully most or all the rest meet 500MHz.

    Obviously when an OEM like Apple orders RAM, they will specify a speed-grade, and if they want 800MHz RAM, then they will get the top speed-grade of that chip – the ones that passed all the 800MHz tests.

    Now, on top of that, it is possible that Apple requires their RAM suppliers to perform special tests or test flows on all the RAM they get. So, a supplier could have an Apple-specific 800MHz flow that is a little tighter than their general-market 800MHz flow. It really all depends on how much control Apple exerts over the supplier.

    In addition, different target-systems have different requirements, so an 800MHz part that goes in an Apple X-Serve will certainly have different testing requirements than a part that goes in an iMac. Likewise, sometimes laptop RAM has different testing requirements because of low-power needs and different temperature requirements. Having said all that, I would be very surprised if the RAM that goes into iMacs, MacBooks and MacBook Pros are significantly different than most of the other RAM that their suppliers manufacture for other customers or for retail.

  27. [...] bizarre, Daring Fireball posts about Apple’s expensive memory within an hour or [...]

  28. Much like the other commenters, I’ve always recommended configuring with the least-possible RAM from Apple and buying RAM from a 3rd party (I prefer Crucial). I too would love to see a no-RAM option so that I don’t have to throw away any of the Apple RAM when I add my own.

    To “~bc” and anyone else interested: “CL3″ and “CL2″ are not any kind of quality ratings at all. The CL stands for “CAS Latency” (CAS being an acronym for Column Access Strobe). Essentially, these numbers indicate how many clock cycles it takes for the information in memory to become available for use after it is requested. CL2 is actually faster than CL3 (and often costs more), since it has a latency of 2 clock cycles instead of 3. Google will probably help explain the details better than I can.

    For most users, there is no practical difference between CL2 and CL3. It really only matters if you plan on over-clocking your system and need to make sure your memory is able to operate at higher frequencies, in which case lower-latency memory is usually better.

    I suspect most Mac users (myself included) have no interest in over-clocking. I’ll leave that to the home-made PC crowd (of which I am a recovering former member). I generally prefer computers that work with minimal effort so that I can work with minimal frustration.

  29. It gets worse if you try to get the upgrade in-store. I went with my friend to get his first Mac, a 20″ iMac. He wanted 2GB in and as 2GB of Ram from crucial cost around £120 which was the same as the price from Apple at the time then I suggested just getting it straight from Apple. So we asked if they had any machines in stock with 2GB already installed, they said no but they could put 2GB in one for £420… I did double check and triple check but they were actually asking for £300 extra just to install RAM in-store. Apparently Apple needs a way to keep the online store competitive with the retail stores

  30. rafalski says:

    Buying from online Apple Store is rarely the best deal in the first place unless you go for a refurb (obvious choice by thousands of developers out there, like new, but better tested). In CA sales tax adds to the bill.
    If buying in the US, my preference is Amazon, they usually throw in a $100 rebate. It takes at least 2 weeks for the latest product line to be updated there though (they still only have the previous version there today).

  31. billg says:

    As Matt said, the typical buyer has no clue about the going price for RAM. Role in the fact that a lot of people have no idea how to add RAM to a Mac and would be terrified to actually try to do it, and you get an awful lot of people quite happy to spend big bucks at Apple. If the price did not include Apple’s installation, at least some people would go elsewhere.

  32. Richard says:

    I have always bought the PowerMac line of macs since I working in 3d and visual fx. I never buy Apple RAM as its so over priced and it has always turned out to be Samsung branded RAM in every machine I have owned.

    I buy RAM from OWC (macsales.com) specifically because they buy back the Apple RAM. Granted its not a lot of money but you can get between 20 and 50 bucks depending on your return. They also do the same for hard drives if you replace the stock hd. Ive been using them for years on production equipment and Ive only had one hd arrive DOA which they replaced right away. Never had any speed issues or problems with their RAM.

  33. daGUY says:

    Funny, I was just complaining about this the other day. I’m not in the market for a new machine, but I’ve been thinking about upgrading my PowerBook’s RAM (I only have 512 currently). I knew Apple overcharged for RAM, but just out of curiosity I checked their online store anyway. A stick of 512 goes for $150!! In comparison, Other World Computing offers 512 MB for $39.97 – and not only that, but it’s the EXACT same brand that Apple installs at the factory (Samsung)! So Apple charges literally almost quadruple for an identical product.

    Another lame thing they do is they’ll charge you different prices for the same amount of RAM depending on how you get it configured in your computer. For example, go to their online store and configure a Mac Pro. You’ll notice that you can get 8 GB of RAM as either eight 1 GB sticks, or four 2 GB sticks. Since the Mac Pro has eight slots for RAM, it’s more logical to choose the latter option so you’ll still have space for expansion, but they charge you an extra $400 for that privilege. It COULD be that the 2 GB sticks are so much more expensive than the 1 GB ones that it adds up to an extra $400, but I doubt it…

    Suffice it to say, I’ve never, ever bought RAM from Apple, and I tell everyone I know to avoid them at all costs if they’re thinking about upgrading it.

  34. Look on the bright side – the same RAM in Australia at the Apple store costs AU$1250 = US$1150! Even with 10% GST taken off, that is still US$200 (22%) more expensive that the US store. So consider yourselves getting a bargain when you buy ram from the US Apple store!

  35. jj says:

    I second MacSales. They seem to pay attention to the volatile prices of RAM, and they have 2-3 options of brands, their own aka OWC, Techworks, and maybe Micron or similar.

    Don’t forget, it can be a pain to install RAM in some machines (ie mac mini), so maybe there the convenience is worth it.

  36. GadgetGav says:

    Where do you see it for $120 at NewEgg..? The cheapest I see it there is $199. Maybe they bumped up their prices after all your traffic went their way.
    Apple has always gouged on RAM prices, and anyone who knew other places to get it and wasn’t afraid to open the computer always installs their own. For a while it seemed that prices were close to third party (maybe only double) and for some that was worth the convenience. Now it seems that, at least with the 4GB option, the price is completely out of touch with reality.
    And talking of being out of touch with reality, I hope my computers never need servicing by “~bc” who, despite being a ‘tech for years’ doesn’t seem to know that CL2 is actually better performing RAM than CL3. The RAM that Crucial recommend for Apple is only CL5, so I’d have my doubts about that.

  37. Richard Drysdall says:

    Re: Comment 12, ManxStef wrote:
    “Has anyone investigated the performance effects of swapping out the HDD with a 7200rpm drive on a Santa Rosa MacBook (or MacBook Pro)?”
    I haven’t seen a fully scientific test of this, but this is my impression based on experience and looking at other people’s comments: Generally you’ll see the speed increase if you work with lots of small files. I’m a developer – I compile a source with thousands of small files, and the speed difference between a 7200rpm disk and a slower disk is quite noticeable. If you work with a smaller number of large files (e.g. photoshop images, movies etc), you probably won’t see the difference.

  38. [...] It seems that Mike deems bad ram as those that are faulty, and therefore [...]

  39. Gazzer says:

    Another way of looking at it is that knowledge has value. Those who buy from Apple are subsidizing those of who don’t passing on savings to us.

  40. kongjie says:

    @Chris:

    If one of your RAM modules fails, it can cause all kinds of havoc. Bizarre stuff that will send you down a time-consuming path of trying to isolate what the problem with your computer is.

    The best way to avoid this is to run the Apple Hardware Test, or some other utility that can identify bad RAM. The Apple Hardware Test used to be on the install disk that comes with your Mac but since I’m still using a G4, I don’t know what the deal is with newer Macs.

  41. Mike Turmon says:

    @chris re ram failure –

    I have had 2 ram failures in a G5 system at my work. I found them due to some gzipped files I had created, that would not unzip correctly. I had copies elsewhere and a cmp showed they were off by one bit of one byte in a ~2MB file — eg a 0x1f83 changing to a 0x1e83

    I do image processing for a living so I’m a pretty demanding user and I have about a TB of such files and 6GB of RAM in that machine.

    I did not believe it at first, so I used a utility called memtest (I believe) that runs from the command line and tries writes and reads to RAM in various patterns. Some patterns would succeed, and some would always fail in the same bit as I saw above.

    I had to swap sticks to narrow the problem down. A year later, the problem recurred in another stick from the same vendor (not apple).

  42. Chris C. says:

    I’m a big NewEgg guy–probably spent about $2000 there over the last few years. Just picked up 2 1GB sticks for my macbook shipped for $42.00. Amazing. It was Kingston’s value RAM and has been nothing but solid for the last few weeks.

    I tell my friends to buy Mac (as long as they’re not avid gamers, but those don’t usually ask for my help anyway), but I always tell them to order their RAM from NewEgg and bring the machine over to my apartment.

  43. Mike Turmon says:

    Incidentally, I had seen the problem before in some source code. One character in a .c file changed. The code stopped compiling and I tracked down the error to an altered character. Fortunately the character was not in something like

    #define PI 4.141593684

    which would keep compiling!

  44. Anonymous Mac Specialist says:

    I work in an Apple Retail Store and get this question a lot. There are only two benefits to buying RAM from Apple:

    1 – Often, the cheaper RAM you can buy from a 3rd party online is the same RAM Apple sells, but the particular chip was passed up by Apple for some reason. As some have mentioned, it might have failed one of the esoteric RAM tests that Apple puts the chips through. In any case, you probably won’t have a problem with it. But, it’s like buying lumber: there are grades and Apple sells the highest-grade RAM. True, if your 3rd party RAM fails, you can get a replacement, but that’s a hassle.

    2 – If it’s Apple RAM installed by Apple, it’s covered by your APP. Anything goes wrong, it’s Apple’s problem, not yours. That peace of mind is worth something.

    I tell customers that, if price is an issue, they can save money buying their RAM elsewhere. But, they should be careful installing it, they should make sure it’s guaranteed to work in their machine and that it’s going to be replaced if it fails, for life. Also, I tell them that, if the machine ever misbehaves, Apple will blame the RAM first, so they should remove it to troubleshoot.

    Consider this: every stick of RAM Apple sells was tested, in the specific machine it’s going to go into, before it is sold. So, Mike, your MacBook RAM was tested in a MacBook. That costs time and money.

  45. DBL says:

    “He was saying Apple only buys from the grade 1 or 2 types of the same ram and that 90% of the time if someone is having problems with there ram when they bring it in he pops it open and its budget ram.”

    Considering Apple’s RAM prices, I would not be surprised at all if 90% of the added RAM out there in Mac world is budget RAM. Typically budget equipment tends to attain market penetration on the order of 80-90%. Therefore, that is exactly the percentage you would expect to find among the problem systems — and that wouldn’t mean a damn thing as far as comparative reliability goes. So your friend’s tale is both anecdotal AND statistically meaningless.

  46. Mike D. says:

    Thanks for chiming in, everyone. Great info.

    Anonymous Mac Specialist: Thanks for the info as well. I do believe you that RAM sold by Apple probably has a lower defect rate, due to thorough testing… however, it’s not zero. Let’s say it’s .5%. Let’s say cheapo RAM is more like 2%. Heck, let’s say it’s even an outrageous ten percent. At those rates, you have about a 1 in 200 chance of getting bad RAM from Apple (it’s happened to me, so I suspect it’s a much higher chance, but we’ll say 1 in 200). And with the cheapo RAM, you have a 1 in 10 chance of getting bad stuff. Even with odds that different, I would still go with the cheap stuff, considering I saved $730 in the process. Furthermore, even if I *couldn’t* get a refund on the cheap RAM, I’d *still* go with it. After all, you’d have to return a stick *12* times before you reach $730.

  47. Eric the Red says:

    Stupid is as stupid does, and if somebody is dumb enough to shell out $800 for Apple RAM then on their head be it.

  48. Jake says:

    Back in 2001, I was actually advised by an Apple UK saleswoman to buy a RAM upgrade from Crucial!! Bless, she saved me a few hundred pounds :)

  49. rafalski says:

    @Anonymous Mac Specialist:

    “2 – If it’s Apple RAM installed by Apple, it’s covered by your APP. Anything
    goes wrong, it’s Apple’s problem, not yours. That peace of mind is worth
    something.”

    If it’s third party RAM, it’s usually covered with lifetime warranty, how’s that for peace of mind?

  50. Apple knows how to make profit. And as long as some people are buying Apple computers with additional RAM, they will continue to charge a lot for it, period.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.’

  53. 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. :)

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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/

  57. 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.)

  58. 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

  59. 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.

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

  61. 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?

  62. 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.

  63. Jim says:

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

  64. James says:

    Hey, you should write for the Guardian.

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

  67. 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!!

  68. [...] 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 [...]

  69. 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!

  70. 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. :-/

  71. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. Mike D. says:

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

  74. 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

  75. 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.

  76. Mike D. says:

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

    I’m off to go buy “a Windows”…

  77. 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.

  78. [...] 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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DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

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The Covers Project:

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