Apple upgrades always tend to be more expensive than their PC counterparts. It used to be that Macs used fairly different components from what PCs used, but these days, the parts inside a Power Mac are pretty much identical to what you'd find in a desktop PC. The video cards are slightly different because of connector differences as well as requiring a different video BIOS, but things like disk drives and memory are virtually identical. Despite the similarity in components, prices are almost always higher than their PC counterparts, even when there's no good reason for it.

Given that we've been strong advocates of a minimum of 512MB under OS X, we figured that it was time to put together a quick guide on the Apple memory upgrades available in the market from vendors other than Apple.

Apple has done their best to ensure that the out-of-box experience with their machines is as stable and as reliable as possible by controlling what parts will work with their systems. Although all current generation Macs use PC compatible DDR memory, Apple adheres strictly to JEDEC specifications and requires very strict adherence to their timing specifications for module compatibility. Apple ensures that all memory modules meet their timing requirements by not POSTing if incompatible memory is installed in the system. So, it is very important that you only use memory that's specifically made for the Mac that you're trying to upgrade.

Because all Macs configure their memory timings based on the SPD that Apple specifies, all memory is configured to have the same timings regardless of what the modules are capable of - in other words, all Mac memory performs the same. It's not possible to overclock the memory bus on Mac platforms either, so the maximum frequency capabilities of the modules don't matter either. All memory vendors these days offer lifetime warranties on their memory, so what it truly boils down to is compatibility and price - which is exactly what this guide is designed to compare.

As expected, all of the memory that we were sent worked perfectly fine with the systems in which they were intended to be used. We confirmed stable operation and performance by running a series of tests including: 1) real world use of the system, 2) Apple's Hardware Test, and 3) Xbench's memory test. There were no anomalies to report, which we expected from the start, since we were only reviewing Mac compatible memory. Since most Macs simply won't POST if you put incompatible memory in them, you're better off just sticking with the Mac memory line from your favorite vendor.

The biggest shocker was how inflated some of the memory prices were, especially the upgrades available from Apple's own store:

Memory Price Comparison Apple's Pricing Cheapest Compatible Memory Apple Price Premium
512MB PowerBook G4 Upgrade $150 $84 $66
1GB Mac mini Upgrade $325 $190 $135
2GB Power Mac G5 Upgrade $800 $382 $418

The prices above shouldn't be any surprise, as all manufacturers charge an arm and a leg for their direct memory upgrades, yet some users are often afraid to install memory purchased from someone other than Apple. Rest assured that all of the memory reviewed here worked perfectly fine in our test systems, and we will continue to perform long-term testing on all of the modules even after this review is published, and report on any problems that may crop up. You're safe going with someone other than Apple, and you can save quite a bit doing so.

We requested memory for three test systems: a 15" PowerBook G4 (1.5GHz), a 1.25GHz Mac mini and a 2GHz Power Mac G5. So without further ado, let's take a look at what the alternatives are...

PowerBook G4 Memory
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  • hopejr - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    #5 - you can use PC memory in a mac, just need to be careful. I'm doing it myself and have been for a while with no problems.

    #19 - I feel the same way about the iMac G5. I want to get one but I don't like the GFX 5200.

    #20 - I priced a PC with similar specs to the iMac G5 (except for the video card as the only 5200's I could find had 128MB, the processor, firewire, and styling in the 2" thick case), and it only came out AU$50 cheaper. For a student, the iMac G5 is not overpriced at all. Just think of all the cool software that comes with them that are actually full versions, and not this stupid trial version stuff, and a decent OS (IMHO). Don't get me wrong, I'm a long time PC user, but I just think that Apple has got it pretty well right.
    Reply
  • JAS - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    The Macintosh information has been very useful to me. Please keep it coming. Reply
  • ViRGE - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #5, to answer your question, there's nothing stopping you from using Mac memory in your PC. Apple simply limits themselves to a subset of all memory(they only use memory that supports a specific timing, they don't want to take chances), so when you drop Mac memory in to a PC, it runs just like any other memory. The only conditions on that are that the SPD timings may not be as liberal on a PC part, and since the memory will never be overclocked, the memory vendor likely didn't use chips with much headroom. Reply
  • knitecrow - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    surprise surprise....

    apple tries to milk everything and anything including charging outrages prices for memory upgrades.
    Reply
  • computerfan - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    I love the Apple reviews. I have always been a PC user but these apple reviews have given me lots of important information. I am now awaiting confirmation of my ADC (Apple Developer Connection) student membership and am on the verge of purchasing an iMac G5 system. Hopefully they will upgrade the iMac line before I purchase it because it needs a better video card.

    Keep the Apple reviews coming!!!
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Monkeydonutstick:
    Like this? http://www.anandtech.com/mac/


    eetnoyer: Do you know that Shuttle sells about as many units (barebones+complete) in a year as Apple does eMacs/iMacs in a quarter?
    http://www.tongfamily.com/guide/pcs/2003/11/26/shu...
    http://www.computerworld.com/printthis/2005/0,4814...

    Should Anand then move reviews of Shuttle cases and units to AnandShuttle.com because "the majority of viewers" don't use Shuttle?

    Each particular segment of Anand's viewership has their own interests, and are brought here because of the site; if you don't like that he's behind in his memory roundup, well, look somewhere else, do your own, or wait. No one has infinite time and resources, and Anand does what he will. Or even better... the last time someone was in the Mac threads complaining about a HL2 roundup, he released it 'as is' rather than finishing it to everyone's satisfaction.

    Would you want that? You can't have everything.
    Reply
  • Monkeydonutstick - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #16

    I am using a Mac that I built right now. Generic pc100 memory, Motherboard and cpu from ebay, a pc radeon flashed with a mac rom, an old atx case and a slightly modified psu. total cost about 200.00.
    Reply
  • eetnoyer - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Maybe because the majority of anandtech readers actually use PCs exclusively (looked at any marketshare numbers lately?) and are DIYers (last time I checked, I couldn't build my own Mac). I don't really care that he spends his time on Mac reviews, I just think that it should be segregated somehow. The only reason I posted a comment is because I'm disappointed that over 6 months after the editors promised a value memory round-up "soon", there is still nothing in evidence. If you're bored, you can look back through other memory reviews to see that I have occasionally posted the same type of comment there. Finally, my lack of interest in the SLI or RAID reviews has no bearing on any part of this discussion. All I want is the value memory round-up or a statement that it's never going to happen.

    P.S. #14 - Congratulations, you're the first person who was ever clever enough to twist my name to the word annoying.
    Reply
  • Monkeydonutstick - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    I would also like to see a separate page for Mac info. Not because I don’t like the reviews but I think they could expand a lot more on a separate page Reply
  • melgross - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    EEtnoyer, your name is correct. You really are annoying. Just because you don't lke something doersn't mean that others won't.

    I, like many others, I'm sure, have been longtime readers of Anands site long before he started to show an interest in Macs.

    We have four of them at home. So the site is now even more interesting than before.

    As far as memory goes, older machine could benefit from faster memory, but not all newer machines can.

    The reason some Mac owners get faster memory is that they may not be buying from top-line sources, and the memory may not be scec'ed properly, so they get faster stuff. Not a good thing to do anyway. Others simply don't know one way or the other, and assume that faster memory is better.

    Even on PCs where you may be able to clock higher, the performance increase of the machine as a whole is so small as to not be useful in the real world, as opposed to the world of specmanship.

    A machine is so complex in its functioning, that the memory speed increase alone can contribute little to it. It's often not worthwhile to spend the extra time and money.
    Reply

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