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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  • michael2k - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    It's nice knowing that there are cheaper alternatives; if all he had posted was "PC ram of this timing works" then we wouldn't know where to look for better prices. Reply
  • CindyRodriguez - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    I really applaud the on-going interest in the Mac platform. It's nice to see a well designed, robust platform like the Mac/OS X getting some more attention.

    I don't get the article though. Couldn't it be summed up with the statement that 'Macs use standard memory but Apple apparently sets the timing in firmware'? 4 pages of how Macs use standard memory?

    I'll try to be better than the average complainer on the boards though. How bout an article about real problems associated with upgrading Macs. Perhaps something about upgrading optical drives and getting the mac to boot from CD? That is, you'd have to cover finding drives with compatible firmware or hacking compatability.
    Alternately, maybe go into the possiblilty of flashing various video cards. That'd be interesting. Running RAID on mac boot volumes? Which interface is best for Mac RAID [SCSI, FW400, FW800] since FW800 had issues on the G5s? Or, how bout tackling the possiblility that the software shortage is a myth? Pick several tasks and see if you can find the appropriate software to get the job done on the Mac.. that'd be interesting. It'd be nice to see someone do a well written overview of how to overclock and modify various Macs too.

    Cheers,
    Cindy
    Reply
  • solbergn - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    So here's my experience:

    Got 2 Mac Mini 1.25's, and didn't want to pay $100 for 256mb more RAM. So I got some Kingston Value-RAM, DDR 400, for about $68 and popped the lid on the mini's. Worked like a charm. Both machines booted right up, and I had 2 extra 256mb sticks for my G4.

    I don't recommend just grabbing some RAM off the floor and throwing it in, but considering I've done this one, it's a good deal for anyone looking for RAM upgrades. I've also stuck Value-RAM DDR 400 in a Dual 1.25ghz G4, no problem.

    Lets look outside manufacturers that over price RAM for Macs. It's usually the same stuff as their cheaper counterparts, just a bigger price tag.
    Reply
  • Webster - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    For Crucial memory, do you have to get the upgrade they recommend? For me, they say to get:

    iBook (G4 1GHz), Part CT372708, 512MB, $146.27
    DDR PC2100 • CL=2.5 • UNBUFFERED • NON-ECC • DDR266 • 2.5V •

    But, I also noticed this memory, which looks similar:

    PowerBook G4 1GHz (12-inch Display), Part CT327971, 512MB, $93.99
    DDR PC2100 • CL=2.5 • UNBUFFERED • NON-ECC • DDR266 • 2.5V • 64Meg x 64

    Does the 64Meg x 64 mean it won't work in an iBook? I would rather not spend the extra $53 if they will both do the same thing.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    #6, that's indeed true, though I will say from my experience that Apple is the worst price-gouger on RAM. Dell would rank second. Crucial is a lot cheaper, and they're high compared to quite a few vendors.

    #7, if you were truly sorry for sounding harsh, you wouldn't post what you did. I find Anand's Mac information to be incredibly useful, as someone who does both PC and Mac. I urge Anandtech to keep doing the occasional Mac article, everyone moaning about it seems to say "Anandtech's becoming a Mac site" when it's easy to see the site is still heavily balanced (and rightly so) towards the PC side. Lots of PC users have become interested in the Mac mini, and I believe there is plenty of relevance.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    And who are you to say what the majority of Anand's viewers are?

    He does his thing for his pleasure as well as for the benefit of others. I'm sure HE was curious how the various ram vendors stacked up in his three Macs, and thought such research would benefit his readers.

    Or do you complain when he reviews SLI, or RAID, or high end gaming chassises because they aren't applicable to you? If it bugs you, don't read the Mac articles and let those who do care read them!

    Expanding your coverage is the only way to expand your readership; attracting NEW viewers and new visitors, rather than the existing one. Otherwise if he kept sticking to 'old formula', he'd get overshadowed by newer sites that DID do things better/different. So let off on Anand. I understand you might be unhappy, but how do you think all the old school Macheads feel about the new OS X and the new iPods that Steve Jobs has unleashed?
    Reply
  • eetnoyer - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Wow, another memory review that won't be relevant to the majority of your users. It's as bad as reading all of the extremely expensive memory reviews. I think alot of your readers would still like to see the value memory (PC) round-up that was promised about 6 months ago. And, if you insist on reviewing Apple products from here on out, maybe you should do it on anandmac.com or something like that with a link on the anandtech homepage.

    Sorry for sounding so harsh.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Apple isn't the only computer manufacture that is guilty of exessive memory pricing. Dell's memory prices when upgrading there Laptops and Desktops is simply outrageous. My opinion is that if you buy a laptop or Desktop from any vendor is that you should buy it with the absolute minimum amount of memory that they offer for the system then purchase you memory upgrade aftermarket from Newegg or Zipzoomfly (or your favorite supplier). Reply
  • paulsiu - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Other than the SPD, how different is the Mac memory from the PC memory? I probably can't reuse PC memory in a Mac, but can I use the Mac Memory on a PC? Reply
  • Chuckles - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Then why do people buy 2-2-2 RAM for thier Mac's? Reply

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