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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  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Re-read the first page guys, the Mac does NOT use any other speed than what they ship with. You cannot get better performance with lower latency or higher frequency memory, it simply will run it at the same specs as whatever you replaced it with. Reply
  • Shinei - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    From what I gathered from the article, Macs won't even POST if you tinker with the frequency or timings of the RAM... Unless I missed something, in which case, I'm with poster #1. Reply
  • Chuckles - Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - link

    Hey Anand,
    I'm curious as to the effect of changing the latency of the memory on a Mac. Did you test any modules with 2-2-2 ratings and compare them performance wise with higher latency modules?
    Reply

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