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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  • bjc112 - Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - link

    Are these considered the only chips to go with for the mac mini?

    I have a stick of PC3200 ( off brand ) CL 2.5
    that is 1GB.

    Am I going to run into issues?

    (Currently have an off brand as well)

    Put in some basic mushkin, and the mini wouldn't post..

    Put it in a windows desktop, booted right up..

    Switched from Mushkin to Generic, mini works fine.. Now I want 1 GB.

    :D
    Reply
  • eieiou22 - Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - link

    To clarify my question, I was referring to the VS (Value Select) model line, not the CMSS model line. (There is about a $100 price difference) Reply
  • aviram - Friday, October 07, 2005 - link

    Hi All,

    There is one conflicting report from http://www.barefeats.com/quick.html">http://www.barefeats.com/quick.html

    quote:

    August 18th, 2005 -- Maybe memory latency speed makes a difference after all. I was doing some testing on two different G5/2.5GHz Power Macs. They are configured identical in every way (8GB RAM, GeForce 6800 Ultra). In fact, they have identical Raptor 10K boot drives in the top factory slot with contents of one cloned to the other. When I ran my Motion 2 "render RAM preview" test, one system ran 8% faster than the other. Why? Well, there is one difference. The faster G5 had CAS 2 memory and the other one had CAS 3.



    -avi
    Reply
  • eieiou22 - Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - link

    Does anyone know if the CORSAIR DDR400(PC3200) 1GB module will work with the mac mini? Thanks. Reply
  • eieiou22 - Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • AstroManLuca - Saturday, March 26, 2005 - link

    I find this article strange... I bought a fairly standard-issue Geil 1GB PC3200 module from NewEgg for $135, and it works perfectly in my mini. I didn't bother going for any of this so-called "Mac RAM" and I haven't had any problems. I think Anand is a bit too cautionary here.

    Also, how did he arrive at those prices? Crucial is selling 512 MB modules for the PowerMac G5 for $61 each, for a total price for 1 GB of $122. Prices may have fallen since the article was posted but I have no idea where he got the $278 price.
    Reply
  • Abecedaria - Saturday, March 05, 2005 - link

    It's really great to see increased interest in the Mac here at Anandtech and I applaud Anand for his work so far. Keep it coming. The Mac community really needs Anand's unique perspective to point out both the advantages and the flaws in the Mac platform.
    Here's some tips for those new to the Mac. I don't want to sound like an ad, but many long time Mac heads use Other World Computing ( http://www.macsales.com ) for Mac upgrades. I did a quick check and they have cheap, generic, Apple-spec RAM that's cheaper than anything mentioned in the article. (i.e. 2x1GB DDR 400 - $357.00)
    And yes, Mac people do build their own Macs and I'd sure love to see some articles on it. That, and some good "how to overclock" articles.

    abc
    Reply
  • Abecedaria - Saturday, March 05, 2005 - link

    Reply
  • WangDangDoodle - Friday, March 04, 2005 - link

    #17 Truly interesting - I always suspected that building your own Mac was possible.

    In addition, to tips on what to look for and what to avoid in building your own Mac, many of us would be interested to learn [the best way] to extract a ROM from one card to flash another card.

    If there is not room on Anandtech.com, consider posting a reader submitted "build it" article on Extremetech.com which is also showing an increased interest in MACs.

    Peter R.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, March 02, 2005 - link

    Why do you have to be defensive? "Don't get me wrong, I'm a long time PC user?"

    It's so stupid that people are attacked, and thus have to be defensive, for looking at a Mac.
    Reply

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