Shop Around for RAM Before Buying a Mac

by Chris Howard Jul 18, 2007

For years I told people asking for computer buying advice: out of RAM size, hard disk size, and CPU, buy as much RAM as you can afford (and more disk space than you think you’ll need smile )

But that was in my PC days. The same does not always apply on Macs. In fact, the opposite even. On Macs I’d suggest buying as little RAM as possible and then upgrading through a third party.

Long-time Mac owners probably already know that, but if you’re new, or looking at switching, then at least compare third-party RAM before you lash out on Apple’s RAM.

I’m not bagging Apple. It does packages, and the customer expects some constancy. The customer doesn’t want to see the price of an iMac drop three times in two weeks—as the RAM I’ve been watching did. Apple customers, with their limited choice, don’t want to look on the Apple store next week and see the Macs have dropped in price—after they’d just purchased. There’s comfort in seeing my iMac still selling for the same as I paid for it.

We Maccies like to think that we’re all paying the same price.

Likewise, it wouldn’t be good for Apple to keep lowering its price as then people would put off purchasing—as they do any time there’s speculation of an upgrade coming.

To the point though, if you are in the Mac market, and aren’t afraid to open up your Mac, then check the price of third-party RAM before finalizing your Mac purchase; you could save a bundle.

For example, lately I’ve been considering upgrading my iMac’s RAM. I only bought this computer last October, so it does bother me a bit that it feels like it needs a RAM upgrade. As I’ve said previously, I used to be able to run 20 apps open comfortably on my G4 1GHz with 1GB RAM. And for the first few months my iMac Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz with 1GB RAM skipped along and had no trouble with 20 apps open. But since about March, it’s fallen in a heap. I suspect something in Mac OS X 10.4.9. When I rebuilt it in May with 10.4.7 I reckon it ran better. I had to return to 10.4.9 (and now 10.4.10) to be able to run Safari 3.

Anyway, to the example which, before you gag on the prices, is in Australian dollars. I’m using the online retailer ePowerMac as my reference because I’ve bought memory from it previously and had no issues.

Firstly, from the Apple Store:

To buy an iMac, you will pay the following for extra RAM:
- Upgrade to 2GB adds $270 for 2x1GB
- Upgrade to 3GB adds $870 for 2x1GB and 1x1GB

Checking the Internet Archive, this is the same price Apple was charging last October. Despite what I said above, I do think one price cut could have been justified in the last 10 months, Apple.

And if you do decide to buy RAM from Apple at a later date, sit down, because 2GB RAM for an iMac costs a whopping $569!

Now, at ePowermac, you will pay the following for additional RAM for an Intel iMac:

- To add 1GB $89 (brings your system to 1.5GB)
- To add 2GB $198 (brings your system to 2.5GB)
- To upgrade to 3GB, 1x1GB plus 1x2GB, $287

I originally began this piece at the end of June. Since then the 2GB RAM at ePowerMac has come down from $249 to $219 and now $198. Also, in October last year, it was $165 for the 1GB RAM. So the price of RAM has halved in the last ten months. Which also means Apple’s profit margin on the iMac has skyrocketed.

The small drawback of upgrading after purchase is you will have to ditch one or both of the existing 512MB RAM sticks. But you might be able to sell them on eBay for a few dollars. However, even if you can’t, you will still be miles ahead.

So, right now, if I was buying an iMac and wanted 3GB, I would save nearly $600 upgrading after purchase!

Also, to add 2GB to my existing iMac, I’d save $371 buying the third-party RAM.

Bear in mind though, all memory is not created equal—which is one of Apple’s justifications for charging a premium—so do your homework, otherwise you might find your Mac’s stability compromised.

One final point to remember is the proximity to the release of the Mac in question. In October last year, there didn’t seem to be much point, as either way, 2GB was expensive. But if you can live with less memory for a few months, you can save a packet.

So if you’re purchasing a recently released Mac, to benefit, you might have to wait a few months before upgrading.



  • Does putting in your own RAM invalidate an AppleCare warranty?

    Ray Fix had this to say on Jul 18, 2007 Posts: 21
  • Good question, Ray! My understanding is that where the unit is made to have user-upgradeable RAM, then your warranty is safe. If the user guide that came with your Mac has instructions for replacing the RAM, you’ve go to almost no worries.

    However, Apple could interrogate you about whether you followed those instructions correctly if they suspect you didn’t.

    I think the Mac mini is the only unit that doesn’t have user-upgradeable RAM. It’s manual says ” if you want additional memory installed, contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider”

    To get a copy of your Mac’s user guide online, go to Apple Support web page and type in the name of your Mac followed by the words “user guide”. eg intel imac user guide

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 18, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I have purchased RAM from third parties in the past and I have come to regret it. When such RAM goes bad you have to deal with the third party to replace it.  It can also be a real pain to figure out that the reason why your Mac has been crashing is that the RAM you purchased went bad on you. The RAM Apple sells you is very expensive but if it goes bad while under warranty, Apple replaces it no questions asked. Some people may want to pay a little more for the convenience and peace of mind provided by Apple warranty coverage.

    sandrino had this to say on Jul 18, 2007 Posts: 3
  • I think YMMV.  Through a 1/2 dozen Macs since 1988, I’ve never had any problems with 3rd party RAM, but I always use manufacturers that specifically label their RAM for use with Apple computers. 

    Many of the generic RAM dealers don’t do this, but there are a number of memory dealers that make sure certain lots meet the Mac specs. Sometimes generic ram might not meet the exact specs which can then cause errors.

    Start with or You might pay anywhere from $5 - 10 more per stick than generic PC RAM, but it will be worth it… and still WAY less than Apple.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Jul 18, 2007 Posts: 243
  • The RAM Apple sells you is very expensive but if it goes bad while under warranty, Apple replaces it no questions asked.

    You could replace your RAM three times over before buying it directly from Apple would pay for itself.  You could also buy third-party and pay someone to install it before buying from Apple would be worth it.

    Apple RAM is for suckers, just like Applecare.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 20, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Apple Care has saved me trouble and money on several occasions. I rather deal with Apple under warranty than having to track the RAM vendor, ship the RAM back and getting a replacement.

    That being said, I have used many times too and they are a great resource. I recently added 4GB RAM to my desktop and I got it through Deal RAM. I would not have bought that much RAM from Apple, it would have cost way too much money. Sometimes price is more important than convenience and if you are going to purchase RAM for an existing Mac, Apple is not the way to go. However I didn’t purchase the RAM from the cheapest vendor either. I rather pay a little extra to make sure that when I have a problem, I won’t have to go through a big hassle to get a replacement or get stuck with bad RAM.

    The great advantages of buying Apple RAM and Apple Care are the convenience and peace of mind. Sometimes saving yourself trouble is more important than saving some money. If the only parameter was saving money, I’d build a Linux PC from scratch. Fortunately I have a life and I don’t want to spend my free time under the hood of my Mac.

    sandrino had this to say on Jul 20, 2007 Posts: 3
  • The only real justification for AppleCare is to argue that Macs are such unreliable junk or that the price of fixing them is SOOOO high that the ODDS are that AppleCare is going to pay for itself.  Obviously that has been the case for you.  But I’ve owned three expensive Mac products and so far none of them have had any hardware problems (knock on wood). 

    To me, the “peace of mind” is owning a quality product, not flushing hundreds of dollars down the toilet on an extended warranty.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 20, 2007 Posts: 2220
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