The New MacBook Pro: Apple, Throw Us a Bone (and Fill It with RAM)

by Chris Seibold May 16, 2006

Imagine that you were one of the first people in line for the MacBook Pro way back in January. Knowing that Apple charges a premium for memory, further imagine that you ordered the machine stock. Stretch the fantasy part of your brain still further and imagine that you waited until, say, today to install more memory. As incredible as that may seem, your actions would be justifiable. Because you remember earlier iBook problems that were compounded when every call to AppleCare resulted in removing the second-party memory and, eventually, resulted in fraying of the Airport cable. So your traumatic memory of memory working against you is why you have waited.

Now imagine you finally got around to installing another 512 MB chip. Suddenly your computer goes much faster. The change you notice is, frankly, ridiculous. What was an unpleasant experience with older applications suddenly becomes much less onerous. Not exactly native performance, but certainly acceptable.

Most users would say, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” The tech-savvy user notes that more RAM substantially improves Rosetta performance, deems the result not unexpected, and simply sighs. The conspiracy-minded consumer wonders, “Why the @#$% did I have to buy extra memory to get decent performance?”

Therein lies the problem. Why is a company that ostensibly wants to offer a superior computing experience shipping products with a less-than-acceptable amount of memory? Compounding the error is the understanding that Apple is one company that really understands that while cases are made to be opened, most people never bother.

The easy and probably truthful answer is because Apple wants to wring a few more dollars of profit out of its products. But what profits are likely realized from the cost savings of not shoving an extra 512 MB chip in the MacBook Pro? Usually this would make business sense, but now is the moment when Apple most needs to give people the best “out of box” experience.

It is easy to dismiss the memory complaint as just another day at the office for Apple. After all, the elite Mac users would complain about the amount of memory even if every machine shipped with 64 GB of RAM. Oh, and if every Mac shipped with that much RAM, the same folks would complain about the video card, those L337 Mac gamers can be hard to please. In truth, the complaints about the memory and graphic cards are generally worthless for the average user. That doesn’t mean they won’t complain, some guy familiar with the specs groans over Apple’s choice and whines a little. The average user has just plopped down a wad of cash and so they start whining too.

This time, things are different. Apple is foisting upon the Mac faithful, with the best-reasoned arguments possible, a switch from PowerPC to Intel. Great, fine, whatever. The trouble is that with the switch comes emulation, with emulation, despite Steve Jobs “Boom goes the dynamite” demonstration comes hindered performance. While 512 MB is adequate to run native Apps, once a program is fired up that invokes Rosetta, prepare to wait.

How long will you have to wait if you fire up, say, Word? Most people would break out the stopwatch or, in an example of the world’s most inaccurate measurement of computer speed, count dock bounces. Either of those statistics leave one with concrete numbers but little feel for the frustration level.

Long time Mac users frustrated by the slowdown caused by emulation? That is nothing new. Living with emulation seems to be an ongoing part of the Mac experience, something Mac users should be used to after the transition to OS X. Put another way, if someone came up to you and smacked you right upside the noggin every time you fired up a program more than a year old, you’d get used to it, perhaps even enjoy the experience after a while. Mac users have been putting up with that feeling since OS X rolled out, so for long-time users the experience with Rosetta should be a comforting assurance that just because Intel is inside, everything is still a Mac.

But what of the new users, those disenchanted-by-Windows folks looking for a sexy Mac machine to warm their laps with the heat of its Intel heart? The amount of memory would be no problem if the MacBook Pro shipped with Universal binaries of everything they needed, but Universal binaries of must- have programs like MS Office simply don’t exist.

When the new Mac user fires up a copy of Microsoft Office they are going to think the program is much slower on the Mac. They might have a peripheral knowledge that there is some change in the new Machines, but emulation is an unfamiliar situation for these folks. The performance hit they see when firing up still current (but unupdated) programs will make them wonder: Why can the Mac launch iMovie in a blink, but chugs like an-overloaded-steam-train-going-uphill with the piece of indispensable bloat-ware that is Office?

Oddly enough, when you’re attracting first-time users you want their experience to be as positive as possible. A kind of get them hooked then stick ‘em down the road type of deal. Apple’s chances of producing satisfied converts would go up with just a little bit of extra RAM. Of course, that would be sacrificing short-term profits for a little bigger piece of the pie in the long-term, not an option Apple usually considers. Still, this is one time Apple really should. After the ads stop running, once Leopard has people buzzing like a hive of bees who have been supping on caffeine infused nectar, Apple can go back to its old ways. For now, give the new folks an enviable experience right out of the box.

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  • I’ve got to agree with this.  After putting an extra 1GB in my iMac, it went from random annoying pauses to blowing the doors off.  Its an astounding difference.

    BigW had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 10
  • Windows user switching to a Mac will run XP software they already have using Boot Camp or a hypervisor allowing them to run their existing apps along with Mac i-Apps. I don’t think they will go out and buy Office for their new Macs when they already have an XP version.

    As for the Mac/PC newbies, they are not very savvy as you and me wink at this point. They have time to learn the sweet intricacies we call the Mac user experience. When they are ready so too are universal binaries.

    512MB ceiling for OSX Tiger is a bare minimum, I agree. Another 512M gives it a legroom. I know since I just purchased two Intel Mac minis and I had to add another 512M just to have Quicktime run respectively.

    Robomac had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 846
  • If you think they’re gunna feel stooged now, wait til the have to buy the new Universal Office. Because of the issues you talk about the U/MSO will be a compulsory upgrade.

    Even at upgrade pricing they’re going to feel a little burnt.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • When you invite Apple into your house, they build an expressway to your wallet.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Talking of Apple tax, check the black MacBook. It “only” costs you $110 more to buy a black MacBook.

    The difference between a white and black MacBook is the color and an extra 20GB of drive space. That space can be bought on the white MB for $90.

    Thus, black costs $110. You’d want to love black

    Instead of going black, you could up the white MB to 1GB RAM. Just what *highly* Chris is recommending here.

    So Apple are making you choose between color and performance now?

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • oops - Just what Chris is *highly* recommending here.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • I noticed that too, Chris H. How there is a high premium on having black. It appears it costs Apple more to produce it in black - probably because it’s the first computer they’ve ever made in [this type of] black. I guess they’re testing the water with the black color to see how it goes before they start mass-producing black components to bring the price-level in with white.
    In the mean time it seems they’re trying to hide the ‘black tax’ (ouch that sounds really racist! Haha) with a larger HDD.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Apple is not coercing anyone to buy their “expensive” wares. The prices are clearly displayed and if you happened to mindlessly wander off around your favorite Apple Store (and why not - they are amazing!!!) and went home with an overpriced black MacBook then do not put the blame on Apple.

    “Apple Tax” is the wrong term. A tax is something you try, or at least, want to avoid (unsuccessfully, I might add) since it places a burden on an individual. Whereas, the price paid extra for its coolness factor gives an individual a feeling of uniqueness - sort of like a high (ahemm…let’s not get into that).

    This “Coolness Fee” is another factor that permeates the attachment people have with their Apple machines. I know no one brags of their cheap HP or Dell machines.

    Robomac had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 846
  • You’re right Robo, it’s not a tax, it’s a scam! smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Apple can “scam” me anytime C.H. with smooth HW designs that I can feel with my hands. A 10% surcharge is not wallet buster. VATs and sales taxes already approach, if not exceed, that.

    Apple should and will do better in the low-end of the market without risking their higher ends. This is a stage where Apple is aware and knows is vital to its key strategy. It just needs to focus and broaden in this area.

    The Mac minis are a start. iSupply already confirms that BOMs in Mac minis are mere $275, with labor cost $8 more. And that’s with current component costs. Where can Apple improve the OOB experience here? How about including the mouse and keyboard for starters without hiking the price points. For a decent 10% more, a sweet LCD panel. These are tough to meet but not impossible now that Apple can muscle their suppliers to keep costs down.

    If you have ever pried open any of your Mac boxes you notice a trend: very clever designs and not cutting corners have enabled Apple to keep innovating and yet keep prices where they are at. Apple will keep moving in that direction and will impact everyone - the Dells and HPs of the world, and yes - you and me and our unstressed wallets.

    Robomac had this to say on May 17, 2006 Posts: 846
  • You always have to make a choice. Black, white, RAM, harddisk, whatever.

    If I had mine, I’d be able to run OS X on the Fujitsu Siemens Celsius H240 notebook which not only offers the Core Duo, but a 1900 x 1200 resolution, two (!) harddisks and two (!) batteries as well as up to 4 GB (!) RAM. I bet you can wait forever until Apple builds a notebook like that, and I bet that when they ever plan to release it, it’ll cost twice as much as any other manufacturers’ similar hardware setup.

    Why would anyone buy a computer, today, with less than at least 1 GB RAM? Even the iMac G3 SE offered a much better performance when equipped with maximum RAM (which was 1 GB I think). That RAM rules in terms of performance is not new to any computer.

    swisswuff had this to say on May 17, 2006 Posts: 8
  • The article leaves omits one important item - for maximum performance the 2 memory modules must of identical size and speed (2 x 512MB 667MHz, or 2 x 1G 667MHz).  With same size modules, all Intel based Macs runs with double the memory bandwidth (like twice as many lanes on a freeway) - thus memory access is twice as fast.

    Anyone installing mis-matched SODIMMs (512MB + 1GB) with gain from the additional memory but will run AT 1/2 THE MEMORY SPEED.  Thus, it is not suprising that notebook speed increases greatly with a second 512MB installed.  (One final note - all of Apple’s shared video models, Mini and iBook, ship with 2 identical SODIMMs installed for performance.  Other models usually ship with one so customer can upgrade as needed.)

    jeffmcclan had this to say on May 21, 2006 Posts: 2
  • There is no reason not to add a 512MB 667MHz SODIMM to a Macbook Pro.  Current pricing is $49.99 from a well known Apple online store with lifetime guarantee and advance replacement (I just wanted to provide the price for benchmarking purposes but do not want to name the store as I have no affiliation.)

    jeffmcclan had this to say on May 21, 2006 Posts: 2
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