01 January 2008

RAM cost on Apple machines


With the latest hardware updates, RAM price has considerably dropped.

The iMac 2gb->4gb update drops from ¥89,000 to ¥47,000, same drop on the laptops. Only the Mac Pro does not seem to benefit from the drop (at ¥63,000).

I've seen a number of blog articles here and there complaining about Apple's RAM prices but each and every single one of them missed something: a comparison of the actual chips that were being installed on the updated machines and a comparison with other makers' practices.

I have no doubt that one can find cheap memory anywhere but what is the cost of the high end stuff, and why not assume that it is what Apple puts in our machines ? Is there a study out their that proves Apple is such a crook as far as RAM quality/cost ratio is concerned ?

What is the performance difference between components of various prices and origins ?

Just to make sure I am not misunderstood. I have no doubt whatsoever that Apple is making a very fat margin on a number of items.

The update from 2gb to 4gb on the iMac line is ¥89,000 on the Japanese store (~$615 - too bad for the US customers who are penalized by the exchange rate: $700 on the US Apple Store).

When I check similar updates (from 2gb to 4gb) for various makers' online stores I find (after a huge lot of painful browsing through ugly online stores):

Below $400

  • Dell (desktop) charges $270.
  • HP (desktop) charges $170+$100=$270
  • Lenovo (desktop) charges $340-$60=$280
  • Everex (?) charges $135x2=$270 for memory chips but it is not specified if the chips come installed or not.
  • HP (laptop) charges $300
  • AlienWare (desktop) charges $450-$100=$350
  • Dell (laptop) charges $375.

Above $400

  • Apple charges less on the Mac Pro series: from 2gb to 4 gb only costs $400.
  • Lenovo (laptop) charges $520-$80=$440
  • NEC (desktop) charges ¥110,000-¥50,000=¥60,000 (~$460)
  • Fujitsu (laptop) charges $480.
  • Sony (laptop) charges $660-$110=$550 (I could not find relevant information for Sony desktops but since the Apple RAM tax applies equally to notebooks I also checked the Sony laptops)
  • Toshiba laptops did not seem to include a 4gb options but the upgrade from 512mbx2 to 2gbx1 is $280

Also, Apple's line is made of compact machines (obvious for the laptops) at the exception of the Mac Pro. All the compact machines' upgrades from 2gb to 4gb cost the same at Apple and the non-compact Mac Pro's upgrade costs much less. Similarly for other makers, all the compact machines' upgrades cost more than the non-compact machines'.

So, what does all that mean ?

  1. One can find extra cheap uninstalled RAM in the wild, just check for low prices in your area.
  2. All the makers I checked charge much more for the update than for the price of the individual chip
  3. Makers that also compete in the low end (Dell, Lenovo, HP, Everex) charge similar prices <$400
  4. Other makers (Sony, Fujitsu, NEC) all charge more than Apple's upgrade for the Mac Pro's $400, and Sony is actually quite close to Apple's compact machines ($550 - $700). Toshiba would no doubt charge similar prices if its laptops accepted 4gb or RAM (I could not find any on the online store, but that does not mean they don't exist).

Now, I have still no idea what chips are in the machines, what is their relative quality and how much margin all the other makers actually get from their RAM upgrade prices. But considering the prices, it does not seem that what Apple does is so outrageous after all. After all, as John Gruber put it in a recent post, Apple is after profit, not market shares.

And just in case that would have escaped people who write blogs, the actual act of shopping is made very easy by Apple. I live in the Japanese country side and being able to have flawless support after getting my machine from the online store is definitely worth the $100 difference with a Sony machine, or the $350 with a Dell machine. Plus, those don't run Leopard. When I call the support center and talk to super polite people who are able to answer complex questions without hesitation, I say that is worth the Apple tax on my RAM (and yes, I did get 4GB on my wife's recent 24" iMac).

Regarding the recent iMac's memory specifications, see this document. Earlier iMacs did not support the full 4GB it seems.