The Rumor Mill

Firmware Truth

- 2001.04.01

Remember last weekend? Apple quietly released a firmware update Friday evening that disabled third-party memory in a lot of newer Macs. By Saturday morning, the Mac Web was abuzz with warnings and theories.

At this point, it appears that 3-2-2 RAM upgrades, whether from Apple or someone else, work just fine once the firmware update is installed, but some (and definitely not all) 2-2-2 memory fails to work after the upgrade. There seems to be no way to downgrade, so if your computer lost its RAM, you're out of luck until you replace the memory or Apple produces yet another firmware update.

Our mole at Apple (a.k.a. John Doe 27) tells us this wasn't an accident. Apple wants your money. They want you to buy "Apple Certified" memory either with your computer or from The Apple Store. In the future, if you don't buy Apple Certified memory, your computer may not recognize any memory you've added due to changes in the firmware.

Of course, Apple realizes that a lot of us are more than happy to take our chances with third-party memory. After all, Apple wants $600 to put a single 256 MB module in a PowerBook G4. By going to ramseeker, you can find the same amount of memory for under $90.

You could buy six different third-party modules, throw out the ones that don't work, and still save money compared with Apple Store pricing.

Well, Apple is going to address that two different ways. First, starting April 1, 2001, you'll be able to order RAM directly from Apple - even if you're not buying a new computer. This memory will be about 60% cheaper, dropping that 256 MB module to $240 (less than some vendors on ramseeker charge!) and making it a far more attractive option for individual purchase or when installed in a new build-to-order Mac.

Second, Apple will allow vendors or manufacturers to submit memory for testing by Apple. If it passes the test, this RAM will become Apple Certified.

Of course, Apple won't do it for free. There will be a flat fee of $500 plus $1/MB to certify a specific design. If the manufacturer makes any change to the design, such as switching chip suppliers, the new version will also need to be certified. This allows Apple to make a little money from the manufacturers or dealers.

But that's not all. Every piece of Apple Certified memory means money in Apple's pocket. The certification surcharge is currently set at 10¢/MB, which adds $25.60 to the price of a 256 MB module.

Sure, you can take your chance with uncertified memory, but the next firmware update might make it unusable.

Or you can buy only Apple Certified memory, which is not only certified to work with today's firmware, but also guaranteed to work with any future firmware updates. Not only that, but if you use Apple Certified memory in your computer, it will automatically be covered if you buy AppleCare. No more, "Sorry, but third-party memory isn't covered."

In the end, it looks like a win-win situation for everyone. Apple makes more, vendors can sell memory they know will work with future firmware changes, and the buyer has greater peace of mind.

Sure, it'll cost you more, but high-end Mac users should be used to that.

Stop settling for memory that may not survive the next firmware update - buy Apple Certified.

- Anne Onymus

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