Apple Memory Upgrades
December 6, 2004 8:16 PM   Subscribe

A long-time PC user, I am planning to switch to Apple, replacing my centrino laptop by a 12" ibook G4 (I want a small computer).

Most of the standard Apple configurations come with 256MB of RAM: is this because OSX needs less memory than XP (since most laptop configs today come with 512MB), or do I need to go for 512 (768?) megs?

I mainly use my computer to browse the web, send & receive e-mails, do some word processing, and manage my MP3, which I only store on my iPod.

Other question:
If I buy the computer at the local Apple Store (I'm in NYC), I'll only be able to get a memory upgrade, and not a hard disk upgrade. The laptop comes with a 30GB drive. For a Windows PC, I'd go for 60GB: should I do the same here? This would make me have to order it online, which is a bit of a problem (I'm not often at home...).
posted by rubin421 to Science & Nature (33 answers total)
Get at least the 512mb -- I'd recommend going even higher, but it doesn't sound like you'll be doing much heavy lifting.

The OS itself doesn't require much room on your hard drive -- disk space is really a preference I think.
posted by paulrockNJ at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2004

Well, I'm going to give you almost exactly the opposite advice of paulrockNJ.

I doubt you'd see the difference between 256 and 512 for what you're going to be doing. Even if you are going to expand the RAM, I wouldn't buy it from Apple as the cost will be higher than it needs to be. Get the 256, see what you think, and then add additional RAM later if you think you need it.

30GB sounds low to me, but then I've got about 30GB of MP3s alone. I would certainly think about upgrading the drive. It depends on how much music/media you have/think you're going to have though.
posted by willnot at 8:26 PM on December 6, 2004

Sorry, missed that you keep all your media on the iPod. 30GB's would probably be fine. The OS itself is just going to take up a gig or 2.
posted by willnot at 8:30 PM on December 6, 2004

On the contrary, OS X is extremely memory-dependent. You really want to get as much memory as you can. Even simple stuff like Web browsing and word processing can get hopelessly hung up when the OS starts to page to virtual memory (when system memory is expended).

If you want to keep the system around for a while, it'd be a good idea to max out the RAM for that reason, too. It's a good rule of thumb that memory requirements will only increase in the future.
posted by Eldritch at 8:33 PM on December 6, 2004

I just switched too. I'd go with the the 512M like I did on friend's recommendations. A few browser windows open, Itunes, a couple other editing applications, this or that and...256M is easily gone.

The 30G should be fine.
posted by vacapinta at 8:36 PM on December 6, 2004

You will see the difference between 256 and 512.

Make sure you get the 512MB of RAM...

Even the display models of the iBooks in the Apple Stores have 512MB in them.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:39 PM on December 6, 2004

Both. It's bad mojo to keep your media collection only on your iPod (what happens if you lose it, or plunk a setting wrong on itunes and wipe the whole thing?) and you'll definitely want the ram. I'd even push you to go for a single 1GB stick.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:48 PM on December 6, 2004

What they said: OS X Is a RAMpire. It's a longstanding beef with many Apple users that Apple provides barely enough stock RAM to run the OS. I wasn't happy with the system performance on my G4 iMac until I had a GB of RAM.

As for your disk space 30GB is plenty for what you describe but if your iTunes folder is prone to expansion I'd suggest the 60GB drive.

OS X has quite a decent history here on AskMe so do some reading if you have the time. I hope you enjoy your new iBook. :-)
posted by Cryptical Envelopment at 8:52 PM on December 6, 2004

The memory and hd issues already having been addressed (go for at least 512mb, and I'd go with 60gb for the hell of it), I'll talk on the point of getting the damn thing:

The memory can be done in-store, but the hd cannot. I believe, however, that a computer can be special-ordered in-store and delivered to that store. I could be wrong, but it wouldn't hurt to give ol' Apple SoHo a call or visit and find out.
posted by The Michael The at 9:03 PM on December 6, 2004

Years ago, when I was running NeXTStep, the ancestor of OS X, I was told that NeXTStep will reward users who increase their RAM like no other OS. I found that true then and find it true now.

However, I ran OS X just fine on a G3 Powerbook 333 with 320 MB just fine for years. I think you'll be happier with 512 MB, but 256 is in fact sufficient.

I'm starting to feel cramped with anything less than 40GB HD, though...
posted by weston at 9:10 PM on December 6, 2004

Get more memory! Adding RAM made a huge performance difference in every OS X Mac I've owned. But don't buy it from Apple. I always upgrade my Macs' RAM, but Apple's memory prices are ridiculous.
posted by litlnemo at 9:12 PM on December 6, 2004

I bought a new 12" iBook about a month ago (like you, I was switching from a Centrino laptop). Just to touch on the HD thing, the 30 GB disk had 18 or 19 free when I first turned on the machine, but there's just a ton of software that's pre-loaded.

FWIW, I put a an extra 512 in mine and the speed bump was definitely noticed in the kind of work I do with it.
posted by milkrate at 9:14 PM on December 6, 2004

Get the half-gig stick. I definitely noticed greater performance on my 900mhz G3 (woohoo, recent switchers reprazent) after sticking it in, especially in things like Photoshop, and running tons of programs at once. I got a pretty good price on RAM off Ebay; just be really cautious going that route, as memory can be kind of sketchy.
posted by angry modem at 9:23 PM on December 6, 2004

A good place to get memory is Other World Computing. Their price for a 1GB stick 'o' RAM goodness is $250. Apple's price is $600. That's a pretty huge difference. OWC is a very reputable company and will stand behind their products (I've spent lots of money with them and haven't had any problems.) They'll probably include instructions for installing the RAM. If, for some insane reason, they don't, you can probably take the iBook and the RAM to *any* computer store in the city and they'll do it for a slice of pizza - just be sure it's good pizza, not that Domino's crap :-)
posted by glyphlet at 9:44 PM on December 6, 2004

256KB is not enough. 512KB is barely enough. The more memory you add, the better your system will perform, period.

Apple ships with 256 KB because a) it's easy to add the RAM yourself - this is an Apple, not some no name hardware shibboleth, and it's designed to be easy, and b) because Apple doesn't want to be in the RAM business when prices are so volatile. Basically Apple would have to overcharge you and then Joe Avg. Consumer would be angry when he found out.

Just buy as much of the appropriate RAM as you can afford from The Chip Merchant (my personal favorite) or another vendor, and install it yourself. You won't regret it, even if you get 1.5 GB like I did for my desktop machine.

If you can use a Phillips screwdriver, by the way, you're OVERQUALIFIED to install RAM into a 12" iBook. I have done it myself several times.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:45 PM on December 6, 2004

Rereading the above replies, I feel compelled to add: you can run Panther in 128KB. It's just dumb, because you will then be churning a slow 4200rpm laptop HD incessantly, doing what Unix-type systems call 'hitting swap'. Basically if the system needs more memory than there is physical RAM present, the OS will automatically allocate HD space for 'swap', which is where the OS temporarily transfers the contents of active RAM to free up space for new apps.

Hitting swap is bad, mmkay? You should never have more than the standard 1 swapfile, or you will simply not enjoy using your sluggish computer and you may not even realize why. You will be hitting swap ALWAYS on a 256KB system, and the 512KB system will run 1 medium-sized productivity app - maybe - before it starts hitting swap.

If you're interested as to whether you're hitting swap, check out directory /var/vm. If there's more than 1 numbered swapfile there, you could benefit from more RAM.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:50 PM on December 6, 2004

Get as much RAM as you can afford and install it yourself. It is an easy operation and you will not regret the purchase.
posted by spilon at 10:40 PM on December 6, 2004

Just to add to the chorus: Definitely go with more than 256. 512 is what I consider minimum. I have a gig in my Powerbook, and it feels just about *right* for what I do, but I have a JVM running most of the time. Right now, with Safari, Mail, Adium, Grab, Termainl, and a Puzzle Pirates client running, I'm at 550MB used, with 473 free.

(That also includes various menu apps and so on).

OSX's unix core is very happy with as much memory as you can throw at it.
posted by jammer at 11:01 PM on December 6, 2004

get 1G/60G
posted by scarabic at 11:55 PM on December 6, 2004

My friend bought a G5 iMac on my recommendation, but skimped on the ram and stuck with the 256. That's made it slower than my 3 year old G4, and keeps locking up. You can never have enough memory!
posted by derbs at 2:41 AM on December 7, 2004

Long term Mac-user, here. If you spend some time reading the Apple help forums, you'll come away knowing that enough ram is vital for a good computing experience.

Max out the memory if at all possible.

Make sure you buy your memory from a dealer with a lifetime guarantee, no-questions-asked. OS X has a rep for kernal panics if it doesn't like your ram for any reason.

30 gig is enough, but having a peripheral hard drive for short term backup, iTunes storage, etc. is a good idea. An extra 40 gigs is helpful (and cheap-ish).

OS X is gearing up for "Panther"; get as much memory as your comp will hold.
posted by reflecked at 3:11 AM on December 7, 2004

(Otherwise known as Tiger. Panther is the feline code name for the most current OS, 10.3.x.)

Joining the chorus: Get as much RAM and hard disk space as you can afford. My G4 iMac 800 MHz shipped with 256 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. I definitely needed more RAM, and after a few years of owning this thing I have more available storage space on my 40 GB iPod than I do on the computer, which is down to about 10 GB now.
posted by emelenjr at 4:31 AM on December 7, 2004

Crap. There's an extra space in that address. Tiger.
posted by emelenjr at 4:32 AM on December 7, 2004

256MB is fine until you open one too many applications, at which point the whole system becomes unusably blocked up and you'll be waiting two minutes trying to switch to each app to close it. I'd go with the larger drive, too.
posted by cillit bang at 5:32 AM on December 7, 2004

My standard procedure is to buy online @ the apple store, bump the HD to 60, add bluetooth, then get a 512MB chip through

*Don't* settle for less than 512MB, you'll regret it and it's just not worth the price.
posted by rschroed at 6:36 AM on December 7, 2004

Very late to the party here, but just wanted to chime in. You can never have too much RAM or too much HD space. The best thing you can do to make sure you have an enjoyable long term relationship with your new iBook is to max out the RAM. HD space is secondary to RAM. You should still get as much as you can afford, but buy RAM first and upgrade the HD next. I've had a 1GHz TiBook with 1GB RAM for two years. It is just about right. And yes, Tiger is the next OS release. Panther is current (10.3.x).
posted by rglasmann at 6:42 AM on December 7, 2004

I'm in the choir, too: definitely get as much RAM as you can afford. Indeed, you will notice a difference. Get a Gig of RAM if you possible. As for your hard drive, 30 Gigs may be fine for you and you can usually get an external firewire drive for a very good price. LaCie and Maxtor sell very good external drives for less than $1 per Gig. Internal drives for laptops tend to be pricey.

Also, there are many reputable sources of RAM other than the Apple Store. Apple-branded memory can cost twice as much as, say Viking or Kingston.

I think you will really enjoy OS X. Best of luck. I'm jealous of your new iBook.
posted by mds35 at 6:56 AM on December 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you all for your advices!
I guess I'm going to get the RAM upgrade from one of the retailers you guys indicated me.
The hard disk is still a problem, since I'd really rather buy my iBook in store and they can't do HD upgrades there (no way).
posted by rubin421 at 8:41 AM on December 7, 2004

You might be better off with an external HD. I keep all my media (music, video clips, etc) on my external, and everything else on the internal; I also back up my "home" directory to the external every night. My internal HD is only 20 GB, and it isn't half full. The external 80 GB is about half full.
posted by adamrice at 9:56 AM on December 7, 2004

FWIW, most of the online sellers are throwing in a rebate-induced free 512 with any laptop, hoping to get you to pay them to install it. I called up macconnection and got them to just send the memory. I then forgot to file for the rebate! Or maybe that was the secret plan...
posted by mzurer at 10:49 AM on December 7, 2004

because Apple doesn't want to be in the RAM business when prices are so volatile. Basically Apple would have to overcharge you and then Joe Avg. Consumer would be angry when he found out.

And yet, they sell RAM. At an inflated price. But it's out of consideration to your convenience.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2004

Tiger Tiger Tiger Tiger The big striped one, yes!

Apple's ram is made by Kensington. They buy it in huge lots and there's been some speculation that Apple has slightly more exacting specs for their ram.

You could add a larger external drive at your convienience. Get the ram.
posted by reflecked at 12:56 PM on December 7, 2004

I'll chime in with, too. Don't skimp on ram - and frankly, I always recommend a full 1 GIG as the minimum.

And having an external firewire is excellent for storage AND backup - remember, it's a laptop, which means that eventually it will break (no, not because it's an Apple - it's very well made, but because you'll drop it or some other horrible thing will happen to it).
posted by cptnrandy at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2004

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