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Planned obsolescence and Apple’s soldered-in RAM

21 Aug 12

Easiest way to get your PC lasting a few more years? Double the RAM, works a treat.

I’ve just done that in my wife’s 2009 Macbook Pro; although now well over three years old, this machine works just fine. While it was slowing down some, with a mere 2GB of memory and a 512MB Nvidia graphics card, the addition of $40-worth of RAM has my graphic designer spouse happy-as-Larry again. Indeed, though using some hefty software, like Adobe’s Creative Studio 6, she describes the machine as ‘awesome’.

Mobile devices are increasingly the flavour of the day; smartphones and tablets must be a real boon for their manufacturers, since the latest and greatest only stays that way for what seems like 10 minutes. Or, in the case of Apple, it takes roughly the same time to produce the next iPhone as it does for most humans to make a baby.

And when those new models hit the shelves, what do the faithful do? Why, they get rid of their perfectly functional, perfectly capable and totally sufficient handsets as quickly as possible so they can get the new one. And they do so in droves.

RAM it down

So, what has that to do with glued in RAM? Well, Apple has learned that for a massive annual sales boost, all it needs to do is produce a new device. As in the case of the iPhone 4 versus the iPhone 4S, that device doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering upgrade, either. John Paczkowski makes that clear, stating ‘The majority of people buying the iPhone 4 don’t particularly need it. But they’re buying it anyway.’ A couple of key extra features usually does the trick.

Laptops are more expensive devices than handsets are; a Macbook Pro with a retina screen, for example, starts at the rather mind-boggling price of $3499-odd (eat your heart out, HP, Lenovo, Dell, Acer, Samsung – see how readily you sell ‘commodity’ hardware at those sorts of prices).

Three years in and my wife’s Macbook Pro is doing just fine, especially since receiving an extra 2GB RAM; without that, it would be ready for the scrapheap. Indeed, it can still absorb another 2GB and will arguably keep going for another two years or perhaps more.

Not so the new Macbook Retina. That thing comes with 8GB or 16GB out-the-box. Choose carefully, exhorts Apple, as once you have, alea jacta est: the die is cast and there will be no upgrading. There will be no fixing, either…or recycling, for that matter.

Expensive? Not really

Memory isn’t really that expensive a commodity; expect to pay around $85 for an 8GB module. However, double yours at the source of purchase of your Apple Retina, and you can expect to pay an extra $320 for 8GB. That IS expensive.

Two things emerge here: one is that Apple (and other manufacturers which are following suit) are pressuring the consumer to spend max money at the point of sale (CHOOSE CAREFULLY!) That’s nice for the vendor, because it means max profit on what is undoubtedly a commodity. You try selling computer memory for a 300% margin, and see how far you’ll get!

The other is that in two years time, or perhaps less, that ‘massive’ 8 or (if you got fleeced) 16GB RAM is likely to look pretty paltry.

No unscrewing the back of your computer for an el cheap fix; combine that with the lemming-like impulse to have the latest gear, and you’ll be store-side for another $3499.00 rogering.

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