Relax, it’s only a computer

David Braue
26 November, 2008
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See what happens when geeks have too much free time on their hands? While you and your kids were probably out playing beach cricket or extending the house or watching a movie last weekend, I was traipsing to my local computer store to undertake a long-awaited upgrade: increasing my iMac from 2GB of RAM to 4GB.

The decision to boost the RAM came with the realisation that, after I recently bought a 4GB SDHC card for my Blackberry Curve, I had arrived at the strange state of affairs where my mobile phone had more memory than my desktop computer. This was unacceptable even though performance with 2GB was generally adequate – except when editing videos, or trying to run other applications while running Windows inside of VMware Fusion, or similarly demanding exercises.

Now, memory upgrades is hardly rocket science. Now, I have been building and upgrading computers for more than 25 years, and it’s fair to say I know my way around a RAM upgrade. As a cheapskate at heart, I was hardly going to pay the $300 I was quoted for the upgrade at my local Apple Store; two sticks of 2GB RAM cost me just $98 at my normal computer store.

Despite all this, I confess to being a bit concerned as to how I might get the sticks of RAM into the svelte aluminium case, a gorgeous 20- and 24-inch widescreen display encased in elegant and professional aluminium and glass™. Oops, did I lapse into Apple marketingspeak? Sorry.

Yet I admit to more than a moment of befuddlement during this, my first time doing anything with a Mac other than simply using it.

Some quick Googling taught me that the RAM is located behind a panel on the bottom of the iMac’s screen. Still, as I tilted the screen up and fumbled through my drawer for a tiny enough screwdriver, I all but expected to be assailed by lightning bolts as I dared breach the boundary of the elegant professional grade aluminium, which leads to glass cover jointed precisely to the aluminium enclosure, creating a virtually seamless front surface™.

Sorry. So, where was I? Oh yes, I opened the compartment to find not the parallel rows of 240-pin RAM common in “normal” PCs, but two tiny 200-pin sticks of memory which, as was pointed out by the flummoxed RAM salesman, were normally used in notebook PCs (in searching for the right product in the store’s computers, by the way, that same salesman was initially concerned about finding the right memory that was “Mac compatible” and tried to sell me something that had the word ‘Mac’ in the product description but costed $40 more; “no, just give me the regular Kingston stuff,” I confidently demanded).

On Windows machines, you remove RAM sticks by undoing tiny plastic, hinged tabs and wriggling the RAM out. With those tabs buried inside the iMac, however, getting the old RAM sticks out of the machine required some hard tugs on the built-in black plastic straps. Now, because they are so pretty, pulling hard on anything Apple makes is counterintuitive, but I eventually got the old memory out and slid the new ones into place.

That’s it. End of story. Upgrading memory is about the easiest thing you can do to make a computer run better, and so far I have noticed a bit of snappiness in general operation, boosting a machine that already packs professional performance into the convenience of an all-in-one design™. I can allocate a full 1GB or 2GB of RAM to my Windows virtual machine (the default is a measly 512MB), meaning it spends less time swapping to disk and more time letting me run over pedestrians and engage in wanton destruction in Carmageddon TDR 2000.

If I’m quoting prolifically from Apple press releases, it’s only to point out that for most of us, while Windows systems are computers, Apple products are equally well defined as an experience – a thing to be lovingly eyed, caressed and coddled. Just consider Jason Snell’s commentary about the fact that hackers have demonstrated once and for all that the iPhone and iPod touch do not, in fact, run on elf power but actually have a quite common 532MHz CPU and 133MHz bus (in the 2G touch) and a 400MHz CPU and 100MHz bus in the iPhone, iPhone 3G and 1G iPod touch.

Computer components? In a Mac or an iPhone? Come on, we’re not that gullible.

The thing is: the way we all go gaga over our Macs, we deserve to be paying $300 for RAM upgrades worth one-third as much. And maybe it’s worth it for some, if only to maintain the illusion of elf magic. After all, everyone knows that Macs are like a fine ’67 Bourdeaux – to be enjoyed, savoured, longed for, and enjoyed with a medium-rare cut of top-cut Wagyu beef. Windows systems, on the other hand, are more like a cheap goon of lambrusco: they get the job done, but the headache in the morning makes you wonder if it was all worth it.

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