An unwelcome walk down memory lane

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When I bought my iBook in March 2005, I knew I wanted to get some more RAM for it, beyond the stock 256MB that shipped with the laptop. Because I didn’t buy my laptop online I didn’t have the option of getting extra RAM put in at build time. So I bought some third-party RAM ( PNY Technologies, for what it’s worth) from our good friends at J&R Computers in New York. I put my spankin’ new 512MB stick in my iBook and off it went. No problem. I was thrilled.

Fast forward about six months, when I had to send in my Mac for screen repairs twice in one week. When it finally came back, I started getting kernel panics—a lot of ’em. I spent the next few weeks doing everything I could think of—PRAM, MacJanitor, Open-Firmware —nothing would shake the problem. Finally, I resorted to reinstalling Tiger and wiping the drive. When that didn’t do it, I called Apple again and sent my iBook back to an Apple repair center in Tennessee.

The other day, my precious iBook finally came back, seemingly repaired. However, because I had third party RAM installed, Apple’s technicians told me to take it out when I had sent the laptop. I put the memory back in, and my Mac seemed OK for about a day. Then the kernel panics returned again.

I went to the nearest Best Buy and got some more PNY RAM and installed the new memory chip, on the off chance that my older RAM had somehow gotten fried. No dice—when I took the RAM out, however, the iBook worked fine. Huh.

Fast forward to the next morning, when I was at the Apple Store just a few blocks from the Macworld offices in San Francisco. The dude at the Genius Bar wouldn’t touch my third-party RAM with a 512-foot pole. He popped in some test Apple RAM, and the laptop worked. So I could either suck it up and buy some Apple RAM or suffer with only 256 MB. I bought the 512MB chip.

After relaying this story to some of my colleagues, with all of us scratching our head at this problem, I finally sat down with my handy screwdriver and opened up my iBook, with five different RAM chips at the ready. I took three chips, two made by Kingston, one by Micron, my second Best Buy chip, and the new Apple Memory Module.

The Apple Memory Module gave me three beeps the first time. Then I rebooted, and couldn’t get the laptop to boot. The Micron and Kingston chips gave me no problems. Then I put the Apple chip back in, and the iBook worked, but then later froze. The Kingston 512 chip seems to be the most reliable right now, but I have another appointment at the Genius Bar shortly.

Apparently not all RAM is created equal, and I want to know why. My own RAM woes aside, I’d like to know what distinguishes one RAM manufacturer from another—and find out if Apple’s standards are really that much stricter.

Wish me luck.

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