Why is RAM exponentially expensive, when NetNewsWire is so hungry for it?

So I think that I need some more RAM, because the 1GB presently sitting in my Powerbook is in effect only 512MB, because NetNewsWire eats up half of it usually while just sitting there doing nothing.

I’m seriously thinking that I have to reduce the number of articles I keep in NNW – presently 307,823 articles in 527 subscriptions, excluding smart lists, which are distillations of headlines from those subscriptions – because it’s whacking the machine. If I quit NNW, I get my machine back. But then I can’t do the things I want to do with it, like searches over the past months or years. (Then again, are those searches useful? If you can’t carry them out, perhaps not.)

Anyway, I thought that one solution might be to buy some more RAM. Here’s the page at Crucial where you can pick RAM for Powerbooks like mine.

But just look at the prices. The red line is how you’d expect it to go; the blue line, what it does. Want a 256MB strip? (Naah.) That’s just £18.79 (inc VAT).

How about 512MB (which I already have)? £36.41, or 93% more expensive than the 256MB strip. The more you buy, the cheaper it gets!

OK, then, a 1GB strip (which would take me up to 1.5GB)? Ah, £129.24. What?? That’s 3.5x more expensive than the 512MB strip for twice the RAM! Or 6.8x the price of the 256MB strip for 4x the memory.

If this were following the trend of the first two items then the 1GB strip would cost about £70. But as you can see, it doesn’t. Something exponential happens to the price. But why? This isn’t cutting-edge RAM any more (is it? DDR PC2700? I thought that was getting on to being ancient and commoditised). Please, someone explain it to me.

Of course, if you could tell me how to get back all the utility of my machine without buying more memory and without dumping NetNewsWire, I’d be glad of that too. Especially if it costs less than £129.24 + p&p.


  1. You could try deal-ram.com After weeks of trying to figure out what was causing random shutdowns on my computer, it turned out to be the ram. The new MacBook Pro’s are a bit picky when it comes to ram. Currently ram costs less than 70 pounds for a gig in the states, so it might be cheaper to buy it here anyway and pay customs some money to get it.

  2. I don’t know if there are physical reasons why RAM gets more expensive, but think about it this way: you’re not just paying for twice the RAM, you’re paying for half the size.

    Manufacturers know that buying 1GB is not the same as buying 2x512MB, and they price accordingly.

  3. The problem you have is that the devices used in the 1GB and the 512MB are different. A SO-DIMM can only hold eight packaged devices. That’s dandy for the 512MB (and the 256MB module) as they can take eight 512Mbit chips, which are pretty mainstream right now and getting cheaper by the day. Most of the DRAM makers are moving from a 110nm process to a 90nm process, which lops about 20 sq mm off the die size. Samsung was in the lead last year with a 71 sq mm chip and Micron, which both owns and supplies Crucial, should not be far off that figure by now as the company has launched 90nm parts.

    The bad news is that 1GB chips are still in the 140 to 180 sq mm range. This is a bad place to be cost-wise. The cost is controlled by two factors. One is test time, which scales with density. The other is yield, which falls roughly with the square of area – it’s one of the factors that controls Moore’s Law. Below an area of 100 sq mm, the curve looks more like a straight line, which is not too bad. But anything you can get below 100 sq mm is extra profit down to below 50 sq mm where the package costs start to dominate. Above 100 sq mm, yield falls off much more quickly. That’s why supersized chips like the Itanium2/3 are so expensive – Intel far fewer off a wafer than a desktop P4. In a margin-conscious business like DRAM, being bigger than 100 sq mm is not where you want to be for volume product. So, the spot market products are pretty much all aimed at servers. Laptop memories are barely trickling down right now: leading to the price inflation you’ve picked up on. However, compared with the situation two years ago, those prices are better and the prices quoted by Crucial are not far from what the spot market is quoting for server memories. Two years ago, Crucial had to use devices that stacked two 512MB memories together and that is really expensive to do.

    In short, the spot-market prices are showing that Crucial is not that far from everybody else on pricing trends – although as a brand-name supplier, the company takes a larger margin than others.

    I haven’t followed up memory trends in detail recently, but I’d take a stab at 2007 (probably late in the year) being the time when the whole market shifts to 1GBbit DRAM chips as standard – once the memory makers shift to 70nm/65nm processes. And the graph for this lot will look more Series 2.

    However, it might not all be good news – the DRAM makers will be shooting for DDR2 at minimum and might not support older buses like DDR333 (PC2700) at all. Take a look at the price for PC133 SDRAM for the Powerbook from two generations back: £80 inc VAT for 512MB. Different chips again, from an older process.

    DRAM’s almost a commodity. But it’s complications like this that put paid to the creation of a futures and options market in DRAM about ten years back.

  4. Sorry that should be 1Gbit chips in the first line of the second para. D’oh. Gonna have to wait a while for 1GB (8Gbit) chips.

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