Getting RAMMED

Why did the price of RAM just plummet?

Most RAM is bought and sold under contracts with the big OEMs.

Anything that’s left is sold on the open market to everybody else.

What’s important to understand here is that the OEMs always get their stuff first, at set prices which actually don’t vary that much.

So only about 20% of RAM is subject to true supply-and-demand pricing. If the big guys want more than expected, they get it, and the little guys have to pay a lot more to get what’s left.

If the big guys don’t want so much, the memory manufacturers have a lot of extra RAM which the little guys probably don’t want too much, either, so the price goes way down.

Last year, memory prices jumped up because of the Taiwan earthquake coming just around the Christmas buying season. The price for RAM in the spot market doubled, but the contract prices to the big OEM only went up around 10%.

Right now, there appears to be a glut of memory, which means the little guy gets his revenge (the big guys are still paying about the same).

I see one stick of RAM for one price; I see another stick that says the same thing for twice the price. Aren’t they the same thing?

On the low end, no. On the high end, maybe.

There are different grades of memory. There’s Grade A memory modules, and it goes down from there. The Grade A guys tend to say it; the folks selling lower grade stuff usually stay quiet about it. The Grade A stuff tends to test at a higher standard, which is nice if you plan to overclock it.

To get a better idea about this, take a look here, here, and here.

You can also have different quality PCB boards holding the memory modules. For instance, you’ll often see folks advertising “Micron RAM,” but it’s not entirely Micron RAM; it’s Micron RAM using a third-party PCB board.

Does that make a difference? Well, before I started buying my memory from Crucial, I bought one of those Micron with third-party PCBs for a friend’s system to save a few bucks, and a few months later, the computer started acting bizarre and finally not at all. After some time, I determined that the gold leaf on one of the contacts had rotten away completely. Unfortunately, so had the company that sold it to me.

Of course, using a third-party PCB doesn’t always mean inferiority. Corsair, for instance, often takes Micron modules and puts them in their own PCBs.

I like buying from Crucial because they tend to cost less than the other premium units, and seem to do just about as well in any overclocking tests. (Anandtech usually has a fairly current memory test comparison.)

I also know that I’m getting Micron memory put together by Micron, rather than somebody who may or may not do a good job. If I ever have a problem, I know where to go, and they won’t vanish. Of course, I’m a little
sensitive on the issue.:)

It’s also true that a few folks had an odd problem with Crucial memory running at exactly 133Mhz a while back. If any of you had those problems, please write me and tell me how that turned out. I know Micron was looking into that.

The problem with memory is that marginal memory doesn’t usually jump up and say “I suck!” Rather, you end up with more GPFs and BSODs here and there, and you never quite know why your machine seems to have more problems than the other guy’s.

It comes down to you get what you pay for, at least up to a certain point.

Email Ed

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