When Apple released its flagship Mac Pro redesign late last year, professionals rushed to place their orders. With a sleek new design, powerful components, and updated software, the new Mac Pro promises to significantly improve power user and professional workflows. But if there’s one area where the Mac Pro could use an upgrade, it’s RAM.
The 2013 Mac Pro’s small chassis limits the user to only four RAM slots, supporting an official maximum of 64GB of memory (several manufacturers have recently announced 32GB DIMMs, enabling up to 128GB of RAM, although we have yet to test this configuration). This limit is a step down from the previous Mac Pro design, which supported eight RAM slots, for up to 128GB at current memory densities. This means that many purchasers of the new Mac Pro will want to maximize the available slots and upgrade their system’s memory from the 12 or 16GB capacities found on the Mac Pro’s standard configurations.
Since the 2013 Mac Pro’s launch, several companies have announced third party RAM upgrades and we decided to put two of the best-known brands to the test. Today, we’ll be looking at 64GB Mac Pro RAM upgrades from Other World Computing (OWC) and Crucial to find out what advantages they have over the stock Apple RAM (and each other) in terms of performance and value.
Testing Hardware & Methodology
The 2013 Mac Pro RAM tests were performed on the 3.5 GHz 6-core model, with two D500 GPUs, the standard 256GB SSD, and stock 16GB of RAM. For the tests, we performed a clean install of OS X 10.9.2 and disabled any unnecessary apps and services.
Our testing software is Primate Labs’ Geekbench, version 3.1.3. For each RAM configuration, the tests were run three times and the results were averaged to provide the data in the charts below.
RAM Specifications & Installation
The stock Apple RAM arrives as four 4GB DIMMs, rated at PC3–14900 (1866 MHz). The memory is sourced from SK Hynix, a longtime Apple supplier.
At the 64GB capacity, both the Crucial and OWC RAM upgrades maintain the same PC3–14900 rating, and both sets are configured as four 16GB DIMMs. OWC’s memory is also sourced from SK Hynix, while Crucial relies on parent company Micron.
The Crucial memory arrives alone, but OWC throws in a nice extra in the form of a tool that helps release the Mac Pro’s RAM slots. As described by Apple Support Document HT6054, the user must press a RAM bay release lever to enable the slots to swing outward for access. But as noted by OWC, and verified by our own experimentation, this release lever is alarmingly easy to bend while applying force.
To solve this, OWC includes a “spudger” with which the user can easily lift up the RAM bay lever to release it. This method is easier, safer, and a great example of the way that OWC goes out of its way to make sure customers have the resources they need for hardware upgrades.
Referencing the above-mentioned Apple Support Document, 2013 Mac Pro RAM upgrades are fairly simple. Just note that with the Mac Pro’s cover removed, capacitors and other sensitive components are exposed on the cylindrical chassis. Make sure that when you are installing or removing DIMMs that your opposite hand is positioned safely for leverage, so that you don’t accidentally damage any components.
The value of more RAM is obvious, so both the OWC and Crucial kits are important upgrades for power users. But we’re also interested to see if there’s any performance benefit to having more RAM and, as you’ll see below, the answer in this case is ‘yes.’
The Geekbench memory test performs a number of benchmarks on RAM bandwidth, and measures results in both single- and multi-core configurations.
Looking first at single-core results, we see that both the Crucial and OWC RAM kits provide a slight bump in performance over the stock Apple RAM of between 3 and 5 percent, with Crucial slightly ahead of OWC.
Moving to multi-core results, the improvement in memory bandwidth is more noticeable, with an advantage of between 9 and 16 percent, depending on the test. Here, the roles reverse from the single-core tests, and the OWC RAM enjoys a slight lead over Crucial.
The memory bandwidth improvement in multi-core scenarios is clear, although most workflows would be hard-pressed to realize the smaller difference revealed by the single-core tests. Still, considering that the 64GB RAM upgrade provides a huge benefit just in terms of capacity, any improvement in bandwidth is a nice bonus.
If you need the power of the 2013 Mac Pro, you’ll also likely need more RAM than Apple provides in its standard configurations. But what’s the best way to acquire that additional RAM? We’ll attempt to address the value proposition in the following table. Note that Apple charges different amounts to upgrade to 64GB of RAM depending on the base configuration of 12 or 16GB. Therefore, both are included. Also note that Crucial does not currently sell a single 64GB kit for the Mac Pro, but instead a 32GB (16GBx2) kit. As a result, Crucial’s entry in the table represents two 32GB kits.
|RAM Option||Price||Cost Per GB|
|Apple 64GB (12GB Upgrade)||$1,300||$20.31|
|Apple 64GB (16GB Upgrade)||$1,200||$18.75|
|Other World Computing 64GB*||$829||$12.95|
*Update: when we first published this article, OWC’s kit was priced at $849. Today, the company lowered the price to $829, and the chart above has been updated accordingly.
As you can see, there is a clear cost advantage to third party RAM, with a maximum potential savings of about $460 over the stock Apple upgrade. Further, users purchasing third party memory get to keep the existing 12 or 16GB kit that shipped with the Mac Pro. While the market for reselling this memory may currently be small, an extra set of DIMMs could still come in handy for troubleshooting or future upgrades.
There are certainly several uses for the 2013 Mac Pro which can take advantage of the system’s CPU and GPUs without heavily taxing the RAM. But, as mentioned above, most consumers who purchase a Mac Pro will need to upgrade their RAM. With a simple installation process and huge cost savings, going with a reliable third party is a no-brainer.
Both Crucial and OWC are excellent companies with a strong history of quality and reliability. With similar prices and performance, those looking for a 2013 Mac Pro RAM upgrade can’t go wrong with either, and we recommend that you go for whichever kit you can find cheapest. Assuming that prices remain tight, however, we’d have to tip the scales in favor of OWC. The company’s thoughtful inclusion of the spudger for the RAM release lever, and its outstanding customer service, make the $9 premium over Crucial almost meaningless (see the update above about the recent price drop on the OWC Memory). Either way, though, your Mac Pro will thank you for the extra memory, and some workflows will enjoy a nice performance boost.
The OWC (
$849 $829) and Crucial memory kits are both available now (remember that you’ll need to buy two 32GB Crucial kits at $420 each). As we mentioned at the start of this article, several companies have introduced 32GB DIMMs, allowing RAM configurations of 96 and 128GB. The downside, however, is that these denser modules are only rated for PC3–10600 (1333 MHz). This should translate to lower memory bandwidth but we’re still waiting to test this configuration here at TekRevue. We’ll update this article once we know more.