Apple (Informally) Acknowledges RAM Problem With Firmware Update [Updated]

by , 10:40 AM EST, March 28th, 2001

Apple probably had good intentions. Prior to delivering Mac OS X 10.0 to the (early adopter) masses on Saturday, a new firmware update was made available some time Friday. It had the promise of better performance with Mac OS X, so many decided to apply the update before their new OS arrived. Potentially a big mistake, as highlighted in a recent article.

Since the affected systems in The Mac Observer Labs were a Power Mac G4 and a PowerBook G3 (FireWire), we decided to visit these discussion areas at Apple. Along with complaints from users, starting that fateful Friday night, we eventually saw some responses from Apple, which indicate that they are aware of the issues.

Here are some important quotes from the Apple discussion areas (look for the cool Apple icon/logo next to official responses):

PowerBook Forum

"We are continuing to investigate reports that some third-party memory modules are not recognized following the 4.1.7 and 4.1.8 firmware updates."
(Gayle, posted Tuesday 3/27)

You can also view the discussion thread.

Power Mac Forum

"We are continuing to investigate reports that some third-party memory modules are not recognized following the 4.1.7 and 4.1.8 firmware updates.

As part of this investigation, it will be very helpful if we can obtain some information from affected systems. Specifically we need:

  • Apple System Profiler reports for affected computers.

  • Specific information about the third-party RAM -Vendor(s) -Identifying numbers on memory (usually on a small label)

  • List any things you have attempted in order to resolve this

  • Did you get the "Firmware update was successful message"?

    Please post this information to the Public folder of an iTools iDisk along with the URL or account name (this is your email address).

    If you are not comfortable posting your address publicly, please let us know that. "
    (Todd, posted Tuesday 3/27)

  • You can also view the discussion thread.

    Regarding actual RAM, we did some research regarding one of our affected PowerBook (FireWire) machines, as well. There are two chips in there: a 256MB stick from Memory To Go in the bottom slot, and a 128MB stick from Ramjet in the top slot. The 256 MB stick was fine, the 128 MB unit was not. We spoke with the folks at Ramjet at length, and they indicated that our chip was one of only FOUR that they had experienced that had problems with the update. All of their RAM in-house tested properly, but 3 other customers also had these issues. Of the four of us who called, all four have been shipped replacement RAM that has been tested for compliance. Ramjet checked lot numbers, chip-manufacture dates, and the like from all 4 of the bad chips, and nothing matches up. Their speculation (and they can't test it yet because they haven't received any of the "bad" chips back) is that each of these four chips has failed in some way (power spike, mis-handling by user, etc.) and that the new Firmware update is less tolerant of these problems. We should know more in a few days as this "bad" RAM gets back to the manufacturers and they can test it for certain.

    We'll keep you posted.

    The Mac Observer Spin:

    This one caught Apple by surprise. Since we are sure many Apple employees were up into the wee hours before the release, perhaps we can't really expect them to have all their resources available to deal with a last-minute firmware update. To their credit, these problems were acknowledged starting Monday and Tuesday, which shows that Apple IS listening.

    Note, though, that we have NO official word from Apple on this. There are some that speculate (or guarantee, depending on how you classify rumors!) that Apple is definitely working on an update, and some that speculate that they are going to hold their ground. The fact that Apple has acknowledged this as a problem is good, but we don't yet know what will come of that, if anything. Apple has a way of keeping their trap shut until they have a statement to make.

    There is one thing that everyone seems to agree upon right now, though, and that is that these Firmware updates are less tolerant of problematic RAM. When and where those problems happened (and exactly what they are) are not known right now, but all the reports we have indicate that the affected RAM is bad in some way or another. So while Apple might do something to tweak the Firmware to ignore these problems, the general consensus is that it's a problem with the RAM, not the Firmware update.

    We'll post more as information comes in. There is a discussion thread on our Ask Dave forums where people are posting more information and feedback.