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Mac owners protest memory-nixing upgrade

Apple's firmware update disables some third-party memory modules, and some Mac users are accusing the company of failing to provide warnings or solutions.

A number of Mac owners have accused Apple Computer of doing nothing while their computers suffer through a severe case of amnesia.

As previously reported, many Mac owners have found that a minor update provided by Apple has left their machines unable to recognize much of their system's memory. The problems began cropping up after Apple posted the firmware upgrade--a change to the part of a computer that stores various hardware settings--for many of its recent G4- and G3-based models.

Mac owners complain that nearly two weeks after Apple posted the new software, it still hasn't offered a way for downloaders to tell whether their memory will be recognized by the update, nor did the company warn owners that memory could be disabled by installing the update until only recently.

"I can't tell you how upset I am and how much time and money I've lost because of this oversight," longtime Macintosh owner Mark Lindsey said in a posting on Apple's support site. "This makes me feel somewhat embarrassed to be such a huge Mac fan."

Lindsey called on Apple to either offer a fix or provide affected Mac owners with free memory upgrades.

Mac user Scott Sauer said Apple had the right idea in tightening memory specifications, noting that many unexplained crashes are due to problems with memory. But he said Apple should have told customers in advance that the firmware update could render nonstandard memory unusable. "They should have been more up-front about it," he said.

Apple issued a brief statement this week reiterating that the memory check was a planned part of the firmware update, which the company says can "help alleviate random crashes and stability issues."

"The new memory test disables memory (modules) that are found to be out of specification and (those) that can not be determined to be compatible," Apple said in the statement. "As a result, some third-party memory that was recognized by previous versions of firmware may no longer be recognized after the updates."

Apple has also added that cautionary note to the site where the upgrade can be downloaded. What the computer maker has not said is whether it has any plans to create a patch that allows users to revert to the old firmware.

Apple's lack of specificity is leaving computer sellers and memory module makers to come up with their own plans. One reseller said he wants to make his customers happy but wants to know what Apple's plans are before going ahead and replacing the memory.

Other companies have said they would replace any memory that becomes unusable following a firmware upgrade.

Although Apple has not offered software to tell whether memory is compliant, a Mac enthusiast in New Zealand has. Glenn Anderson has posted to the Internet a free program that checks whether memory is likely to be recognized by the new firmware. The program is available for download on his site.

Another Mac site has posted a list of how various memory suppliers and computer resellers are handling the situation.

Don Mayer, president of Vermont-based Mac seller Small Dog Electronics, said he warned his customers of the problem in a newsletter. Still, Mayer said Small Dog will replace any memory that is not recognized by the upgrade.

"If the RAM disappears, we'll get it replaced for our customers," Mayer said. Mayer said that so far, only two of his customers have had the problem.

Not everyone takes issue with Apple's approach. PowerBook owner Brian Hendrickson said he was careful to buy memory for his laptop that met Apple's specifications and therefore had no problem with the upgrade.

"Substandard memory causes poor performance and instability in Apple systems, so I'm glad Apple provided a firmware solution to the problem," Hendrickson said in an e-mail interview.