For many tech savvy people, it may seem like a somewhat obvious statement that buying your own RAM and installing it into your desktop or laptop, DIY-style, is a cheaper option than configuring a new Built-To-Order (BTO) system with the upgraded RAM option. But is it always? To be sure, dealnews did a bit of investigating to see if this hypothesis was correct — and if so, just how much better it might be.
Before we share the results, we should explain our methodology for obtaining the data. Dell and HP don't have flat pricing for RAM upgrades on all of their systems. What we mean is, even though these manufacturers are replacing the base DIMM with the same upgraded DIMM during one of the scenarios below, the price to do so often wasn't consistent across different systems. Therefore, some BTO RAM prices are reported as ranges which cover the lowest and highest prices we saw those companies charge to get to that given amount of RAM.
We then compared those prices to what it would cost for a comparable RAM kit, which we found via the dealnews archives. We chose the cheapest that we listed in the past month, which means these figures are price lows, not averages. And now, the results!
DIY Wins Across the Board for Desktops
When comparing the DIY cost verses BTO for desktops, it was pretty straightforward: DIY always wins.
In the 4GB category, Dell offers prices in the $30 to $120 range, putting them at a tie with HP (which upgrades to 4GB for $30 to $60) for "best of the BTO." Lenovo's price was a solid $80 for this amount. For comparison, we saw 4GB of desktop RAM for $7 this month. (Not only was that the price low for the month, but also an all-time low.) So, to bring a desktop to 4GB, you'll save at least 77% by doing it yourself.
And what about larger upgrades? The trend continues. Our September price low for 6GB of desktop RAM was $35. That under-cuts HP, which offered a range from $60 to $90, and Lenovo, which priced their 6GB upgrade at $160, for a potential savings of as much as $125. As for 8GB RAM kits, the best we've seen this month rang in at $30, which is half of what Dell and HP charge for such an upgrade, at the low-end.
As the RAM goes up, so too does your potential to save — usually. Our best price on a 12GB RAM kit this month was $57, and it's surprising to see HP offer an upgrade to this much memory for as low as $60 (although on select systems it costs as much as $180). Otherwise, you can upgrade to this amount at Dell for $160 to $220, and Lenovo charges a whopping $400 for select systems.
Lastly, a meaty upgrade to 16GB of RAM in select HP desktops will cost anywhere from $180 to $300, while Dell charges $350 to $410 and Lenovo (once again) tops them all by charging $560. All the while, we saw a comparable RAM kit this month for a mere $80 — which would save you at least 50%.
Laptops Paint a More Nuanced Picture
As far as laptops go, upgrading the RAM yourself will usually be more cost-effective — but it may be worth investigating before you default to DIY.
Our September price low for a 4GB laptop memory kit was $20, which was beaten by HP on select systems that offered the upgrade for just $10. That wasn't across the board, however, and other configurations ran as high as $70. In this category, Dell has a good showing with several systems offering the upgrade for $20, which ties our price low on a 4GB kit. Several Dell systems charged as much as $85, and Lenovo systems offered the upgrade for $80.
With 8GB of laptop RAM, the margins start to widen. The lowest we found this month for such a DIY RAM kit was $27, which was also the lowest price we've ever seen for this amount of memory. HP was the closest with an additional fee of $60 when configuring a system, Lenovo had the upgrade for $160, and Dell charged from $175 to $260.
DIY Memory Upgrades Are Cheaper Now Than They Were 6 Months Ago
As you can see, DIY RAM upgrades will save you money over ordering bigger DIMMs during your build in all but a few rare instances. And in fact, after perusing our database for RAM deals and prices, we've also discovered that now in particular is a very good time to upgrade your memory yourself.
You might have noticed in our data that several of the kits mentioned were the lowest we'd ever seen. That's because, over the last six months, RAM kit prices have been plummeting. As far as desktop RAM goes, 4GB kits have dropped by 73%, while 8GB, 12GB, and 16GB kits have dropped an average of 46%. On the laptop side of things, over the last six months, 4GB kits have dropped 37% and 8GB kits have fallen 58%.
It's important to keep this in mind, as often times the DIY upgrades are so cost effective because you've carefully chosen a good RAM deal. Our data above is based on lows, not average prices for the respective kits. So if a DIY upgrade is on your docket, be sure to check our RAM deals or set up an email alert for a specific type of kit, so you know you're buying one of the lowest prices we've seen.