In the early eighties, 64kbit DRAM chips replaced 16kbit ones by being cheaper per bit. Around 1987, 256kbit replaced 64kbit in turn, so computers like the Commodore 64 started using two of them for 64Kbyte.

But this process did not quite continue, according to the answer to What sort of RAM chips did the Commodore 64 use in 1994?

It seems 256k chips remained in use as late as the mid-nineties. I'm curious whether that was because 1Mbit chips did not drop so quickly in price, because no one had the resources or inclination to change designs to use them, or for some other reason.

So just what were the relative costs of 256 vs 1Mbit chips by the mid-nineties?

  • 1
    Obviously, C64 could only use a single 16bit data 64k words 1Mbit chip, otherwise there would be still 2 DRAM chips. While cost per bit was becoming cheaper, still C64 would underuse 1Mbit chip by a half, thus probably not gaining anything.
    – lvd
    Jan 28, 2020 at 15:04
  • 1
    SIMMs with eight 256Kx1 DRAMs were considered sufficiently obsolete by 1993 that a computer store in Madison, WI was giving them away for free as key rings. I don't know that 64Kx4 DRAMs wouldn't still have had value for applications requiring only 64KB of total storage (since such a task would take two 64Kx4 chips, two 256Kx4 chips, or two 1024x4 chips; using bigger DRAMs wouldn't help), but for applications needing 256KB, two 256Kx4 chips would likely have been cheaper than eight 256Kx1 chips.
    – supercat
    Jan 31, 2020 at 1:02
  • 1
    One part of the equation is also if the wholesaler could supply the amount of chips needed.I think it was in the early 90s a large factory burnt down, and suddenly there were a big shortage of certain memory chips.
    – UncleBod
    Jan 31, 2020 at 7:05
  • I remember the big chip shortage in the 90s - some thieves broke into our site, opened up all the PCs on the ground floor and just stole the memory chips. The memory chips were replaced and alarms were put in the ground floor. A few months later, they used a ladder to get up to the first floor and stole the chips from the upstairs machines!
    – cup
    Feb 1, 2020 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


I found this interesting resource that appears to list the introductory pricing when devices appeared. Some items are listed as DRAM (I suspect that this is all forms of RAM).

This is not a complete answer but it is way too big for a comment.

One thing to keep in mind (particularly with semiconductors at the time as consumer electronics was becoming popular) is that the price falls over time as more are produced and processes upgraded, so even though the introductory pricing of 256Kbit (32 KB) is shown as $15,000.00 per MB, that would slowly (perhaps not so slowly) drop over time until end of life (when the price rises dramatically).

Note that the price above is for a device introduced in 1978; a 256kbit part that was then introduced in 1979 (4 months later) was priced at introduction at $10,528.00 per MB, a reduction of about 30% in just a few months.

Given that, I would expect the pricing of 256K parts to continue to drop (and in line with newer parts) until the manufacturers simply were not selling enough to make them economically viable.

That would take us to the time when older processors were dropping out of fashion and newer processors needed significantly more memory and even then (perhaps more so then) PCB space is at a premium so if you could save space (fewer parts, smaller PCB) it might make sense to pay a little more for one IC rather than 2.

The older processors (certainly the perennially mentioned 6502 / 65C02) were still in production until at least the mid 90s and would therefore have supported a supply chain producing 256kbit parts as early prices for the denser parts was still more expensive on a per bit basis.

I don't have any data for 1Mbit parts, but the 2Mbit (256KB) from 1982 (made by California Micro Devices) was initially priced at $1,980.00 per MB and as previously mentioned, I would expect that the cost per bit over the life cycle would continue to drop in line with the newer parts.

By the mid 1990s, the pricing for new parts was at £32.00 per MB and I would expect mature parts to be somewhere around that and perhaps up to twice that for the older (256kbit) parts of perhaps $64.00 per MB as the prices would have been rising over the past few years.

So the continuance of the 256kbit parts until the mid 90s is really not surprising and I would expect pricing to start increasing for the lower density parts around the early 90s (fewer produced, freeing up fab space for newer parts as demand for those increased while the demand for the lower density parts decreased).

Manufacturers used a number of tricks to keep (or push) the prices down; one such was done with the 6116 SRAM. If a bit (or more) in one logical half of the device was faulty, it was sold as a 6108A or a 6108B (depending on which half was good). This was possible as they were both in a 24 pin package and the only difference was the implementation of A10 (for the 6116).

In at least one console (Atari IIRC) there was a jumper next to each device that would select either the upper half of the part or the lower half (by setting A10 for the device either high or low - the position was irrelevant for a 6108).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .