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The box says I can add up to 3 GB (for a total of 4GB), but is this restriction hardware based, or because of the operating system?

If I upgrade to OS X 10.6 or higher, can I increase the RAM to 8 GB like the newer models?

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Apple's take on the matter: Maximum installable RAM is outside of software. The amount only takes into consideration hardware configurations. – user10355 Oct 1 '11 at 6:21

According to MacTracker, it looks like Apple officially supports a 4GB configuration, but it can hold up to 6GB. (This is for model "iMac8,1").

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