Apple's SSD Strategy

Despite the rumors, the 2011 MacBook Pro lineup does nothing to change the storage setup of the machine. All of the models have a single 2.5" 5400RPM hard drive and an integrated slot-load DVD drive.

I personally don't mind the lack of hard drive options. While 5400RPM is pretty slow, any additional money you spend on storage should go towards an SSD and not a faster mechanical drive. If you need the additional capacity there's always the optibay route, which replaces the optical drive with another 2.5" HDD bay. Other than installing Mac OS X, I pretty much never use the optical drive so the optibay approach in my opinion is a good combination of the performance of an SSD with the mass storage of a mechanical disk.

Apple offers an array of BTO (Build to Order) SSD options, however the drives are likely of average performance. Pricing actually isn't bad for the upgraded 13-inch and especially the upgraded 15-inch models. At $100 for a 128GB drive you really can't beat the upgrade price there. We're probably only one more generation away from seeing a standard SSD on some of these models.

Apple SSD Upgrade Pricing
128GB 256GB 512GB
13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $250 $650 $1250
13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro (high end) $200 $600 $1200
15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $200 $600 $1200
15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro (high end) $100 $500 $1100
17-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $100 $500 $1100

In the MacBook Air Apple standardized on a Toshiba controller, delivering performance nearly identical to Kingston's SSDNow V+100. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple used the same controller in the new MacBook Pros. The SSDs are still 3Gbps and will be a huge improvement over the standard hard drive, but just know that you aren't getting the best performance possible. In exchange for the price premium, what you do get is a drive that Apple will support completely (and also official TRIM support, no 3rd party drives have TRIM support under OS X). In the past Apple has had serious compatibility issues with 3rd party SSDs, so there is some merit to the BTO SSD option.

This isn't Mac specific advice, but if you've got a modern Mac notebook I'd highly recommend upgrading to an SSD before you even consider the new MacBook Pro. I've said this countless times in the past but an SSD is the single best upgrade you can do to your computer.

To be honest the new MacBook Pros feel slow to me right out of the box. The issue is that once you have a few applications installed and start multitasking with a notebook that only has a 5400RPM hard drive application response time stops being consistent.

It seems like the more you have installed, the greater the chances are of there being small file random reads/writes going on in the background while you're trying to do other things on your computer. These aren't huge IO operations, but since we're dealing with mechanical storage they significantly reduce the throughput of other IO requests. For example, opening an image in Photoshop will take longer if the sequential read operation is constantly interrupted by several other reads spread out over the platters. The same is true for launching an application. Application launch speed is one area where an SSD really shines. The process of launching an application involves a lot of sequential and seemingly random reads (they aren't totally random but they aren't totally sequential either). On a hard drive the seemingly random operations aren't fast to begin with, but interrupt them with any other IO requests that may be happening in the background (saving files, backing up a disk, launching another application, etc...) and the application you're trying to launch will take significantly longer. In my older SSD articles I called this the "fresh test". When you first get a new computer everything responds quickly and applications just fly open. After a few weeks/months/years the performance stops being so fresh and instead everything seems to take forever. The graph below is one I've used in the past, it simply shoes the performance benefit realized from switching to an SSD when trying to launch a few applications in parallel:

The improvement is staggering. Generally speaking application launch time isn't really impacted by which SSD you get. In my experience pretty much all of the current crop of SSDs on the market will launch single (or even multiple) applications in about the same time. What really separates one SSD from the next are three things:

1) Reliability
2) Performance in periods of unusually heavy IO activity
3) Performance over time

The first one is really difficult to quantify. Reliability is the one area where going with a larger manufacturer typically helps. Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, all of these controller makers sell in large quantities to OEM systems and have significant experience in testing and validation. Reliability is also an area where I would say the Apple SSDs are probably going to be a good bet. They may not be the fastest, but Apple has likely tested them and is comfortable that they will at least work problem-free for a while. Apple also apparently does some firmware tuning of its own to make its SSDs play a bit nicer with OS X.

The second vector of differentiation is worst case (or best case depending on how you look at it) performance under load. This isn't just launching a single application, or even loading multiple, but it's how the drive performs when you're doing a lot at once. Perhaps you're running a backup, installing an application, opening a document, loading a web page, downloading a movie, downloading emails and trying to open another application all at once. In these sorts of situations you will notice a difference between SSD performance.

Performance over time is another important factor to consider. Building a good SSD controller really boils down to knowing how to manage data written to the drive's NAND. To measure performance over time we're really looking at quantifying write amplification and measuring how effective TRIM is at restoring performance.

I try to tackle as much of these items in our SSD reviews as possible, and we're constantly evolving so expect to see even more depth here going forward.

6Gbps SATA 6Gbps Performance & SSD Recommendations
POST A COMMENT

197 Comments

View All Comments

  • robco - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I made the mistake of buying a 15" MBP eighteen months ago and am stuck with a machine that has mediocre graphics and overheats constantly. Don't buy the MBP if you actually use it on your lap. That being said, the only reason I bought it over the MacBook was the dedicated graphics. With the awful performance of the Intel integrated chip, I hope Apple releases a 15" MacBook with the option of dedicated graphics for consumers. I'm not shelling out $2199 just to get something with a decent video card. I wouldn't recommend the 13" at all, as there are several alternatives in the 13-14" range that offer dedicated cards.

    I fell victim to the hype and now I have a fairly recent machine that can barely handle SC2 and an iPhone that can't make phone calls. Don't make the same mistake. Most of the tasks you can do on a Mac you can do on a Windows PC. Unless you are actually a pro and need a pro-grade machine, don't waste your money. For those who can justify the expense, they are nice machines, but if you actually put them to work, be ready to set them on a cool surface or get a cooling pad. They run awfully hot.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    My MBP from last year plays SC2 perfectly, above 60fps most of the time which is great. Same with Source games. People on Youtube have already uploaded video playing the Crysis 2 demo on the new MBPs and it looks great.

    Your machine is almost two years old. Be logical when complaining about performance. Just because your machine is slow doesn't mean that the new ones aren't screaming fast: http://www.pcmag.com/image_popup/0,1740,iid=287468...

    The 13" MBP is also decent with the SB IGP. I've seen clips on YT of people playing games even on the slower Macbook Air and it looks good. IGPs have come a long way from where they were in 2009.
    Reply
  • robco - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I'm a little miffed that a machine that was so expensive has become outdated rather quickly. I paid a lot just to get dedicated graphics. I could have and should have paid less to get a Windows notebook. I won't make the same mistake again. If you're a consumer and don't need a pro-grade machine but still want good graphics, the MBP is a poor value.

    The MBA actually handles games better than the new 13" MBP because it still uses the C2D and the NV integrated chipset. Once it switches to Sandy Bridge, performance will drop as it has with the MBP. The only area the MBA is slower than the MBP is raw processing power, graphics and disk access are much faster.

    With Apple you can get a notebook that performs well, you just have to shell out $2199 to get it. I did that once, I won't do it again. it just isn't worth it unless you're a pro user who will recoup that cost in a short time. For consumers, it's a waste of money.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    If you only needed the graphics muscle, you should've gotten a Windows laptop.

    Macbooks are for more mobile-minded users. They are thin, strong and have excellent battery life.

    If you just need a solid mobile workstation that isn't going to be moved a lot, Windows laptops are a much better value.
    Reply
  • SimKill - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    ODM manufacturers like Clevo and Compal fit your bill perfectly. I got my system in 2009 August and even today I can play most of the games (ofcourse except godforsaken Crysis) at high settings at 1680x1050 (yep, 16:10) It cost me around $1400 but I'm very happy about it so far. Reply
  • SimKill - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Dam, they don't have an edit button. The hardware internals are pretty good with copper heatsinks and heatpipes and what not too... Reply
  • erple2 - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Hrm. Mac's are more of a semi-pro-grade machine. They still lack some of the important pro-grade features of an actual pro-grade machine. Like a Docking Station. Or a spill-resistant keyboard. Or a thumbprint reader. Or a smart card slot. Or a high-gamut monitor.

    While they are well constructed, they still don't have some of the critical features required for a good business laptop - they lack the all important OpenGL performance GPUs for wireframe models (among other things). See some of the high end Elitebooks or Thinkpads (which also cost a bit more than these MacBook Pros).
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Ah, I just had a dumb, nevermind me. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4205/the-macbook-pro...

    "This is a weird one, since the same GPU gave us significantly better performance in the SNB test system."

    Oh gee, I wonder why. The SNB test system used quad core and the Core i5 2410M is a dual core. Quad vs. Dual does have some impact.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    It does have some impact, but not in this case. The HD 3000 is actually GPU bound in those tests - not to mention that most games aren't quite so well threaded that 2 v 4 cores should matter.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now