6Gbps Performance

I installed the Intel SSD 510 in a 15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro as well as a 15-inch 2010 MacBook Pro to put together a 3Gbps vs. 6Gbps performance comparison. I turned to Xbench for some quick and dirty performance data:

SATA Performance—XBench 1.3
Intel SSD 510 250GB 3Gbps (2010 15-inch MBP) 6Gbps (2011 15-inch MBP) 6Gbps Advantage
4KB Sequential Write 157.8 MB/s 192.2 MB/s +21.8%
256KB Sequential Write 182.0 MB/s 257.1 MB/s +41.3%
4KB Sequential Read 32.5 MB/s 32.7 MB/s 0.0%
256KB Sequential Read 197.3 MB/s 315.6 MB/s +60.0%
4KB Random Write 47.8 MB/s 49.0 MB/s +2.5%
256KB Random Write 186.4 MB/s 260.9 MB/s +40.0%
4KB Random Read 14.5 MB/s 13.4 MB/s -7.6%
256KB Random Read 149.7 MB/s 207.3 MB/s +38.5%

As you'd expect, there's no real benefit to the new 6Gbps interface for random operations (particularly at low queue depths). Sequential speeds are much improved however. Xbench shows up to a 60% increase in performance in sequential operations.

You'll note that the absolute numbers are pretty low to begin with. A 128KB sequential read of the Intel SSD 510 on our desktop Sandy Bridge SSD testbed pulls nearly 400MB/s. On the new MacBook Pro we can't get more than 320MB/s.

Our sequential Iometer tests are run at a queue depth of 1 so there's no advantage there. The only explanation I can come up with (assuming Xbench's test is accurate) is that Apple may be aggressively implementing SATA controller power management under OS X. Capping the link's performance or aggressively putting it to sleep could reduce performance at the benefit of increasing battery life.

The other thing I noticed was that performance on the 13-inch MBP using Xbench was a bit lower than the 15-inch MBP. Take a look at these numbers:

SATA Performance—XBench 1.3
Intel SSD 510 250GB 13-inch 2011 MBP 15-inch 2011 MBP
4KB Sequential Write 155.3 MB/s 192.2 MB/s
256KB Sequential Write 184.8 MB/s 257.1 MB/s
4KB Sequential Read 30.4 MB/s 32.7 MB/s
256KB Sequential Read 201.8 MB/s 315.6 MB/s
4KB Random Write 49.6 MB/s 49.0 MB/s
256KB Random Write 183.9 MB/s 260.9 MB/s
4KB Random Read 13.9 MB/s 13.4 MB/s
256KB Random Read 144.9 MB/s 207.3 MB/s

I only noticed this with the Intel SSD 510, the Crucial RealSSD C300 and Vertex 3 both performed identically between the 13 and 15-inch MBPs. I'm not sure what's going on here at all, although I suspect that it's somehow related to the issues users have been having with some of these drives (more on this below).

SSD Recommendations

Where does all of this discussion about SSDs leave us? Unfortunately recommending an SSD for the new MacBook Pro today is pretty difficult but I'll try my best.

If you're the conservative type and just wants something that for sure works with little to no concern about absolute performance, the Apple SSDs are probably the safest bet. You'll get a drive that's much faster than a hard drive, fully supported by Apple and with TRIM support. Yes, that's right, OS X finally has TRIM support but Apple only enables it on it's own branded SSDs. To Apple's credit, given the number of problems I've seen with SSDs over the past couple of years it makes sense to lock down and only support drives you've validated. On the flip side however, Apple should be validating and working with controller makers to ensure all drives work under OS X. Making as much money as Apple does, I don't buy the "we didn't have the time/resources" argument.

If you are going down the Apple SSD path, at least the 128GB drive isn't super ridiculously priced, although I'm less comfortable recommending the 256GB version unless you can get it at $500.

Now if you want to get a faster SSD or actually take advantage of the 6Gbps interface, things get more complicated. I've heard reports of users having issues with the Intel SSD 510 and Crucial RealSSD C300. I've tested both drives as well as the OCZ Vertex 3 in three different MacBook Pros, and in all cases the drives worked perfectly. They were all detected as 6Gbps drives and all performed well. I should note that while I couldn't get the Vertex 3 Pro to work in the 2010 MacBook Pro, the Vertex 3 worked just fine in the 2011 MacBook Pro.

SATA Performance—XBench 1.3
13-inch 2011 MBP Crucial C300 256GB Intel SSD 510 250GB OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
4KB Sequential Write 239.0 MB/s 155.3 MB/s 319.9 MB/s
256KB Sequential Write 217.2 MB/s 184.8 MB/s 257.8 MB/s
4KB Sequential Read 35.1 MB/s 30.4 MB/s 33.3 MB/s
256KB Sequential Read 248.3 MB/s 201.8 MB/s 311.8 MB/s
4KB Random Write 175.0 MB/s 49.6 MB/s 247.8 MB/s
256KB Random Write 226.6 MB/s 183.9 MB/s 290.0 MB/s
4KB Random Read 19.1 MB/s 13.9 MB/s 21.1 MB/s
256KB Random Read 239.0 MB/s 144.9 MB/s 304.0 MB/s

SATA Performance—XBench 1.3
15-inch 2011 MBP Crucial C300 256GB Intel SSD 510 250GB OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
4KB Sequential Write 239.3 MB/s 192.2 MB/s 316.5 MB/s
256KB Sequential Write 218.8 MB/s 257.1 MB/s 282.0 MB/s
4KB Sequential Read 34.8 MB/s 32.7 MB/s 34.2 MB/s
256KB Sequential Read 245.1 MB/s 315.6 MB/s 306.7 MB/s
4KB Random Write 160.5 MB/s 49.0 MB/s 240.5 MB/s
256KB Random Write 227.5 MB/s 260.9 MB/s 311.3 MB/s
4KB Random Read 18.7 MB/s 13.4 MB/s 20.9 MB/s
256KB Random Read 238.2 MB/s 207.3 MB/s 303 MB/s

The Vertex 3 is the fastest drive out of the aforementioned three, but its availability and firmware maturity are both unknowns at this point. If you have to buy today and are ok with the chance that the drive may not work (given other experiences online, although I haven't seen problems), Intel's SSD 510 is likely a good runner up (at least for the 15-inch, the C300 seems to perform better on the 13).

As far as the reports of incompatibilities with these drives are concerned, I'm not really sure what's going on. I've been hammering on all of the drives, putting the system to sleep/waking it up, and haven't encountered any failures or high latency IO operations (stuttering) yet. That's not to say that these problems won't appear over time (I'm currently doing long term testing to figure that out now), but just that I haven't seen them yet.

If you are having issues with the Intel SSD 510, Crucial RealSSD C300 or anything else please email me (link at the top of the page) the following information:

1) What are the full specs of your MBP? Any upgrades?

2) Tell me about your SSD. Is it new out of box? Have you done anything to the drive? What model, firmware revision, etc...

3) Describe the symptoms of the issue—beachballs, data corruption, etc...? What do you have to do create the issue?

4) Is the drive detected as a 6Gbps drive or a 3Gbps drive?

5) Take me through your drive installation procedure, did you just pop it in, partition and install OS X?

6) Any visible damage to the SATA flex cable when you installed the drive?

7) Have you tried exchanging the SSD or MBP? Any difference in behavior?

We haven't seen any issues on three different 2011 models that we've been testing here extensively with the Intel SSD 510, Crucial RealSSD C300, OCZ Vertex 3 and OCZ Vertex 2. I realize a number of you are having issues so the more details I can get the better.

Apple's SSD Strategy The GPU Comparison
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  • Brian Klug - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    So I roll with my optical drive replaced with a Vertex 2 SSD inside an OptiBay daily. It's an awesome combination if you can do it.

    One problem I noticed however is that Apple's EFI won't boot optical drives other than their own $79 external drive. That means if you want to use boot camp, you have to install Windows with the optical drive (internal SATA) connected, then do the swap to OptiBay SSD + HDD.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I'm just not that interested in this years lineup. The better CPU performance is nice but given how much more features Windows notebooks provide today, I feel I can rely on Windows notebooks as a desktop replacement much more than I can a Macbook Pro. I will still use my MBP 13 2010 for home use but for business, I rely on my Windows laptop. Reply
  • Braddik - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Amazing article! I love how thorough and detailed you are. Mad props! I work in a medium-large size organization and the Dell vs. Apple debate is hot right now. Our Mac user base is growing, but the majority of the organization is Dell. I would love an article that compares the performance/value/support of MacBook Pros vs. Dell Latitudes in the Enterprise environment. Which is better? Can/should organizations feasible make the move to a full Mac environment? I would love your input! Thanks! Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm not sure I can offer much advice in terms of how the MBPs fare in an enterprise environment. While I know of many corporations that now issue OS X systems as an option, those systems typically have some form of Windows on them (either via Boot Camp or as a VM).

    Perhaps someone else may be able to offer more input?

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Chloiber - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I still think it's too early to completely throw away desktops.
    With my T410, I also made the change to use it as my main "working" computer. At home, I can dock it and use my big, comfortable screen. It's very fast in "normal" usage like simple programming, texting, surfing, some "medium" load graphical stuff, some MATLAB etc. etc. - it's just perfect.

    But as soon as I want to do really heavy stuff like hours of video encoding, I still switch to my desktop with 4 or more cores and a fast dedicated GPU. It's just not the same and I really don't like to stress my laptop that much (allthough it is a Thinkpad). I don't know - I'm even less comfortable with a quad in my notebook. I don't know, but it's just not the same as a Desktop for really heavy stuff.

    I do like the new MacBooks - I don't like the resolution of the 13" model though...it's awful...
    Reply
  • Ushio01 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    While i expect a Mac Pro refresh late 2011 early 2012 I wonder if it could be the last. With the discontinuation of xserve and as this review demonstrates a mobile CPU matching less than year old server level parts in performance and thunderbolt allowing highspeed access to a NAS box I can see Apple discontinuing there last product targeting solely the professional market and truly becoming a CE company. Reply
  • rural_oregon - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Yes, I have to agree with you. With macs only 20% of Apple's total revenue, and the mac pro only perhaps 5% of the mac revenue, at some point soon it just won't be worth the effort. I think it's even possible that there may not even be a sandy bridge mac pro. Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    It certainly seems like a possibility. Apples focus really has shifted to mobile devices, and its Mac revenues are only about a fifth of what the company makes. I can't imagine the Pro is any substantial percentage of their revenue, 1-5% perhaps. Might not be worth the effort for them. On the other hand, it would irk mac developers and creative pro's. Reply
  • wast3gat3 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Just a short thanks for such an in-depth review.
    I have a mid-2010 15" MBP and am upgrading this week to the 2011 15" MBP as the performance gain is just too good to pass up. Interesting though that Apple locks the TRIM support in to their own SSD. I'm still going with the 7200rpm 500GB option and will move that disk to an opti-bay and the 3GB controller now knowing that they are using B3 stepping and fit a 6gb sata SSD. Hopefully LION will fix that TRIM support or some clever cookie works out how to enable it.
    Once again thanks!
    Reply
  • Kuril - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I always wait for AnandTech reviews because they are almost aways the most comprehensive. I love how the technology behind the reviewed product is summarized, and that there is some footwork to better describe the exact hardware being used (e.g., CPUs for MacBook Pros).

    Thanks for the informative reviews. No one comes close.
    Reply

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