SSD Performance

Last year's MacBook Air was the first Mac to ship without a mechanical hard drive or an option to install one. Using a custom form factor, Apple partnered with Toshiba (and later Samsung) to build value SSDs for the MacBook Air line.

Although Apple has tested solutions from Intel, Marvell and SandForce, to date it hasn't opted to ship any of them to market. Toshiba and Samsung offer much better pricing and don't mind being silent members of the supply chain. There are also reliability benefits. While Toshiba and Samsung may not perform as well as the aforementioned controller makers, they've definitely had fewer issues.

My 13 had a Toshiba based drive while my 11 had a Samsung drive. You can tell what controller you have by looking at the model string in a System Report from your machine. The SM prefix indicates a Samsung drive while the TS indicates Toshiba:

Both controllers are limited to 3Gbps operation (neither company has released a 6Gbps controller) but performance does vary pretty significantly between the two:

2011 MacBook Air SSD Performance Comparison
  4KB Random Read (QD3) 4KB Write Read (8GB LBA Space QD3)  128KB Sequential Write 128KB Sequential Read
13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2011) - Toshiba SSD 18 MB/s 1.65 MB/s 204.2 MB/s 189.5 MB/s
11-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2011) - Samsung SSD 44.6 MB/s 27.2 MB/s 258.0 MB/s 234.4 MB/s
11-inch MacBook Air (Late 2010) - Toshiba SSD 31.1 MB/s 2.49 MB/s 147.0 MB/s 113.0 MB/s

The Samsung drive has much better random and sequential performance, maxing out the 3Gbps interface when it comes to sequential reads.

In regular use I doubt you'd notice a huge performance difference between the two, but if you want the fastest drive you want the Samsung. Compared to last year's MacBook Air (Toshiba) you get a huge boost in sequential read/write performance.

Both drives support TRIM under OS X.

WiFi

Unlike other members of the 2011 Mac family, the MacBook Air retains a WLAN stack with 2 receive and 2 transmit antennas via the Broadcom BCM4322. The WLAN solution in the Air is capable of up to two simultaneous spatial streams, topping out at 270Mbps.

In practice this results in peak performance over 802.11n at around 128.8Mbps. Testing at the same distance I tested the MacBook Pro and iMac at, the results drop to 116.8Mbps.

802.11n Network Performance Comparison
  27-inch iMac (Mid 2011) 15-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2011) 13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2011) 11-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2011)
Peak Network Transfer Speed 150Mbps 133Mbps 116.8Mbps 116.8Mbps

The new Air also supports Bluetooth Low Energy, although without any Bluetooth LE devices on hand I was unable to test the feature.

The Display: Better than Most, Not as Good as the Pro CPU Performance: A Huge Upgrade
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  • draoug - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks a lot for this great review. I'm very interested about the new 13' MacBook Air (i5 version) but I have also seen the 13' MacBook Pro (i5 too). In the comparisons, we see that the 13' MBP with the i7 is much more efficient than the MBA, but what about the 13' MBP with the i5 processor ?

    I think there isn't a big difference so I'm more on the MBA.

    What do you think ?

    Again, thanks for this review :)
    Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Whatever happened to your review of intels 23.97hz fixed driver? Reply
  • ghigh - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought a 13"/1.8/256gb last week at an Apple retail store. I unfortunately got the slower Toshiba drive. I can confirm the benchmark numbers of 160mb/s write and 205mb/s read.

    I exchanged the unit but got another Toshiba. :( Store won't allow any more exchanges. Called AppleCare and was unable to get any kind of resolution. I even got a call from Apple Corporate. At this point Apple is saying it is not an issue since these are just OEM parts and no performance numbers are stated.

    So buyer beware--if you are set on getting the Samsung be willing to do a bunch of returns/exchanges and multiple stores until you get what you want.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Most sites are agreeing that the 13's are getting the slower drives, the 11's the faster. Reply
  • h00ligan76 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought the 1.8/256 13" and have the samsung display and drive. The rub is, I am not sure this is the right machine for me. So expensive to perform at last year's level. OTOH, the 15"s get way too hot for my taste, and obviously are heavier. I guess I shouldn't complain and I should get on with enjoying it. :) I don't however see the need to keep an iPad with a laptop this light, though whatever bug is causing the long wake from sleep is sure annoying. Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Good to know they do actually come in the 13", maybe they are only in the upgraded 13"? I would hate to spend top dollar for this and get the slower drive. Reply
  • versesuvius - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I've never had an Apple product, and I don't think I ever will, but I have always thought of Apple as a software company, maybe as a result of its rivalry with Microsoft operating systems. It is always like, Windows is like that, but Apple: Never. Now I see that it is really a hardware company, or rather a company that makes a couple of gadgets that look very nice and are built with quality in mind and are priced accordingly and then some. A hardware company with only three gadgets at a time does not have a strong future, but Apple has always come through. Very good.

    I have one question. Can you install Windows on this?
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Yes, and the article even benchmarks Windows 7 on the Macbook Air. You need to read the article before responding. Reply
  • versesuvius - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Thank you bji. The boot camp!

    Actually I was under the impression that boot camp runs Windows inside a virtual machine. Looks like it is not, but it has to have the Apple OS installed before one can install Windows so that it can emulate the BIOS. And you cannot install the Windows XP x64 on an Apple, but you can 7 and Vista. And since I am using Windows XP x64, the answer turns out to be "no". I should have been more clear in my question.

    It would be a nice touch if Apple included dual Bios for its gadgets, so that people could install Windows on its raw hardware without the need for BIOS emulation.
    Reply
  • Jamesbsc - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    This website makes the reviews by engadget and Cnet look like kindergarten stuff. These are some brilliant people behind this website and brilliant reviews Reply

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