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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  • dertechie - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Actually, I can see a $500 19x12 14" Thunderbolt Panel doing pretty well for them. It certainly won't move numbers but it is a more practically priced Thunderbolt display. I'd buy one, but admittedly I already want a 24" IPS panel with DisplayPort for an Eyefinity setup, using it as a docking station for my laptop is gravy.

    To be bluntly honest, if Intel wants to see Thunderbolt take off, the Thunderbolt-fed multipurpose displays are where it will happen, and it needs to encourage that. Storage won't sell it outside the Mac niche, USB3's backwards compatibility with * will destroy it there. But a display with the connectivity that desktops take for granted is an easier sell (and likely easier to tunnel that it would be over USB3). I can see other OEMs selling 22" 1080p ones with good connectivity at ~$250-300 (the TB chip itself is something like $40)

    I think given a few years we'll have seen manufacturers test out displays and docking stations with everything from backup HDDs (complements an SSD laptop well) to external GPUs integrated into them. With a low enough latency connection, you can do all sorts of cool things.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    You could show them a TN panel next to an IPS display. The differences are obvious. Reply
  • Wally Simmonds - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    If I were looking at buying a netbook today, I'd probably go out right now and grab this, however I already have a HP DM1Z. Okay, CPU performance isn't nearly as good, its body isn't as good looking or solid, and doesn't have a SSD, but looking at the battery life and graphics performance the E-350 based netbooks seem to fare better.

    It'd be nice to see some other pc manufacturers do something similar in looks/specs to the air but get some halfway decent graphics performance in there - Llano anyone?

    Might see some price drops on the Samsung Series 9 too, here in NZ they're selling for *more* than the new MBA's....
    Reply
  • quiksilvr - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Just get an SSD for your DM1Z now and save the money wasted- er I mean spent on this.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    There really is no real need for crazy pixel pushing CPU performance in this day and age for an ultraportable since almost everything is hardware accelerated (GPU pushing). Having said that, the E-350 you have runs faster than the fastest DESKTOP Atom processor.

    Plus you can also upgrade to 8GB of RAM too for pretty cheap, giving your laptop a real great edge:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • Broheim - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    I'm curious, why would a CPU push pixels... seeing as that's the job of the (i)GPU. Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    If you read the review you would know this is not a Netbook.
    Netbooks are cheap miniature laptops with poor quality screens, slow, clunky, and poorly made.
    Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    DM1Z? lol you must be joking, you are comparing apples to xylophones. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    It's a shame that the Elitebook review didn't get this much attention and time spent on the review :(

    Either way I appreciate the information
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    P.s. How has the thermal paste been applied on these models as there have been reports stating that it's literally slapped all over the place which will lead to issues down the line Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Those '"reports" are BS and they were't about this model anyway. Reply

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