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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  • name99 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    "
    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.
    "

    This is a horribly misleading way of stating the issue. It implies that Apple or the chipset or something are somehow defective, in only delivering 50% of the available performance.
    The ACTUAL problem is the 802.11 MAC & protocol, which wastes about 50% of the available bandwidth doing god knows what. The packets that go out, go out at of order 270Mbps, but 50% of the time packets are not going out.

    This would be a good topic for a future AnandTech article --- just what the hell is the 802.11 MAC doing that wastes so much airtime?
    A useful issue to discuss in the same article is the following:
    I read once that there was an advanced option in the 802.11n MAC that reduced this wasted time to only (hah!) about 25%, but I have never seen details on this (and I have looked). Is it real? If it is real, does anyone support it?
    Reply
  • ninjaquick - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    The relevance of SSDs is really only synthetics and low ram high cache situations. I do like seeing these get beat out squarely by an i3 in pretty much everything else in the win7 tests. Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    How do you draw that conclusion about SSDs? Reply
  • KPOM - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    They only get beaten out by the i3 in the 3D tests, which are driven by the GPU, so it's more fair to say that the HD 3000 gets beaten out by a discrete graphics adapter, which is no surprise. The Airs handily beat out the i3 in the CPU-intensive benchmarks.

    I've used an SSD since November 2008 and won't go back. I still need to use a HDD-equipped machine at the office, and I can't stand how long it takes to restart, shut down, or do anything disk intensive. The SSD made the Core 2 Duo-equipped MacBook Air tolerable in a world of i3s, i5s, and i7s. The Sandy Bridge-equipped MacBook Air with SSD makes it that much better.
    Reply
  • Baron_Fel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    When are you guys going to review the new Vaio Z? I want to know if that external GPU is worth anything. Reply
  • TwoStreetCats - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I'm a very happy owner of the 2010 11" version and have to say that the form factor was the primary draw for me as I travel quite a bit. It fits quite nicely in the hydration pocket of my backpack and I hardly know that I have it with me.

    The only thing that is occasionally frustrating is the vertical resolution as the article mentions.

    However, I use Mac Screen Rotate to rotate the screen and touchpad for portrait viewing when browsing or viewing pdf's and this problem is solved. If size and weight are serious factors for you, I highly recommend trying this out with the 11" before you decide that you need the 13".

    www.macscreenrotate.com
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    If the TDP of the processor + graphics is 17W, why does the Macbook Air even need a fan?

    My Panasonic Y2, which I still use because I can't find a laptop I like better (just sold a Sager NP5160 that I only owned for 2 months because I couldn't stand the fan noise or the horrible keyboard), has a 22 W max TDP on just the Pentium M 1.4 Ghz processor. Probably the crummy Intel integrated graphics doesn't add more than a few watts but together they must be at least 25 W.

    And yet, the Macbook Air, with a 17 W processor + graphics combined, has a fan. There is plenty of aluminum in the body of the Macbook Air to act as a heatsink, why does Apple even need to put a fan in there? If the Y2 can go fanless, surely the Air can.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    OK, turns out the Pentium M in my Panasonic Y2 is the 10 watt Pentium M 738, not the 22 watt Banias Pentium M.

    The Intel 855 GME chipset is listed at 3.2 W.

    Is it really the case that 10 W can be fanless but 17 W cannot?
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Might be possible in 17w, but it already gets pretty hot WITH a fan. Reply
  • hellknight - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I couldn't believe that Intel included AES instruction set in such low voltage chips. Even the base model has those.. This is something very great.. It would be great for all Truecrypt users.. Reply

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