All Flash Storage

As expected, the next-gen MacBook Pro ditches mechanical storage in favor of a MacBook Air style NAND + SSD controller on a custom PCB. Apple refers to this solution as all-flash storage.

Apple’s distinction between Solid State Drives (SSDs) and all-flash storage boils down to what form the storage comes in. If it’s a standard form factor device in a chassis, it’s a solid state drive. If it’s just NAND + controller on a PCB? Then it’s all-flash storage. I suspect it’s a nicer way of saying proprietary SSD but either way they are technically the same thing, just in different forms.


The Samsung PM830 based rMBP NAND flash storage card, image courtesy iFixit

My Retina MacBook Pro was the upgraded model with a 512GB SSD, featuring Samsung’s PM830 controller. This is the same controller as in the Samsung SSD 830, which I’ve long felt was the best pair for Mac users who wanted an SSD upgrade. I’m not sure if other Retina MBPs may come with Toshiba’s SandForce based drive instead. I have one of these drives in house for a review but that’ll have to wait until next week.

Although both the Samsung and Toshiba/SandForce controllers support full disk encryption, neither hardware based encryption is supported by OS X’s FileVault 2. When OS X encrypts your boot volume not all areas are encrypted (such as the recovery partition). While I know SandForce allegedly offers multiple encryption levels across a volume I’ve never seen either controller claim support for partially unencrypted volumes. In this case it looks like for Apple to take advantage of SSD controller based encryption it would need more flexible encryption support on the controller level. If I were an SSD controller vendor I’d be paying close attention to this requirement.

Both the Samsung and Toshiba controllers support 6Gbps SATA - as a result performance is significantly better compared to previous Apple branded SSDs. I borrowed a friend’s 2010 MacBook Pro which happened to have a Toshiba based SSD installed and ran it through our standard Iometer four-corners test suite. This was a well used drive and thus the performance is even worse than last year's MacBook Airs. The improvement in performance is astounding:

Apple SSD Comparison - 4KB Random Read (QD3)

Apple SSD Comparison - 4KB Random Write (8GB LBA Space - QD3)

The move to 6Gbps SATA is often associated with a huge bump in sequential transfer rates, but in this case Apple enjoys a significant increase in random speeds as well. Note that some of this improvement is going to be due to the fully populated configuration of the PM830 in the Retina MacBook Pro's SSD, but that shouldn't downplay the significance of the move to Samsung's latest controller. The previous generation controller used last year just wasn't very good, and the Toshiba alternative was even worse. This year, Apple finally has a good solid state story to tell.

Apple SSD Comparison - 128KB Sequential Read (QD1)

Apple SSD Comparison - 128KB Sequential Write (QD1)

How much of this are you going to be able to actually tell in day to day use of the system? The sequential transfer rates are most tangible when you are writing to or reading large files like movies to your drive. Obviously you need a source that's fast enough to hit these speeds. Although USB 3.0 can come close you're unlikely to have a USB 3.0 SSD that's as fast as the internal drive. Moving large files between your internal SSD and Promise's Pegasus R4/R6 is where you'll really appreciate this performance.

The random access improvements are likely overkill for most normal uses. Things like program launches, compiling, web browsing, and any other normal application IO will depend on a mixture of random and sequential IO. The key is to have good enough random IO performance to avoid becoming a bottleneck. I can safely say that the numbers we see here are more than enough.

While previous Apple SSDs were nice only from a convenience standpoint, at least the Samsung option in the Retina MacBook Pro is what I’d recommend even if Apple didn’t bundle it with the machine.

Boot Camp Behavior & Software Funniness Thunderbolt Performance
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  • DJTryHard - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    No one said it was quad, this is in 2010. Arrandale had higher thermals, and today's version does have quad. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Not quad core. Quad raid. As in, 4 separate custom SSD boards connected to 4 separate SATA ports in raid 0. This was before there was 500mb/s raid from SF. Now it's kinda a marketing gimmick because they're not 4 500 mb/s raid that gives you nearly 2 gb/s in raid 0. Reply
  • Totally - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    learn to read

    quoting op

    "...fastest of the dual core i7's while..."

    no one mentions anything about a quad core cpu
    Reply
  • hkatz - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    I looked up the current model. Vaio Z: 13 inch display 1920 by 1080, maximum 8 gigs ram, 512 ssd, quad core i7 2.1/3.1 , USB 3. However, no thunderbolt, only integrated graphics and the price for the 13 inch computer as above is $2999.

    Does not compare to the retina macbook pro which has a higher resolution 15 inch display, thunderbolt, significantly faster processor, and discrete graphics with a gig of vram. The price for the better retina macbook pro with the 512 gig flash drive is $2799.

    There is no comparison.
    Reply
  • wfolta - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    The Sony you linked to doesn't have discrete graphics. You have to buy (and use) the docking station to get that.

    If you load it up with 8 GB of RAM (which is the max, while the rMBP goes to 16 GB), a 256 GB SSD, a 10% slower CPU (2.1 versus 2.3 GHz), no discrete graphics, and a "HD" non-IPS display, it costs you $1,950 versus the rMPB's $2,200.

    For the price Sony charges for the upgrade to 512 GB of SSD ($600), you can upgrade the rMBP, to a 512 GB SSD and get a 20% faster (2.6 GHz) CPU thrown in as well.

    The non-IPS display means that even if the rMBP didn't have incredibly more pixels, it would still outclass the Sony display in terms of contrast, viewing angle, etc.

    The Sony weights about half of what the rMBP does, but it also has less battery life and it's about the same size. I guess the VGA and ethernet ports are a big deal for you, though of course you don't get two Thunderbolt ports. Oh yeah, you also get a Sony MemoryStick slot, too!
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5430/sony-vaio-z-wit...

    It is an IPS display, but non-glossy.

    Don't bother comparing the 2 as apples to apples, because they're not comparable. The sony is 2.5 lbs versus 4.5 lbs for the macbook pro retina. You have a whole different power and heat envelope.

    I don't disagree that Sony is overcharging for the high end Z, and now with the retina macbook pro maybe they will lower prices (this is really the first contender, but it is 15" so targets a different market segment).

    However, you can get the last season's models on the Sony outlet store for 40% off - ie $1400 nets you 256 GB SSD, 8 GB of ram, the external dock with graphics and blu-ray, etc.
    Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Z has never had IPS, it's SE series. Still nice laptop though. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I stand corrected, but it is still way better than a TN and not much worse than an IPS (you lose out on viewing angles). Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    You're missing the point of why this product was brought up. But hey, good effort for not reading the preceding posts. Reply
  • cptcolo - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Wow that Sony VAIO Z Series is impressive!
    Personally the laptop I am holding out for is something along the lines of:

    17" 2560 x 1440 (or 2560 x 1600) Matte IPS Screen
    Broadwell Hex-Core, <25W TDP
    Super Integrated Graphics (no graphics card or optical drive)
    32GB RAM on 2 DIMMS
    x2 512GB uSSDs in RAID0 over 16Gb/s interface
    100+ WHr Battery
    Overall size less than a typical 15" via a thin bezel.
    Weight: <4.8lbs
    Thickness: <0.8"
    Excellent Keyboard/Trackpad and great build quality.

    All for ~$2500
    Reply

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