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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  • vincbxart - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    u wrong. Because of :

    16x9 is good to show my video work.
    Discrete GPU is for gaming, ivy bridge is powerfull enough to threat with 4k video
    VGA is especially for professionnal, a lot of video projector till get that.

    The weight doesn't determine consumer or creative laptop...

    Why the Z is not a consumer laptop
    The price - pricier than the mb
    The gamut full adobe rvb when apple is bader than the mb 2008... (98% VS 68%...) - you pay a lot for it

    btw both are good. But The Z was greater than the macbook retina 2008 vs 2012
    Reply
  • dannyboy153 - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    1) Showing of your video work is consuming media not creating. Feel free the use whatever you want to create content but I find it easier to do it on a 16x10. Menu bars, navigation panels, etc takes up room.

    2) I'm comparing the Sony Z to the MBP, not some technical fact that Ivy Bridge can do this or that. Does the Z output 2560x1600? No.

    3) I didn't say the weight determine what was consumer or creative.

    4) You can use the Z for creating content. You can use a $400 laptop to create content. But clearly the former is better than the later. Same with the MBP with retina vs the Z...clearly the former is better than the later. But use whichever one you want.
    Reply
  • danrhiggins - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    BTW, I have a 2010 Z with 2 docking stations and the extra battery (the big one) that has been sitting on my desk unused for nearly a year when I switched to a 2011 MacBook Air. I really liked the Z. It was smaller and lighter than the Air. Actually I found the screen a bit too short for me.

    Bottom line is that I fell in love with the Mac OS and gestures. But that is just me.

    So if anyone lives in Colorado and is interested I am going to put the Z on Craigslist. ;-)
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Nailed it, the small 16:9 display, thicker chassis, and no dedicated GPU are huge corners that were cut. One can barely compare it with other 13" notebooks, let alone the 15" rMBP.

    Lots of grasping for straws going on here....
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Thicker chassis? The z is thinner than the MBP.

    The 13" is a design choice, not a manufacturing limitation. The goal is a 2.5 laptop. Japanese people don't weigh 180 lbs and don't like slugging around 4.5 lb laptops.

    Barely compare it with other 13" notebooks? Care to list one that can even compete? It was 80% of the MBP retina in an MBA form factor in 2008, and then even lighter in 2011.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Don't bother, you're arguing with an ignoramus. Reply
  • Chava - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, July 06, 2012 - link

    The only ignoramus I see are people grasping at straws trying to say that the rMBP has already been done in other laptops before.

    Sad and desperate
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    Thanks for proving my point. Reply
  • Guspaz - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I tried out a Vaio Z in a Sony store when I was in the market for an ultraportable laptop (I decided on the first-gen Toshiba Portégé ultraportable, something I somewhat regret). The Vaoi Z was impressively thin, but suffered from three fatal flaws:

    1) Ludicrously expensive. The base model was $2000, and you needed to upgrade it a bunch from there to get the specs respectable

    2) Only shipped with a bilingual keyboard; Sony refused to ship an American keyboard in Canada, even online, forcing consumers to get a strange non-standard keyboard with a funny shaped enter key

    2) Indrecibly delicate. If you poke the screen in the corner with one finger, the whole screen flexes and bends away from your finger. It felt like this thing would shatter if I breathed on it.

    In the end, it was no lighter than the Toshiba, and cost almost a thousand dollars more, but the Toshiba had its own issues.
    Reply

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