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.

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  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    1) That's probably Canada. It is $1599 base in US for a while now and I got mine for $1100 after tax.

    2) Another Canada thing. But I agree, Sony is too inflexible.

    3) That is by design. There is a video online with an interview where they explain it. This means you can grab your laptop by the screen and not risk damaging the hinges / screen. If you grabbed your MBP Retina by the display I'd be wary of breaking it.
    Reply
  • ThreeDee912 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    There's more to a computer than its hardware spec sheet.

    You can rattle off a laptop spec sheet with a good CPU, GPU, SSD, screen, etc., but if they're not integrated very well with everything else, or have mediocre software support, you can't always take advantage of those specs without some tacky workarounds.
    Reply
  • gstrickler - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    ^^^ I'll second that. Also, the right balance of specs matters more than "this spec is greater than that spec".

    If the keyboard, trackpad, or display sucks, you'll hate the computer no mater what the specs say. If it's too fragile, or heavy, or cumbersome, you won't want to carry it. If the software is slow and bloated, it won't matter that you've got 8GB RAM and a quad core i7, it can still feel sluggish.

    The satisfaction with a computer is far more than just it's specs, or individual components, or even it's operating system. It's having the right combination of everything.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    1) This is dependent on user. i don't care about the 1" vertical, it's really the # of pixels that matter.

    2) The previous Z had discrete built in. The purpose of making it external is to achieve the 2.5 lb form factor. Sony once had a 11" 1.6 lb netbook. That is literally the holy grail in terms of weight for a portable laptop. The move to external discrete is really a step in that direction.

    3) You can output more than 1920x1080 on HDMI.

    4) 15" is too big for me, even at 2.5 lbs. Not everyone wants a huge screen on their lap - that's why I have a monitor on the desk.

    5) Yes, at 2.5 lbs and 13", there's limited space for heat dispersion.
    Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately, Z tops at 1920x1200 through HDMI or single link DVI on the dock station. It was a dealbraker. Now rMBP ability to drive 2x 2560x1600 and 1x 1920x1200 is simply overkill for me, I'm still confused why did Sony stuck with HDMI only and didn't even bother to provide DP, mDP or 2L DVI as a second port. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    That's typical Sony (Japanese) stupidity. Reply
  • Chava - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    That's typical Japanese stupidity...

    Yeah for some reason you thought that was acceptable.
    Reply
  • Solandri - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    The chassis isn't thinner than the 13" 2010 MBP (it tapers from 1.0-1.3" vs the MBP's 0.95"). Its other two dimensions are smaller though (12.4" x 8.3" vs 12.8" x 8.9"), and it's lighter (lighter than the 2010 Macbook Air in fact) at 2.9 lbs (some models were 3.04 lbs, never figured out why). Sony managed this by using a lot of carbon fiber and a really thin screen. So it's not as stiff as the solid block of aluminum that the MBP used. But the keyboard bezel is solid aluminum making it very stiff.

    http://asia.cnet.com/sony-vaio-z-sports-worlds-fir...
    http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/laptops/355384/sony...

    Here's the only marketing brochure I could find for the model being discussed (in French):
    http://www.mgmi.fr/docs/pdfprod/VPC-Z11Z9E-B.pdf
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    That's the 2008 Z. 2008. The 2011 Z is a non tapered design:

    13.0" x 0.66" x 8.27" (WxHxD)
    330mm x 16.8mm x 210mm

    The MBP is 50% thicker than the Z. It's understandable given that it is 15" instead of 13".
    Reply
  • Freakie - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/sony-vaio-z-quad-...

    Here you go. THIS is true innovation. Sony did amazing work with this version of the Z to get all the functionality of a bigger laptop into a tiny package. It is even more impressive when you think about how old, hot, and power hungry the CPU/GPU was back then. Sony has innovated much more in the laptop industry than Apple has, in my opinion. Though I still wouldn't want a Sony like this just like I wouldn't want an Apple like the rMBP (user upgradability and repairability is virtually non-existant, which is an instant deal breaker for me, it was hard enough buying a laptop with a 540M integrated onto the mobo, could never buy a laptop that didn't even let you upgrade storage)

    Here's a more detailed teardown: http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&pre...
    Reply

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