My Biggest Gripe: No Standard SSDs

A few months back Apple announced that the profit margins on its notebooks would be reduced as a result of increased materials and production costs. The result of these lower margins would make Apple's notebooks tougher to compete with. Given that Apple uses off the shelf PC components for its notebooks I figured the areas for innovation were limited to design or spending more on the individual components. Apple has historically outspent the competition when it comes to design, and it's one area where most PC OEMs have failed to follow in its footsteps. Logically, it would make sense for Apple to spend more here to widen the gap between itself and encroaching PC OEMs.

Spending more on components is a losing race for Apple. Companies like Dell and HP ship many more systems than Apple and could just as easily match any spending Apple does on additional components. Putting more money into design however requires that you have a team capable of creating visionary, leading designs. While the Dells of the world have made significant strides in closing the style gap, Apple continues to lead here.

Despite what makes sense, what I was honestly hoping for was for Apple to make the transition to SSDs on its notebooks. Apple has been inching closer with each new notebook launch; the MacBook Air was its first notebook to ship with a SSD option and both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro offer optional SSDs (although it's unclear what drives they're using; at $600 for 128GB I'm guessing it's a MLC drive, but I have no idea what controller).

I've been using a SuperTalent JMicron based MLC SSD in my Mac Pro as a boot/application drive for the past few months, and while there are definite issues with this drive (pausing and serious performance problems as you near full capacity, something I'll be talking about in my next article or two) the areas where it does improve performance completely change the way my machine feels. Applications launch in half the time of a normal hard disk and running a bunch of disk intensive applications at the same time doesn't bring the system to a crawl.

Economically there's no way Apple could ship a SSD standard in a $1299 MacBook, at least not at any reasonable capacity. But I assure you this: more than any upgrade Apple has put into the new machines, an SSD is very important if you want to have a machine that feels fast.

Let me put it this way. Normally whenever I snag a new Mac to review, the thing feels fast. It's got a clean install, nothing loaded, a fast processor, and using it feels very much like I'm watching a Jobs keynote. Everything is just so very snappy. For the first time ever, using these two new notebooks actually felt slow. Not because they are slow, but because I'm so used to an SSD on my main machine. I've already begun switching over my testbeds to SSDs as well.

My biggest gripe with these notebooks is that they don't ship with an SSD standard. I would bet that within a year that will change, at least at the high end. If anyone has an idea of what SSD Apple is shipping with the MacBook/MacBook Pro, I'd like to know; I would assume that Apple would have done its due diligence and offer something better than a JMicron MLC drive but at $600 for 128GB it's tough to tell what else it could be....

Display Analysis Indoors The New MacBook
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  • MacMatte - Sunday, June 21, 2009 - link

    For those of you who insist that Apple brings back the matte screen option, please leave a comment at http://macmatte.wordpress.com">http://macmatte.wordpress.com - it's a website solely focused on the issue of bringing back the matte screen. See the number of pro-matte comments already at the MacMatte website. Reply
  • drbrady63 - Thursday, June 18, 2009 - link

    I am trying to identify if a new macbook pro 13" would be adequate for editing with Final Cut Express, and for that matter, Final Cut Studio. Unfortunately, it has a 5400rpm hard drive and that is not good for editing. But, I wonder if an optional ssd would be fast enough??

    I would use the 13" for more mobile work and dock it with a larger monitor for more involved editing work.

    Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

    Dan Brady
    Reply
  • richmoffitt - Sunday, November 09, 2008 - link

    This is an uneducated guess, but I'm pretty sure that Quartz works in ways similar to X11, where changing graphics drivers requires a restart of the window manager.

    You're right though -- this is only a software problem and can hopefully be fixed in the near future (if it's a big enough issue for their user base anyway).
    Reply
  • scipi - Monday, October 27, 2008 - link

    Hope the quality of the components is better than the first gen MacBook Pro's. Mine is on its second H/D, gone through 2 logic boards and now needs a third, this time outside of warranty. Wont be buying another Apple again which is a pity because OSX is great. Reply
  • Zebo - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Vista is bloated resource hogging junk - You should have tried the OS many of use still use - Windows XP for battery life. I get over 4 hours on my R31 thinkpad with winxp pro.
    Reply
  • Ronbo13 - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    You photos comparing the glossiness and reflection on the screens was not fair, though. Please notice that the laptop on the right (the new MBP) is reflecting a portion of wall that has direct sunlight shining on it, and the laptop on the left is reflecting stuff that's in shadows. So even if the screens were equally reflective, the one on the right would show tons more reflections.

    Come on, people. Normally you guys pay more attention to details. That's just sloppy.
    Reply
  • ioannis - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    nop, you are wrong. Both of them reflect stuff that have direct sunlight. Notice Anand's reflection for instance, or the wall on the left hand side of the old MB and the wall on the right hand side on the new one.

    I'm referring to this:
    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/mac/MacBookPro...">http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/mac/MacBookPro...
    Reply
  • Enrox - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Anand, why don't you test Vista installing it on the new MacBook Pro without using Bootcamp, you need to wipe out the drive and create a MBR partition and use Vista x64 SP1 (it supporta EFI), the only thing you need to know is that at startup you have to press the Alt key and manually select the Windows disk in order to boot from it, beside that everything else seems to work just fine with the Vista native installation (tested on a white MacBook Penryn 2.4 GHz 4GB ram).
    It would be very interesting to see if you get the same exact battery life numbers bypassing Bootcamp.
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Until Apple stops being so shady, I won't have anything to do with them. Reply
  • aos007 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I have brand new Vaio Z laptop and I can get 5 hours battery life IF I disable Vista sidebar. It does not matter whether there's no widgets running, it seems to use 10-15% of CPU time no matter what. This translates into a big loss of runtime - I'd get 3.5 hours versus 5. Unfortunately, I like Sidebar as there are some useful widgets, as well as for eye candy so I feel Vista is crippled without it.

    So the question is whether you disabled Sidebar during Vista testing? I am guessing not since it runs by default and if so, that may be part of your answer.
    Reply

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