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
POST A COMMENT

471 Comments

View All Comments

  • Ohhmaagawd - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    It's a first step. There will be retina monitors in the future. Reply
  • Freakie - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Lolwut... Monitors that have great quality color are already high resolution... They were pushing major pixels before it was popular ;) Reply
  • vegemeister - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    With the exception of the (discontinued and originally $10,000) IBM T221 and it's derivatives, no desktop monitor has resolution exceeding 2560x1600, and that resolution is only available in the 30" form factor. Reply
  • Solandri - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I have the lower-end version of that particular laptop ("only" a 1600x900 screen, 2x64 GB SSD). I wish I'd opted for the 1080p screen. 1600p wide isn't really enough to put two apps side-by-side. I do that all the time on my 1920x1200 external monitor though.

    The screen is a glossy TN panel, but is pretty much the best TN panel I've used. My desktop monitor is IPS so I can see its limitations. But when I'm using the Z in public, the most frequently comment I get is how beautiful the screen is. Sony also does a stellar job with their anti-reflective coatings. it's a glossy screen, but I almost never see reflections (except in sunlight). Colors are a bit too saturated, and the custom color profile I made tones it down. Unfortunately none of the reviews on it tested its gamut. But from photo editing, it's got a wider gamut than most high-end laptop displays I've seen. And it's blindingly bright too - perfectly usable in direct sunlight at max brightness. I rarely run it over half brightness.

    The quad-SSD was because the laptop came out before SATA3 SSDs were available (the SATA3 spec had only been finalized a few months prior). 2.5" SSDs were already hitting the limits of SATA2 (3 Gbps) and the only way to get around it was by putting multiple SSDs in a RAID 0 array. So that's what Sony did. The 4-SSD version benchmarks at 430-500 MB/s sequential read/write. Not too shabby in 2010 using 150 MB/s mSATA stick SSDs on SATA2.

    Optical drives are more a matter of preference. I end up burning a lot of DVDs so it's definitely convenient. But if you don't do that or watch movies, then yeah I can see it being superfluous. As much as I'd like to see media being distributed on USB sticks, their cost of $1-$2 for 4GB vs. a few cents for a DVD means it's not happening yet. Do note that the Z tops out at 2.9 pounds. It's lighter than the first and second gen Macbook Air despite having a DVD/Bluray drive. That's the second most common comment I get - "It's so light!"
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    The 1080p panel on the Z is IPS. And it's not glossy - you don't have a glass on your laptop. I believe this is more for weight reasons than anything else. Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    No, it's not IPS. Reply
  • Solidstate89 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    You have to be the most ignorant jackass I've ever seen. You've basically never even heard of that product until now yet that doesn't stop you from making baseless accusation after baseless accusation.

    Get the fuck over yourself. And Windows has always handled resolution scaling better than OS X, and it still does.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    In 2010 Sony offered a 13" MBP equivalent with matte 1080p TN panel(like all the other macbooks). It had a BluRay built besides a quad raid SSD option(that still exists). The current Z has the video card inside an external dock, it is as slim as the thinnest ultrabook with a full voltage CPU. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Sony offered it in 2008 :) Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    You are not applying the correct context.

    1080p is okay because windows has DPI scaling - though I agree with Anand that this doesn't work with apps that aren't written correctly. But the same applies to OS X. OS X handles it better because of vector based UI.

    It is an IPS display with 92% color gamut that Anandtech called amazing. Don't even try to pretend it sucks: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5530/sony-vaio-z2-ev...

    Blu-ray is not a default option, it is an extra configuration that you'd have to pay for. This isn't Apple were talking about - even Sony has typically more options than Apple.

    Quad-SSDs. Yes. You need to remember that his happened back in 2008 when SSDs were not doing 500mb/sec. This was back when a quad SSD only netted you about 300mb/sec and before TRIM was prevalent.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now