Thursday , 30 October 2014
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Hard Lesson Learned With Late-2013 Apple Products Containing Lesser Performing 128GB SSDs

The practice of using unbranded peripherals in computers is common.  Apple does this and carries things a step further by demanding that components, such as the SSDs, are proprietary to a specific build only. Not only can the SSD in Apple’s new Mac products not be upgraded with third-party SSDs, but also, they can’t even be switched off with SSDs of previous Apple releases.  Simply, the high-capacity SSD of your 2012 Apple MBA will not work in your 2013 MBA.   -anticipated exception-

PCIe SSDSanDisk PCIe SSD Found Inside Late-2013 MBP

This shouldn’t be that concerning, considering that Apple has recently doubled the speeds of newer Mac products in our jump from SATA 3 to PCIe SSDs.  To keep it very simple, data transfer is much faster to and from a PCIe device, than that of a SATA 3 device.  To give you an idea how much faster, the chart below is a summary of our testing of native PCIe SSDs, to that of SATA 3 products whether they be M.2 (NGFF) or notebook SSDs.  A typical SATA 3 SSD bottlenecks at about 550MB/s, whereas, newer PCIe SSDs have tested over 1GB/s, Apple coming in with speeds of 824MB/s read and 757MB/s write in our Mid-2013 MBA testing.

XP941 M.2 Chart RAID

All testing to date has been with Samsung configured M.2 PCIe SSDs, and until the release of the new late 2013 version Apple products (specifically the MacBook Pro), there has really been no competition for Samsung in the M.2 PCIe world.  Apple has changed this by introducing SanDisk’s newest PCIe SSD for use with their newest PCIe SSD enabled systems, now utilizing either the SanDisk or the Samsung in Mac systems.  Who knew?

In their defence, neither they nor their manufacturers are at will to speak of such things due to confidentiality agreements.  Can you imagine how the ongoing Apple/Samsung disputes might take on a new face if most knew that their beloved Apple products performed as they did because of the Samsung components inside?  The simple truth is that Apple would have nowhere near the success we see today without those Samsung components, and conversely, Samsung would also suffer a huge loss in their coffers without Apple.

New-Article-featuredSamsung PCIe SSD Found Inside Mid-2013 MBA

The downfall of this is when Apple ‘test drives’ other manufacturer parts, using the consumer as their test subjects.  This was most recently seen in the MacBook Air Flash Storage Replacement Program where Apple is now voluntarily replacing all non-Samsung SSD MBA’s as they risk failure and data loss.  Being the owner of both 2012 and 2013 MBA releases, I am very happy that both systems have Samsung SSDs instlled.  Moving forward to the most recent release of Mac products, Apple has now altered their SSD make-up somewhat and we now find newer 2013 systems containing SanDisk PCIe SSDs, or that of Samsung.

Now… let’s be very clear in stating that the SanDisk 128GB SSD has no similarities to that of last years recall, nor are there any significant performance differences between a 128GB PCIe SSD made be either SanDisk or Samsung. Performance in the 128GB PCIe SSD does drop significantly, however, and this is something the buyer should be made aware of. Our friends at OWC were the first to publish that the difference between MBP installed 128 and 256GB PCIe SSDs could be as much as a 400MB/s performance drop; their article also accompanied by some interesting benchmarks.

OWC Article

Let’s look at this a little more closely.  The 128GB SSD is a native PCIe SSD and, even if it were SATA 3, write performance would still be considered horrid by today’s standards. These speeds (or lack of) have nothing to do with SanDisk, as the write performance seen is typical of both the SanDisk and Samsung PCIe SSDs available today, these being the SanDisk A110 and the Samsung XP941.

The SanDisk website does not break performance down by capacities and Samsung doesn’t even have specifications for the XP941 available on the web.  Through their product spec sheet, however, we can advise that the Samsung XP941 specification for a 128GB capacity is only 450MB/s, a speed that would be reduced somewhat when installed in a similar OSX based MBP. The good news is our friends at OWC are working on a very compatible and very affordable upgrade solution as we have see so many times before.  they just need to get one in their hands to rip apart first.

9xSo now we know that the lower performance of the 128GB SSD is not the fault of the manufacturer and, if this is so, then why is the internet littered with complaints of this performance in the last week alone?

Transparency…

As much as we don’t expect it to be listed when different SSDs of similar capacity are used, there certainly should be when a company advertises these speeds and doesn’t notify that such a significant performance drop is evident in different capacities.  There is absolutely no reason that the consumer should learn the hard way, and only after purchase.

After all, there will be industry professionals who will purchase Mac systems with the 128GB SSD, knowing that Thunderbolt 2 will allow their connection of a compatible external device with 20Gb/s transfer speeds, speeds of over 2GB/s that (maybe for the first time) will be bottlenecked by the SSD.  It is a hard lesson learned that shouldn’t be an after purchase one, none the less.

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About Les Tokar

is a technology nut and Founder of The SSD Review. His early work includes the first consumer SSD review along with MS Vista, Win 7 and SSD Optimization Guides. Les is fortunate to, not only evaluate and provide opinion on consumer and enterprise solid state storage but also, travel the world in search of new technologies and great friendships. Google+
  • renosablast

    In the pic of you holding the M2 SSD, it looks like there is some kind of leakage, or excess
    sealant on the PCB below the NAND modules.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      That sealant provides a cushion barrier between the PCB and the chips for shock resistance. It does have a look as if they overdid it though.

      • Amnon

        The SSD Apple uses has the physical size of M.2, but the connector doesn’t align with standard M.2 connector. Apple makes their designs unique/proprietary

      • Neil Mathieson

        Apple and proprietary are hand in hand usually.

  • GemmaSeymour

    As I understand it, the reason why the 128GB drives don’t perform as well is because the 128GB drives don’t fully utilise the flash controller, whereas the 256MB and 512MB drives do. TechReport.com explains it thusly: “Like most contemporary SSDs, the Extreme II is built with 64Gb (8GB) NAND dies. The controller can address four chips on each of its eight channels, making 32 dies the minimum for optimal performance. The 120GB model doesn’t have enough NAND to deliver peak performance, but the 240 and 480GB variants do.”

    So, the lesson here is, if you want the true performance this generation of drives can deliver, get yourself the 256GB version of the drive. Running the 128GB version is like Cadillac’s V8/6/4 technology, permanently hobbled to 4 cylinders, while the 256GB version is running on all 8.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Much thanks Gemma, We had originally tried to work that explanation into the piece, however cut it in the interest of brevity and understanding. Great for you to get it in though!

  • Usama

    I have also heard that ssd drives loses speed with time. As it becomes old, it performs less than when it was new. especially the MPB users complained a lot.
    Is this true ??

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Can you provide a link? SSDs do not suffer loss of performance through time as they did years ago when they were in their infancy, and in fact, even then it could be countered by following guides such as our SSD Optimization Guide in the menu above. Back then, it was more the knowledge of why the system was slowing in order to tune things up.

  • Peter

    Hi,
    So where do one buys XP941? I’m thinking getting 2×156 or 2×512 with a card for my desktop.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Unfortunately, they have become harder to find, vice easier. You might check with RAMCity but, other than that, I know of no third party sales which speaks volumes to where their priority lies with XP941 distribution channels. Svailability outside Samsung is just that rare.

      • Peter

        Thank you – great site btw!

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Thanks for the compliment!

  • Clarence Chien

    http://goo.gl/0EwZtB, 13-inch 2013 with 256 SSD
    It’s much better

  • David

    Hi Les can i ask you some questions? I’m considering to buy the new macbook pro 15″ retina. But what ssd size? 512 gb or 1 tb? I read this thread on 9to5mac:

    http://9to5mac.com/2013/11/04/latest-macbook-pro-15-gets-blazing-ssd-performance-thanks-to-4-channel-pcie/

    and i’m gettin confused by Brandon Leake latest comment. He says:
    I have a late 2013 13? Macbook Pro with 1TB of PCIe flash storage. When
    I run Black Magic Disk Speed Test, I receive results of 1013.1 MB/s
    write and 892.1 MB/s reads. This is much faster than the 512GB version
    which I returned for the larger storage.

    Assuming that both are manufactured with the samsung xp941 m.2, why this difference??
    I ask to one friend to tell me some info on this 1 tb ssd rMBP 15 and he wrote me:

    APPLE SSD SM1024F:

    Capacity: 1 TB (1,000,555,581,440 bytes)

    Model: APPLE SSD SM1024F

    Revision: UXM6JA1Q

    Native Command Queuing: Yes

    Queue Depth: 32

    Removable Media: No

    Detachable Drive: No

    BSD Name: disk0

    Medium Type: Solid State

    TRIM Support: Yes

    ______________________________________________________

    Apple SSD Controller:

    Vendor: Apple

    Product: SSD Controller

    Physical Interconnect: PCI

    Link Width: x4

    Link Speed: 5.0 GT/s

    What do you think? I don’t think that the 1 Tb version is 512gb x 2 in Raid. Is it possible that is much faster? Both are in Pci-e 4x link. 1 Tb cost me (+500 euros) in the apple store online configurator!!!
    Thanks in advance. And sorry for my english.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Why would you think RAID when this could have been achieved with just that X4 link? RAID would have brought in double the performance (as we tested and published) of 2GB/s. I don’t believe RAID is used.

  • TR_T-Rex

    Can we safely assume the 13-inch 2.4/8GB/256GB machine uses the same Samsung SSD with the 15-inch machine tested by OWC? Even if we can, will the read/write performance be slower due to the less capable CPU? Last, would the 512GB SSDs of high-end 13- and 15-inch models perform better due to higher capacity? (because I see from some forums that 1TB upgraded SSDs perform better, but there are no comparisons of 256GB vs 512GB)

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      I don’t think we can safely assume anything now that some are being discovered with the SanDisk SSD in the mix. Read and write performance is not affected by the less capable CPU. And yes, there may be better performance in the upper capacity, however, whether you will notcie the pertformance but for synthetic benchmarks remains to be seen.

  • Marcus

    thanks for the info!

  • CB

    I upgraded my 2013 MacBook Air 128GB SSD to a 256GB today and though I would share some comparison data. I chose two copy events to compare: a 2.1GB RAR file and a 994MB folder containing 50 image files. I copied both items from their original on-disk location to the Desktop in each instance.

    RAR file copy: 128GB, 13.1 seconds; 256GB, 6.2 seconds.

    Folder of images: 128GB, 1′ 35.2″ (~1.5 minutes), 256GB, 41″ (41 seconds).

    Blackmagic benchmarks the 256GB @ 670.1 MB/s write & 704 MB/s read speeds. Compared to 161GB/s write and 465GB/s read speed for the 128GB.

    Both disk were tested with virgin installs of Mavericks with only the testing files copied to the drive for comparison.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Those tests are excellent to see…great info and thanks much.

  • KingMel

    There is no need for sarcasm, Les. Informed Mac users know that Apple uses Samsung components in their “beloved” products. Uniformed users of technology – be they Apple, Android, Windows, whatever – do not know or care. I do not appreciate your snide condescension.

    Personally, I avoid Samsung-branded products whenever possible and practical, although I will purchase Samsung when the quality and reliability outweigh their slavish copier baggage. As a fan and shareholder of Apple, I am glad that Apple has gradually been diversifying its component suppliers.

    Lastly, let’s be clear on the order of things. Apple created the revolutionary products and the market that drove the technological innovation. Apple led the way while others disparaged the company and predicted (once again) doom and gloom. When they realized their mistake, they could not jump on the bandwagon fast enough. Everything since then in the Google/Android/Samsung universe has largely been a copy of Apple’s iOS, iPhone, and iPad. Sure, Apple needs Samsung’s components. But the Samsung Galaxy and similar products only exist because Samsung used those components to assemble look-alike products. Sure, some of them are a lot bigger, but that is not innovation.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Ummmmm let me guess… Apple fan right. That article was done some time ago. I write this review on a MBA that I have published as being the best laptop available a few times.

  • RTDarling

    Mr. Tokar – I need to purchase a 2012-2013 Apple MacBook Air (used) for a client/customer whom requires a larger SSD (480GB to 1TB) in the machin. I was hoping not to have to pay the (in my opinion) exorbitantly high premium/price for; A) An Air which came with a larger SSD installed from the factory/Apple (this is also limited to 512GB SSD maximum), or B) Purchasing an Air which originally came with a small SSD (64GB or 128GB) installed from the factory/Apple (they can be had relatively inexpensively) & then either purchasing a used 512GB Apple SSD compatible with the machine (the prices which 512GB [used] Apple SSDs command on eBay, is absolute insanity), or purchasing an OWC (apparently the only company whom manufactures & will sell to the general public an SSD which is compatible/will work in/with a 2012 series MacBook Air, & as far as I can determine, even they do not have drives compatible with a 2013 Air) 480GB Mercury Aura SSD for $300 + S&H (which can be viewed here: http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/SSDA2A6G480/).

    Fortunately, I found a company named Sintech (in China) whom sells an adapter specifically manufactured for the 2012 series MacBook Air (which can be purchased for $21.99 here: http://eshop.sintech.cn/m2ngff-ssd-818pin-adapter-as-ssd-of-2012-macbook-air-p-1024.html?zenid=db87852a3hmdjm09nfe47lqjd5 [note: you can purchase the same product from them on eBay for $21.99 w/free S&H to USA]) which apparently/seemingly would allow/enable one to purchase/utilize other brands/makes/models of SSDs/drives (other than the OWC drives &/or the Apple branded drives [which are primarily manufactured by Samsung, I believe ?]) for use in their 2012 MacBook Air.

    However, when I asked them which exact model SSDs could be utilized with their adapter in my 2012 MacBook Air (I asked for specific/exact drive model #’s, etc., as I am a veritable ignoramus at interpreting drive interface, keying, etc. language/verbiage), they responded with the following statement: “it only can use M.2 NGFF B+m Key SSD as 2012 macbook air SSD” (& will not respond to repeated/additional requests for specific SSD model #’s) ?

    Therefore, my question to you is: Do you understand what “M.2 NGFF B+m Key SSD” actually means ?… & if yes, is it possible for you to direct me toward specific models of larger SSDs (480GB to 1TB) which fall under this specification (& can be purchased on the retail/open market, of course/obviously) ?

    Any help/assistance/insight you can provide, would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you very much (in advance) for your time –

    RTDarling

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Thank you for taking the time to write. Unfortunately, that adapter is the very first I have heard of such and I would always be a bit leary of any company that doesnt provide information on what products are compatible. As for the B and M keys, you will find a TON of information on many of these articles as we are the No 1 resource with respect to M.2 SSDs, but this page is specifically what you seek: http://www.thessdreview.com/daily-news/latest-buzz/understanding-m-2-ngff-ssd-standardization/

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