Thursday , 28 August 2014
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2013 MacBook Air NGFF PCIe SSD Review (256GB) – Pre-Configured MBA Doesn’t Set The ‘PC’ Performance Bar

New Article featuredIf you’ve been hanging around TSSDR or Technology X lately, you will have noticed that Apple shipped us a brand smacking new MBA, complete with a Samsung 256GB NGFF PCIe SSD that spits out performance as high as 825MB/s.

Since our initial MBA reports, we have had the opportunity to do what we do best and install Windows 7 on the MBA, followed by complete testing of the new Samsung PCIe SSD in a Windows environment.

To be frank, our PC benchmarking of this SSD resulted in some of the worst SSD performance we have seen to date and we don’t believe this to be the fault of the Samsung PCIe SSD.  While testing in Windows 7, performance had even increased from 794MB/s to 824MB/s and, on the outset, this machine appears to the screaming thunder of storage performance.

2013 MacBook Air Angled

Our storage review of the new 2013 MBA is a great opportunity to illustrate the need to understand different storage performance and  in very common language.  This understanding may save potential buyers of SSD contained systems a great deal of money or….may cost them a great deal of money unnecessarily.

2013 MBA OVERVIEW

We are not going to belabor this report by rehashing things that we stated in the linked reports above, but to say that the new 2013 is an amazing ultra, regardless of what we discovered while testing this system in a Windows 7 environment.  No other laptop on the market can reach 12 hours battery life, and it’s build and pricing model consistent with the last generation MBA, make purchase a no-brainer for those looking to purchase the Mac experience.  Add to that the fact that it is based on the new Haswell chipset and it is the first with the new PCIe storage solution, a solution that will definitely appeal to media professionals who transfer countless gigabytes of media files on a daily basis.  The new 2013 MBA has set itself up for a definite following.

THE SAMSUNG NGFF STORAGE SOLUTION

Once the base of the 2013 MBA is removed, the most prominent feature (at least to an SSD guy) is the Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD.  The Samsung SSD will be found in 256 and 512GB models while a SanDisk ‘Marvell based’ SSD is found in the 128GB SSD contained MBA.

2013 MacBook Air Disassembled

Clicking on any of our charts or photographs will bring up a larger high resolution version.

 The Samsung PCIe SSD is a blade style SSD and contains the Samsung S4LNo53X01-8030 controller based on their 3-core eight channel MDX (300MHz) architecture, only without the restrictions of SATA 3 that limits performance to just over 500MB/s.  There is also a Samsung 512MB LP (low power) DDR2 DRAM cache present on the SSD along with eight modules of Samsung MLC NAND flash memory, numbered K9HFGY8S5C-XCKO.

Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD Front

Each package of memory is 32GB in size for a total advertised RAW capacity of 256GB, although final formatting only leaves the end user with a user capacity of 232GB.

Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD Back

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+
  • James Smerdon

    Actually, it isn’t an NGFF (M.2), this is a custom Apple form factor. This has already been posted at major media outlets. http://www.anandtech.com/show/7058/2013-macbook-air-pcie-ssd-and-haswell-ult-inside

    • http://www.thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Thats the first I have seen of Anands update and thanks. We figured that it was a proprietary design and based very closely on the NGFF/M.2. The problem is that both Apple and Samsung are very tight lipped because of contractual agreements.

      • CrAppleJinxer

        Apple is like Dell, HP, Gateway, Cisco and other past darlings of American offshore out sourced manufacturing stampede out of the country. The whole object is change something in the design just enough to make it impossible to substitute another more common part. Similar to what all these non-manufacturing companies do with GPU manufacturers too.

        This enables companies like Apple to claim they actually invented something new or different. But like always it’s never in the best interest of consumers. The bottom line, it’s all part of these Gypsy Barker Type Snake Oil Selling Companies (that don’t even make any of their own parts, let alone assemble them any more), Planned Obsolescence Business Model to always keep a NEW….. Improved or Revolutionary Sticker on the Box! ;-P ……so you have buy a new one to keep up with iJones!!!

        No doubt SAMSUNG has their own far better surprises in store for us. But at least they make their own parts and assemble their own products. Some of those same parts end up in CrApple from Apple products. Not only that, but same parts coming off the same Fabrication lines in Austin Texas too! …..for me….. NEW Macbook Air…. could take a hike to the Dark Side of the Moon, before I’d ever buy one! ^_*

    • gaadoslav

      It IS M.2. That “UPDATE” which they published is sign of incompetence.

  • Jim

    It’s a custom Apple design, not M.2. Since there’s no PCIe routed off of
    the CPU in Haswell ULT, these 2 lanes come from the on-package PCH. <—look at the connection alone on the SSD and you can tell.

  • Zaxx

    A bit surprised that this issue with 4Ks goes all the way back to 2012…and still no fix? For the premium u pay for Apple, this should have been resolved by now. It’s giving Samsung a black eye before this type form factor launches fully.

    • http://www.thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Yes but it doesnt seem to be just the Samsung as the SanDisk suffered same in our testing of the Sammy/SanDisk in comparison. It is almost like there is a configuration issue with BootCamp or any Win7 installation that is partnered with IOS.

  • BootCamp User

    Been an issue with BootCamp since the very get go. Because the Intel Macs boot UEFI rather than BIOS, Windows won’t load AHCI drivers without some major tweakery (Google – “BootCamp Win 7 AHCI”), consequently the bog standard MS IDE drivers are loaded and performance is pretty bad. Apple don’t seem overly concerned about correcting this

  • Bogdan

    Try to repeat the benchmarks using Windows 8 installed in EFI mode. I am sure you will get very different results.
    * On 2013 MBA you can install Windows 8 in EFI mode (this will install Windows with AHCI drivers) via bootcamp using the latest OS X updates.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Already did that and we saw no appreciable difference. My first venture was to install all 3 OS’s and try all… Have tested in not only boot camp, but also in Parallels. Performance is not really fair in Parallels as typical reads and writes are 3058MB/s and 2730MB/s….gotta love virtual environments.

      • Bogdan

        Please check this link: http://www.pcper.com/reviews/General-Tech/MacBook-Air-11-2013-Review-Windows-Perspective/Windows-Experience-and-Storage-P

        Do you have any plans on testing the new iMac with PCIe flash storage in Windows 8?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        No. Our system has had BootCamp removed and we are running Parallels right now…

      • Bogdan

        Did you had the chance to test the iMac PCIe flash storage in Windows 8? If so, can you please share the results?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        This was answered previously and to reiterate, there are no appreciable differences between performance in Win 7 or Win 8. Thank you for your comments and feel free to join the Forums for further discussion if you have some benchmarks that you might like to provide.

      • Bogdan

        The last question was about iMac, not about Macbook Air performance.
        Regarding Macbook Air, I just wanted to point out that in the below article they obtained much improved 4K perfomance in Windows:
        http://www.pcper.com/reviews/General-Tech/MacBook-Air-11-2013-Review-Windows-Perspective/Windows-Experience-and-Storage-P

        Thank you for your answers and patience.

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Where are you finding this performance improvement…from the ATTO benchmark itself? This, in itself, is not telling whatsoever and it doesn’t matter whether you are speaking of the iMac or Air, they are based on the same architecture as far as storage testing is concerned.

  • Guest

    Quick question, will the samsung SSD work on my 21.5 Late Image as a PCIE SSD + 2.5 SSD?

  • Mark Angeles

    Will the Samsung PCIE SSD work with my 21.5 Imac (Late 2013)? Will this still leave me room to upgrade the 2.5 SATA drive to SSD later on?

  • ??????? ??????

    Here is a little trick to make this SSD fast as hell in 4k in Bootcamp! Give it a look: http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost.php?p=18705715&postcount=25
    Seems like this Samsung XP941 is totally fine if not to say excellent! The thing is in Windows power management.

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