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

TEST BENCH AND ANALYSIS CONSIDERATIONS

The Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD contains a brand new interface and one that even differs from the new NGFF standard that we has been on display for some time now. This SSD appears to be proprietary to Apple.  For this reason, we can’t simply throw it onto our new NGFF Test Bench and test it as we have been with a few other NGFF SSDs for the past while.  The only means of testing this SSD is within the new 2013 MacBook Air that it arrived in.  This system contains the Haswell Chipset, a 1.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz, 8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM and Intel HD5000 graphics, in addition to the SSD.

2013 MBA Closed

 PERFORMANCE AND PRE-CONFIGURED SYSTEMS

Testing solid state drives that are in pre-configured systems can be a different animal, especially with Mac systems.  We first saw this in our review of the 2012 MBA where 4K performance suffered significantly, this later confirmed in our subsequent comparison of Toshiba and Samsung SSDs, along with our review of the OWC Aura Pro SSD.  Simply,  Apple SSDs do not have the same performance as that of the PC, or actually more likely, SSDs in Apple systems do not display the same performance as they might in a PC system. In considering what we may find by way of performance today, several factors need to be considered:

  1. The 2013 MBA is a pre-configured system and, as such, Apple has configured it to be as safe and reliable to as many different uses as possible.  It is not tweaked or fine tuned in any way.
  2. The Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD inside is not a FOB (fresh out of box) sample;
  3. This SSD is a new form factor and cannot be tested separate to the system;
  4. The MBA arrived with its pre-configured OS, along with a large recovery partition; and
  5. For us to test in a PC environment, we have to install BootCamp which creates another separate partition for Windows 7.

In short, the culmination of all of these factors pretty much guarantees that performance will suffer to some extent, but how much?

CRYSTAL DISK INFO VER 5.6.2

Crystal Disk Info provides some excellent information about the SSD itself to include its health, product information, ‘power on’ information as well as the characteristics of the SSD. We can see that the SSD is capable of TRIM as it is not greyed out as with APM.

Samsung PCIe CDI

Looking at the ‘Power On’ information in CDI, we can throw in yet another possible performance consideration, in that, this system has definitely been through burn-in and accreditation testing before leaving the factory.  Let’s take a close look at the new interface before we carry on:

2013 MBA SSD Interface

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James Smerdon
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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

Les@TheSSDReview
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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
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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… Read more »

gaadoslav
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gaadoslav

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

Jim
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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
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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.

Les@TheSSDReview
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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
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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
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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.

Les@TheSSDReview
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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
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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?

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

Bogdan
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Bogdan

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

Les@TheSSDReview
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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
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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.

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

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.