MacBook Air 13″ Ivy Bridge (mid-2012) MBA Ultrabook Review and SSD Performance Analysis

MACBOOK AIR SSD TEARDOWN

Being new to the Mac world, I hadn’t a clue that the MBA was screwed together by ‘five point pentalobe’ screws,  much less that the pentalobe is yet another part proprietary to Apple.   Things became even more difficult after I found someone who had a pentalobe screwdriver, only to discover that there were different size pentalobe bits for an iPhone and MacAir.  Who would of thought?

Not wanting to wait until receipt of a pentalobe screwdriver a week or two down the road, we visited our friends at the Mac Outpost who were kind enough to help get the back plate off of our new MBA and were we in for a shock? What we believed to be a Toshiba branded SandForce SSD was actually a Samsung ‘gumstick’ style PM830 mSATA SSD.

This Samsung PM830 SSD comprises of Samsung’s own S4LJ204X01-Y040 3-core ARM controller, Samsung 256MB DDR2 SDRAM cache memory (K4T2G3140F-MCF7) as well as eight pieces of 32GB Samsung K9PFGY8U7B-HCKO Toggle mode NAND flash memory.

The differences between this SSD and this PM830 review are the interface and PCB style as well as capacity of each module of NAND.  This SSD is ONLY compatible with Apple products released at the same time as our MacAir with a mid-2012 build date.

SSD IDENTIFICATION

Through use of Crystal DiskInfo, we can see that Apple has placed their name on the SSD, listing it as an ‘Apple SSD SM256E 251GB’.

The SSD also displays very limited SMART attributes and that SMART, 48bit LBA, AAM, NCQ and TRIM are supported features.  It bears mentioning once again that this SSD has been partitioned into equal sizes for two different operating environments, each of which don’t recognize or have any control  over the other.

OSX AND TRIM SUPPORT

An SSD works slightly different than a hard drive, in that, information cannot simply be over written once deleted.  The process is a bit more complicated, whereas when information is deleted it actually isn’t.  The index to the information is removed which fools the operating system into believing the space is free.  With an SSD, the space must be cleaned of that information prior to new information being stored, or performance of the SSD slows significantly if it has to do it at the time.  In a nutshell, that is what TRIM accomplishes behind the scenes to ensure your system remains at top performance, performance that is magnitudes above that of a hard drive.

OSX supports TRIM, however, Apple is a very proprietary animal.  As of OS X 10.7, Apple has cut off TRIM to third party SSD manufacturers and only supports Apple branded SSDs to which, the ONLY such SSDs supported and guaranteed to have TRIM working by default on the mid-2012 MBA are the Apple branded Samsung 830 we will evaluate here and the Toshiba SandForce Driven SSD we hope to be evaluating soon enough

For those with third party SSDs that don’t enjoy ‘drinking the Apple koolaid’ so to speak, TRIM Enabler 2.0 is there for you and free of charge, a great utility that also confirms that TRIM is functioning for the rest of us Mac users as well.

27 comments

  1. Does Apple still offer the extended AppleCare hardware warranty on these units? Almost a necessity.

    • Yes, I noticed it in a Google search. The unfortunate part is how they maintain such control. On any other laptop, if say the RAM or ssd went dead, you could simply replace it…not with Apple! It practically mandates the warranty…agreed.

  2. Great article.
    To give you some help with … “Now if I could just figure out this right mouse button thingy” To Go to System Preferences and click on Trackpad. Under “Point & Click” you will see a settings for “Secondary Click”. This will give you a “Right Click’ function.

    Sorry if you were looking for “right mouse” help in Windows 7, I cannot help you there.

  3. Les, I was a Windows guy through and through like you were. Call me petty but when my wife insisted on buying the 2011 macbook air (after using a Lenovo X61), I felt ‘betrayed’.

    After 3 Hail Mary’s (you know, for protection)…needless to say, after a few days with the MBA, it is an ‘experience’ and the best designed hardware in any notebook/ultrabook I have seen to date. I had to fight her for the privilege of using the MBA ;p.

    I now easily recommend the MBA to all my friends who want to buy a notebook.

    OSX was another matter. After a while, I started to miss Win7.

  4. David Lindegren

    Migrating an OSX boot drive using Superduper! is very easy, especially if OWC would release a similar “external drive enclosure” for the new “air” as well. You could also exchange the drives, put your old one in an external enclosure and then use the migration assistant to move the information from your old drive to the new one when installing OSX on the new drive.

    • I will look closely into this. If you do the migration, does it affect your registration with any of the OS X utilities like iTunes/itore etc and also, once the migration is complete, does it automatically delete the source drive? The deletion of source drive is the big one.

      • David Lindegren

        I am not sure how the iTunes/store is affected.

        What do you mean by deletion? As far as I know it does not automatically delete the source, but if you want it to I guess you can just format it. Superduper! allows for some scripting and stuff to be run after the mirroring so it might be able to do what you are looking for.

      • Yes it may be what I am looking for. The reason I ask about it formatting the source is because this is an Apple thing so there arent two copies. I would like that, however, as it is easier to maintain a duplicate of the laptop.

  5. I just did a migration last week to the 480GB OWC drive with carbon copy cloner. The new version (last few months now) of CCC has the option to clone not only the primary partition but the hidden OSX install source partition as well.

    I bought the external enclosure, stick the 480GB SSD in it, cloned the main partition and the hidden partition.

    Before you physically replace the SSD, press ALT during bootup and you can boot off the newly cloned drive running off USB (this is an amazing feature of OSX that I wish MS could do with Win).

    If that works, then just put the new SSD in the MBA and voilla, a bigger partition.

    • By the way CCC will automatically detect when you destination drive is missing the hidden OSX source partition and all you have to do is follow the on screen instructions, easy.

  6. I would love to read this on my iPad but those crazy widgets on the left get in the way. please get rid of them.

  7. hold on, you can clone Lion, i am a MAcOSX noob, and bought my wife a late 2011 MBP13″, i migrated the installed OS , quite seamlessly using carbon cloner, it was so beautiful and trouble free, i just hated being a PC user, oh..if you found facetime (which we incidentally found out 1 week ago) amazing check out the time machine backup system…sheesh… an apple update launched recently, upset the OSX, 1.45 later the machine had used the latest time machine backup, from an aged netgear nasduo, and restored the entire thing, 0 user input in one hour 32 min….

  8. Nice write-up. I have been a Mac user since 1985, only in the past 4-5 years have I seriously been able to use them in business. They are great and have been easy to use with the iCloud this year. This really has made it worth having a Mac Pro, iPad, iPhone and I have been waiting for 3 weeks for the retina display Macbook Pro. I hope that the flash drive (768 GB) is just as good. Thanks for the review.

  9. You write about the rubber strip around the edge of the lid as if it is a unique Apple feature. Take a closer look at the edge of the display on your Samsung Series 9.

    • You are right John. They have done similar in the new S9 release of less than a month but, IMHO, the key here is to ensue that rubber completely surrounds the screen and, in fact, the most wear I see in laptops and ultras always seems to be along the bottom ledge closest to the hinges.

  10. Thank you for your review. I’m looking forward to your review of the
    Toshiba SandForce Driven SSD and a comparison with the Samsung one. Apparently, of all the models of the new MBA that I’ve checked in person across various apple premium retailer stores in my current country of residence(India), it seems that only the 11 inch i5 models(64GB/128GB) and the base 13 inch i5 model (128GB SSD) have a Toshiba SSD and only the 256GB 13 inch seem to have the Samsung SSD. I hope that you’ll have your review published before or at least just in time when the “Back to School” discounts roll out here, to help me decide if it’s worth opting for the base 13 inch model(My first Mac) or opt for an Ultrabook instead. Whatever I choose, I still plan to keep Win7 as my main OS.

    Personally, I hate the “lottery” concept propagated by Apple-The idea of getting a “better performing” SSD/TFT for the same price as the one with mediocre performance(in comparison, as evident in the 2011 MBA’s) but advertised as “calibrated” & living up to a certain minimum performance, as decided by the company beforehand, without the customer finding out what he has paid for until he opens the packing & boots the machine and leaving the rest to sheer “luck”!

  11. I sell all kinds of laptops, please contact me for new laptop or used at : audiomatches@gmail.com

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