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

REPORT ANALYSIS

When we look at performance of the new 2013 MacBook Air in its native OSX Mountain Lion environment, the Samsung NGFF PCIe SSD performs as one would expect and then some.  It tops out at above 800MB/s high sequential transfer speeds and synthetic benchmarks also show the low 4K random aligned write speeds to top out at 75MB/s when testing in Zone Bench 2.0.  Couple this performance with build, pricing, and a 12 hour battery life, and Apple has just introduced a top tier competitive product to the world.

What about the PC guy who wants the best ultra money can buy?  We have no doubt that the 2013 Haswell based MBA appears to fit the bill and BootCamp enables a dual boot OSX/Windows environment with next to no effort whatsoever.  Apple even includes a copy of BootCamp and BootCamp Assistant to help you along the way.  How does performance stack up when we are working in Windows 7 on our MBA with the exact same hardware we just tested in Mac?

2013 MBA Opened

Things didn’t fare so well for us PC guys with this 2013 MBA and the low 4K synthetic results left us with the absolute worst PCMark Vantage performance we have ever seen from any SSD.  We needed a way to display this first hand so we decided to transfer three different files (a compressed Program, 20GB of media and 20GB of Windows 7 OS) in order to show you first hand what we are seeing.  Let’s take a look:

2013 MBA File Transfer Speed Chart

First and foremost, when examining the transfer performance of the 2013 MBA alone, all three results are excellent results and the transfer of MS Office in 2.8 seconds was unbelievable.  Our 4K performance difficulties appear while working in Windows 7 on the new MBA when we transfer 20GB of Windows 7 OS files from one part on the Samsung SSD to another.  The transfer time of just under 10 minutes is 7 times slower than the PC and the same when using the exact same hardware in OSX.  This demonstrates that the problem with low 4K performance while using Windows in a Mac is not the fault of the SSD, but rather, something in the software, and quite possibly a configuration by Apple themselves.  As we linked prior, this same problem was evident in the 2012 and previous Mac systems, regardless of the SSD that we tested.

BATTERY LIFE IN WINDOWS 7

We spoke to battery life of the 2013 MBA in our other report and needed to confirm similar while using the system in Windows 7.  Following the exact same scenario, we found that the battery lasted for 11 hours and 23 minutes before dying.  We found this very interesting as we also tested in PCMark 8 Home Battery Test which brought significantly different results:

PCMark 8 Home test

Although we have no basis of comparison to other ultrabooks with this software yet, we can pretty much guarantee that they would ring similar and the battery life of all before the Haswell based 2013 MBA would have a significantly lower result.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 If the best analysis of the 2013 MacBook Air comes through our use at the end of the day, than the MBA is a definite winner.  Not only do I anticipate it to be an integral part of my tech travels throughout the year, but also, the fact that this system can tether via wifi, in both Windows 7 and OSX modes, to my Canon EOS 6D makes it an irreplaceable tool.  Gone are the days where we take all our pictures, only to manipulate them well after the fact and realize that some of the most needed shots were left behind.

If you are a potential MBA buyer, don’t expect to see any visible difference in the 2013 MacBook Air if you are comparing the build quality and performance to the 2012 MBA.  It looks and acts exactly the same in typical every day use. The saving grace  comes with the MBA’s 12 hour battery life, made possible by the new Haswell chipset, along with the ability to now game on an ultra thanks to Intel’s HD5000 graphics. Considering this new beast is priced much the same as the former 2012 version, the choice is a no-brainer for those seeking the ‘Mac’ lifestyle.

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34 comments

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

    • 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.

      • 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! ^_*

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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?

  8. Here is a little trick to make this SSD fast as hell in 4k in Bootcamp! Give it a look: https://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.

  9. Les, do you know where it might be possible to buy these Samsung PCIe drives (or any brand, for that matter) to fit the MacBook 2013 & 2014 lines? OWC doesn’t have them (been waiting AGES…) and we’re wondering if any other 3rd party manufacturer has started doing it, or whether Samsung is allows to resell the very same ones in your photos above that they ship with. Thoughts? We would like to be able to upgrade our clients to larger drives when necessary and cannot find a supplier. Thanks!

    • Negative…I dont know of any replacements as of yet. That is what Apple has always wanted, you having to upgrade through them.

      • Les, I might be mistaken, but I think Apple is not even doing these upgrades. We’re hearing that people who go to an AppleStore are being told to buy new computers rather than being given an HD upgrade option even though Apple’s the only one that seems to have these PCIe drives.

        Have you heard otherwise?

        They are crazy fast, I love the 1TB I got in my personal MBP, but what about the folks that ended up with a smaller HD and they just want to put a larger one in? Apple seems to be saying “screw you?”

      • Les, we’re a little late to the thread, but we are only aware of two potential manufacturers for the PCIe SSDs that go into most of Apple’s portable line now. Transcend and OWC. Both companies have slipping 2015 dates and are now suggesting they won’t have product till “sometime in the 2nd Quarter.” This seems really bizarre and we’re having trouble understanding why it’s taking so long to bring these things to market. Do your sources indicate whether or not Samsung will ever sell directly and not just to Apple? Have you heard of any other manufactures to date? Thanks!

      • Samsung will not manufacturer and retail Apple SSDs directly and the reason there is pretty obvious, but I might keep my eyes open to see what otherworldcomputing.com markets in the next few months. YOu are not alone in this; we have dozen of e-mails and pm’s asking this exact question.

      • OWC has told us that their “1st Quarter of 2015” has now also slipped to “2nd Quarter 2015.” By “obvious” about the Samsung decision, I guess you’re referring to licensing agreements? I guess that’s confusing for me because the drive patents are not owned by Apple. Or are they?…

      • I can’t answer that but to say that Samsung has had its own issues getting retail M.2 drives out, much less that of Apple. As they manufacture the Apple custom M.2. I am going to guess there is an agreement that they can’t create competition for that by manufacturing their own version side by side.

      • The Samsung EVO series seems to be rocking the industry with very competitive pricing and (so far) pretty decent performance reviews. We’re still Mushkin guys, but they don’t offer a 1TB drive of the same ilk and Samsung has filled the void. Still think it must be an amazing legal document that prevents Samsung from at least selling wholesale to someone other than Apple if these are open standards drives. Especially because we’re hearing that even AppleStores are not willing to offer larger sized HD upgrades to people who got suckered in to believing a 128GB drive would be more than adequate for their needs. :-

      • What always amazed me about the Apple upgrade was the caveat that, for a price we will upgrade you but we are keeping your old SSD. Say what?

      • Huh. I wasn’t aware of that. Are you sure they’re even offering to upgrade the drive? Our local AppleStore usually suggests people buy new computers when their hard drive is too small for their data. Or worse, we’ve heard of “Genies” telling people, “Just put all of your pictures on this external HD,” without any warning about the dangers of data loss with that strategy. Apple lives and breathes to sell more hardware, sell more, sell more, sell more. With the RAM soldered to the logic board of 90% of their portable line, they’re working on designed obsolescence with the hope that people will replace their laptops as often as they replace their iPhones.

        [sigh]

        Let us know if you hear of any other manufacturers or release dates.

        Thanks again.

        Mick

      • Hi Les. An update here. Transcend is now saying 2016 and OWC just keeps saying “we’ll let you know when we know….” Have you heard of any other sources hitting the market?

        All the best,

        Mick

      • Negative…there just doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for this specific SSD config.

      • That is just so weird. It’s the ONE upgradeable part in a fantastically lucrative line of very expensive, overpriced laptops. There are millions out there with the tiny, 128GB “iPhone” hard drives that would kill to get some more space in there. Apple doesn’t even offer the 1TB for any of the MBAir models even at their inflated prices, so I find it hard to understand why someone couldn’t make incredible margins (OWC has very lucrative margins too) with a 3rd solution like this. I know we could sell them every week. I don’t keep up with Kingston and Crucial, but I would hope the first company to market to have a freakin’ PRESS CONFERENCE if they got them out there. Heck, I’d buy stock!

      • Hi Les,

        Do you have an email address you can be reached at by businesses like ours? You can reach me that way via our website MicksMacs.com.

        Thanks.

        Mick

      • Look at ‘About’on top of website. there is an email form and also my email address there.

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