Hot news from the world of Apple
It’s a perfect example of how any platform comprises innovation across each component to deliver more than the sum of its parts
Apple isn’t just the iPhone company. It continues to invest lots of energy into its Mac platform, as seen in the innovative new battery packs for its all-new MacBook range and new Final Cut Pro X.
The new MacBook is remarkable in several ways, not least for the decision to adopt a single USB-C port on the device, but hidden inside the computer is evidence that Apple has a hand in the design of the SSD controller used in the Mac.
Apple purchased flash memory-controller developer Anobit for $390 million in 2011, but little evidence of components created using that company’s technology have been seen, until the MacBook. iFixit reports the flash controllers used in previous SSD Macs (including but not only the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro) have used controllers designed by third-party firms, yet the latest MacBook uses a controller designed and built by Samsung. This controller delivers outstanding storage performance – AnandTech claims the MacBook delivered better storage performance than the mid-2013 MacBook Air, although it did fall behind in the 4KB random write test. These
test results in combination with the Samsung brand led AnandTech’s Ryan Smith to suggest, “Apple had some kind of hand in developing the SSD controller”. He believes Samsung is simply acting as a foundry for the product.
However, in order to fully realise the advantages of any improvements to SSD, Apple must embrace the challenge of improving the surrounding platform infrastructure to keep pace. Apple’s response is visible in the decision to implement support for the NVM Express (NVMe) SSD Interface within OS X 10.10.3. Developed cooperatively by over 80 companies (including Intel and Microsoft) and introduced in March 2011 by the NVM Express Work Group, NVMe is designed to support improvements in SSD technology across the next 10 years. Among other improvements, the NVMe Work Group says it “efficiently supports multi-core architectures, ensuring thread(s) may run on each core with their own SSD queue and interrupt without any locks required”. In brief this means you can expect much better SSD performance than you’ll get using current generation AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) technology.
Since they began shipping in 2014 NVMe products have “demonstrated up to six times greater 4KB Random and Sequential Read/Write performance and lower latency than SATA solid state drives”, says the NVMe standards group.
Given that NVMe products have demonstrated such improvements in 4KB random-read tests, it’s a no-brainer for Apple to introduce support for the tech inside its OS – its possibly self-developed SSD controller could use assistance.
It’s a perfect example of how any platform comprises innovation across each component to deliver more than the sum of its parts. “The goal of NVMe is to unlock the potential of PCIe SSDs now and in the future, and standardise the PCIe SSD interface”, the standards body behind the standard states (nvmexpress.org).
NVMe is already used in data centres and products implementing the standard are scheduled to hit consumer markets this year. For Mac users, of course, the promise is further performance gains – even when using the most demanding applications – ahead. And these evolutions will impact Apple’s Mac, iPad, iPhone and Watch platforms in the years to come.
Macs of the future can expect much better SSD performance than we currently get with current-generation AHCI.