Hot news from the world of Ap­ple

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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.

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