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The MacBook Air 11.6-inch model may be diminutive, but it beats out its larger kin in SSD performance.   (Source: Apple)

Engadget confirmed that the Samsung SSD outperforms the Toshiba SSD Apple uses.  (Source: Engadget)

Apple security research Charlie Miller promises to overheat and possibly set MacBooks ablaze with this latest hack, to be revealed next month.
Problem isn't exactly new, but it could bother some Apple owners that they don't have the "best" SSD

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) recently unveiled its new MacBook Air models, the fourth major refresh of the product line, and the first refresh of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, introduced in generation three.  Apple is now the third largest PC manufacturer by volume in the U.S.  The recent refresh was significant as it also marked the death of the "budget" MacBook laptop.

I. Slow SSDs?

Reports are emerging from multiple sources that some MacBook Airs -- namely the 13.3-inch models -- have a bit of a shortcoming when it comes to the speed of the installed solid state drive.

Comparing 128 GB SSD drives (stock on the 13.3-inch, an upgrade option on the 11.6-inch) on the refreshed models, gadget enthusiasts discovered the 13.3-inch 128 GB drive is manufactured by Toshiba Corp. (
TYO:6502), while the 11.6-inch has a hard drive by Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (SEO:005930).  While that difference may not sound like much, it turns out it actually makes a somewhat substantial difference in speed.

The Toshiba TS128C SSD in the video review show TLD Today was found [video] to post a write speed of 156 MB/s versus a much higher write speed of 246 MB/s with the Samsung SM128C SSD.  Similarly read speeds for the Toshiba were 208 MB/s and for the Samsung were 264 MB/s.

Engadget attempted to confirm these numbers with tests of its own.  Its Toshiba-equipped air posted write and read speeds of 184 MB/s and 203 MB/s, respectively.  The write numbers seem in pretty good agreement, but there's a fair amount of discrepancy between the writes speeds in the two tests.

Of course, this is hardly a "disaster" for MacBook owners -- the Toshiba drive is still faster than the 5400 rpm hard drives found in most laptops, which run up to 100 MB/s for the latest models.  And there's far bigger hardware headaches in the MacBook Air itself -- such as the anemic stock 2 GB of DRAM or the lack of a discrete graphics chip.

That said, MacBook Air buyers may wish to check hard drives on in-store models by on "About This Mac" in the menu bar and going to More Info -> System Report, and lastly, clicking on Serial ATA.  It is unknown what the distribution of drives for higher capacity is in terms of Samsung versus Toshiba.

The only noticeable difference from the faster SSD speeds will likely be small speedups in boot time and slightly faster file transfers, when copying large files or folders to or from the hard drive.

II. "Burning" Batteries?

Esteemed hacker Charlie Miller is perhaps the most distinguished hacker of Apple laptops in the business, so when he promises something big, the media naturally takes note.

Over the last couple weeks, reports have been surfacing that Mr. Miller is planning a big release for next month at the annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Reportedly, Mr. Miller is preparing to unveil how to "hack" Mac batteries to set them on fire.

Apple has had its fair share of exploding/burning gadgets [1][2][3][4][5][6] over the years, so that claim caused much excitement and fear.  It also perhaps brings to mind Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758mass battery recalls of a few years back, in lieu of reports of explosions.
At this point it's clear Mr. Miller is going to present something important, but the media appears focus on wanton speculation, rather than waiting for the facts.  For example some sources -- like Tal Be'ery, Web security research team leader at Imperva Security claims that the hack requires physical access.

He comments, "Why would hackers invest time and money in the R&D of a new too a new tool that would cost 130$ per deployment (the cost of a battery) and be only relevant for a very selected group (specific battery model of apple laptops) and require physical access when they can infect millions of machines using OS exploits and social engineering with a very low cost per infection - without even getting up from the couch?"

However, Business Insider reports that the hack is driven by a default password buried in the firmware, suggesting that the intrusion could be done remotely.

Aside from the specifics of the attack, the various sources do agree on the general premise.  A hacker could use firmware modification to tell the MacBook battery to continuously charge, causing it to grow hot, and potentially have its lithium chemicals combust.

Even if Mr. Miller can only show an attack with physical access as Mr. Be'ery suggests, it could still pose a terrorist threat, as malicious individuals could set Apple laptops up to combust at a given time in an airplane cabin or other sensitive location.

It's important, though, to remember here that any laptop could, in theory, be vulnerable to this kind of attack.  However, the attack sounds quite complex and would likely require obsessive focus like Mr. Miller's to discover.  Mr. Miller says hacking Macs is easier and more fun than hacking PCs.

Plus anyone who's ever used a recent generation Apple laptop knows those super tight metal laptop shells tend to trap heat much easier than bulkier PC laptops -- perfect conditions for combusting a battery.



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RE: Are SSD speeds rea#!! that big of an issue?
By Mitch101 on 7/26/2011 2:20:55 PM , Rating: 2
Yes since the SSD in the MAC AIR are not user replaceable.

SSD's have doubled performance since the MAC AIR launched and SSD's will increase in size over time. For what is supposed to be a cutting edge product because of this its already using obsolete parts.


RE: Are SSD speeds rea#!! that big of an issue?
By MrTeal on 7/26/2011 2:32:41 PM , Rating: 1
I think you missed my point. The SSD on the MBA is not user-replaceable no matter what capacity and performance it is. However, for the vast majority of these users either one is orders of magnitude better than a slow mechanical drive.

I would venture a guess that there are very, very few people that would use the MBA in such a way that they would consistently notice a difference between 250MB/s and 200MB/s sequential read speed. If random read/write speeds are comparable, the actual experience of using the MBA wouldn't be too different between the two drives, and both would still be much, much, much better than the mechanical. HDD.


By therealnickdanger on 7/26/2011 3:47:13 PM , Rating: 2
I believe it was Tom's Hardware (take it or leave it) that had an interesting performance analysis showing that even the slowest available SSDs still outperform HDDs so greatly that your average consumer (Mac users especially) would not know SandForce from JMicron. It was a chart showing the performance of HDDs relative to completion time as well as SSDs. The gap between SSDs and HDDs was massive, but the gap between SSDs to other SSDs was very small.

Speaking of which, I still have an older "crappy" 64GB JMicron SSD in one of my laptops, running Windows 7 (no TRIM). The stuttering issue was hyped out of proportion IMO: in real world, everyday use, it has always been drastically faster than the 7200RPM drive it replaced. Sure, I could force it to stutter on command if I purposely overload it, but it never happened under simple use (web browsing, Office, music, games). That was like 2-3 years ago. At this point, just about ANY SSD will rock your face off if you've never used one before.


By B3an on 7/26/2011 7:20:17 PM , Rating: 2
I had one of them JMicron drives. I found the stuttering very noticeable. It even happened with light use. I'd rather have a slow HDD than one of them pathetic SSD's again, atleast a HDD is consistent.
Any other SSD is vastly better though, but HDD's are so slow thats not saying much. Still much room for improvement, atleast for more demanding work.


By Solandri on 7/26/2011 3:58:46 PM , Rating: 2
It (and much of the hype over high end SSDs for that matter) is much ado about nothing. You'll only see the difference if you're transferring large amounts of data. In daily use, the difference is insignificant.

Say a game has to read 1 GB of sequential data to load.
On a 100 MB/s HDD, it takes 10 sec.
On a 208 MB/s SSD, it takes 4.8 sec, a 5.2 sec improvement.
On a 264 MB/s SSD, it takes 3.8 sec, an extra 1 sec improvement.

And that's for a rather largeish 1 GB. For more typical applications where you're reading a hundred MB to start an app, and just a few MB to load a file, you're not going to notice the difference.

Spending a few minutes reading these articles and worrying about which SSD is in your laptop will probably waste more time than the slower SSD over the lifetime of the laptop. Even the slowest ones will give you the vast majority of the quicker speeds to be obtained by switching from a HDD to a SSD. The difference between the SSDs themselves is so tiny it's only noticeable when reading/writing very large amounts of data. Just look at some of these SSD benchmarks in "real world" usage:
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4341/ocz-vertex-3-ma...


By Fritzr on 7/27/2011 2:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
he SSD on the MBA is not user-replaceable

So the MacBook Air is designed to be thrown in the ashcan when the SSD finally wears out? Methinks this will be another 'my battery failed revolt'.

Apple engineering FTW


RE: Are SSD speeds rea#!! that big of an issue?
By Reclaimer77 on 7/26/2011 2:43:31 PM , Rating: 3
I agree with you, but when has Apple EVER used "cutting edge" hardware? I find it hard to believe buyers of this are that upset seeing as how they are always in the slow lane and using yesterdays gear anyway.


RE: Are SSD speeds rea#!! that big of an issue?
By mellomonk on 7/26/2011 5:17:06 PM , Rating: 2
So if you were running a multi-billion $ tech company you would only use 'bleeding edge' parts? Statements like the above make us enthusiasts sound irritating to the average Joe. I've personally lived on the bleeding edge having to endure firmware update after firmware update and even a recall once. But for Apple and anyone who cares about the customer's experience, that is no good. You use what can be made cost effectively and performs reliably. It is a tricky balance and Apple does it pretty well. When I walk through the laptops at Best Buy or the like how many have SSDs installed, let alone fast SSDs? Comparing the Macbook Air to what is the generally sold PC laptop, Yesterday's Gear looks pretty good. As enthusiasts it pays to stand back occasionally and get the big picture. It is shocking to witness the massive amounts of PCs running XP, or how few PCs have discrete graphics, let alone 'bleeding edge'. Seems to me the average iSheep is sitting pretty comapared to the average Sheep.


RE: Are SSD speeds rea#!! that big of an issue?
By Reclaimer77 on 7/26/2011 6:41:02 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So if you were running a multi-billion $ tech company you would only use 'bleeding edge' parts?


If I were charging the insane premiums that Apple does? Yes, I would. I would HAVE TO, or else nobody would buy my crap.

But then again, I don't have a reality distortion field.


By robinthakur on 7/27/2011 9:39:31 AM , Rating: 2
It depends how you phrase the question really. If you asked an Apple (or any other sensible consumer of other brands) customer whether they want stable, reliable hardware which has been company and user tested for defects and won't suffer from bleeding edge defects then most of them would say "yes".

After recent events such as the chipset issues on SandyBridge and the stuttering SSD controllers of a couple of years ago, who can blame them! Apple charges for its entire walled garden experience, which is Apple end to end from the hardware to the OS to a lot of the software. To focus on parts of this approach such as the hardware is only relevent if you plan to run Windows on them, and most people don't buy Macs just to run Windows. The number of people that require 'bleeding edge' hardware has dwindled since PC Gaming 'died' and if you require it for any other tasks, you could always just get a mac pro rather than a MBA.


By jecs on 7/27/2011 2:27:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
quote:
So if you were running a multi-billion $ tech company you would only use 'bleeding edge' parts?

If I were charging the insane premiums that Apple does? Yes, I would. I would HAVE TO, or else nobody would buy my crap.

But then again, I don't have a reality distortion field.


Your comment look very biassed too. Being evidently disgusted is the same as blindly defending something when it comes to a distortion field concept you brought up. ("insane", "crap")... and that is for 3 lines of text.

Apple presents an "interesting" product at a premiun cost and you see most companies playing a very nervous catch up race promising something cheaper and better. In some occasions you read some articles like this one trying to defend or to inform consumers from a faulty premium product. After the typical crossfire Apple does something to diminish the problem and presents some kind of solution and the problem perception is reduced considerably. In the end the cycle repeats, here we are now, but Apple keeps gaining momentum and market, and money. It was way worst with the iPhone antenna reception problem, but the iPhone is today more solid than it was at that time.

So, eventually or inevitably Apple as a big company is going to face a very serious problem. But it has so much money that a recall would not hurt the company, if the problem does not get to produce mayor damages. Nevertheless keep the perspective. I have one of those early MOBOs with the SB ASUS (INTEL) bad shipset and I am going to return the MOBO (I haven't yet). But I'm not going to stop buying from INTEL or from ASUS. That is unless AMD or any other company does something or create a product so great it will make me buy from them.

I am going to wait for the next mobile INTEL CPU later this year (it does not exclude Apple from its advantages either), but in my case I don't expect to much performance from an ultra portable laptop. I just expect it to be, well, ultra light and fairly functional. And I think this is what many MB Air buyers expect from this product. Not a gaming machine or a top strong overall performer. The Air specifically comes with it own advantages and disadvantages, being the price one of disadvantages. It is up to every buyer to evaluate or not if this product is going to be up to their own expectancies.


By TakinYourPoints on 7/26/2011 10:59:36 PM , Rating: 1
Incorrect. The SSD is a custom package in order to fit into the enclosure, but it certainly is replaceable. It isn't like the RAM which is completely integrated into the motherboard.


"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive














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