On The MacBook Air And SSD Performance

I was playing around with various 11” and 13” MacBook Airs today at my local Apple store. I’ve been thinking of getting rid of this 15” MacBook Pro, which has served me well since 2010. It’s a great laptop and spec’d pretty high with a 2.66GHz i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and an 80GB SSD. The only thing that really annoys me about this is that it runs a little hot and may be a wee bit on the large side for me these days.

In the past, I was always a big proponent of either the 15” or 17” MacBook Pro, as they tended to be my only computer. This was pre iOS days, and my computing habits have largely changed since 2007. I spend more time on a daily basis with an iOS device rather than my Mac. Why? Because devices like my iPhone are always with me. Fine, I’ll concede I also have more fun on my iPhone for casual computing tasks as opposed to my Mac. I love my Mac, and will continue to buy them in the future, but as far as mobile computing is concerned, I don’t need the largest and most powerful MacBook Pro anymore.

I’m strongly leaning towards a fully spec’d out 11” MacBook Air. When I need more screen real estate, I can easily hook it up to my Cinema Display (it might be seeing the end of its days though). As far as satiating my gaming needs, most of that is done on an iOS device or Playstation 3, so I doubt I’ll miss the discrete GPU.. In some ways, it’s actually a downgrade, what with its much smaller screen, less ram, slower processor, and integrated graphics. I’m not seeing these as a downside for me anymore. The latest generation MacBook Airs ship with incredibly fast 6Gb/s SSDs with your choice of Intel i5 or i7 processors. These MacBook Airs go to sleep and wake up instantly, and from a cold boot take seconds for you to get to OS X’s login screen. Speaking of instant-on, what is it about these MacBook Airs that make them so much faster than MacBook Pros?

My 2010 MacBook Pro has a third party SSD drive with more RAM and a faster processor, yet it doesn’t go to sleep or wake up nearly as fast as a MacBook Air. My first inclination was to attribute the sleep/wake performance to these newer 6Gb/s SSDs that Apple has been shipping, however, this is not necessarily true. My local Apple store has many MacBook Airs, and naturally I checked the technical specs of no less than six different models — three 11” and three 13” versions. All of these models have the newer Intel 6 series chipset, which are capable of 6Gb/s, however the actual speeds these SSDs were connected at were topping out at 3Gb/s.

My MacBook Pro is currently equipped with an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD, which also runs at 3Gb/s, however lacks TRIM support — something Apple’s own SSDs do. Technical specs taken into account, my SSD should run more or less as fast as Apple’s drives. I’m sure Apple’s drives are faster, however this can’t be the reason for the instant sleep/wake functionality of these newer MacBook Airs. The only thing I can think of, is the version of Lion that ships with these Airs have been specially tuned to work better with Apple’s own SSDs. I haven’t come across any other information that can provide a good reason for this, but I’d love to find out.