MacBook Air SSD speed/performance (vs HDD)

MacBook Air SSD speed FAQ: How much faster is the MacBook Air SSD storage system compared to a typical MacBook HDD (i.e., MacBook Air SSD v. HDD performance)?

I'm looking at buying a new MacBook Air in the next few weeks, and one of the things I've been intrigued by is the MacBook Air SSD speed/performance. I know Apple claims the MacBook Air is an "instant on" system when you lift the lid, and that implies a seriously fast "disk" subsystem, but how much faster is a MacBook Air SSD (solid state drive) than a traditional MacBook HDD (hard disk drive)?

MacBook Air SSD speed information from Apple

According to Apple's MacBook Air performance web page, the Air SSD subsystem is "two times faster" than a conventional HDD (hard disk drive). Here's their statement:

"Wow, that was fast." With MacBook Air, you’ll find yourself saying that a lot. Because flash storage (SSD storage) is two times faster than a conventional hard drive, everything you do is more responsive...

Regarding this MacBook Air SSD performance statement, Apple includes a footnote at the bottom of their performance page. Here's a trimmed-down version of that footnote:

Testing conducted by Apple in October 2010 using preproduction 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-based 13-inch MacBook Air units with 256GB flash drive and preproduction 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-based 11-inch MacBook Air units with 128GB flash drive.

The 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-based 13-inch MacBook units with 250GB 5400-rpm hard drive were production units. All preproduction systems were configured with 4GB of RAM. All production units were configured with 2GB of RAM.

I'm not sure why Apple included 4GB RAM in the MacBook Air systems versus 2GB RAM in the MacBook HDD systems. I'm not sure how that affects their hard drive tests, but it doesn't seem appropriate, especially since the base model MacBook Air has 2GB RAM (so they're not comparing base models to each other).

For more information, here's a link to Apple's MacBook Air performance web page.

2010 MacBook Air SSD speed/performance data

In my research I came across a website named Low End Mac that reports data from Macworld and Primate Labs tests. Here are several MacBook Air SSD performance statements from that article:

"Macworld reports that duplicating a 1 GB file took five times as long with the 2009 model's hard drive as with the 2010 model's solid-state drive (SSD). In other tests, the new drives came in at 21% faster."

So, copying a file can be up to 5x faster on a MacBook Air SSD system versus and HDD system. Their "21% faster" statement is significantly less than Apple's "two times faster" statement.

Interestingly, they go on to state that the MacBook Air SSD subsystem makes the overall system performance faster:

"But the surprising thing is that the processor intensive tests also saw huge increases. Those tests aren't supposed to be impacted by hard drive performance, the Core 2 Duo CPUs in the new MacBook Air are not a quantum leap from previous versions"

This next statement supports that assertion, showing an approximate 10% performance improvement in MacBook Air system performance at the same processor speed:

"Primate Labs has benchmark results using its Geekbench tests. The original 1.6 GHz MBA scores 2031. Last year's 1.86 GHz model rates 2444. This year's 1.86 GHz model achieves 2695, and the 1.4 GHz model comes in at 2026, approaching results for the original 1.6 GHz MBA."

Here's a link to this Low End Mac article if you'd like to read more.

2008 Apple Insider MacBook Air SSD speed data

All of the other MacBook Air SSD speed/performance articles I found dates back to 2008. I'm listing the relevant information from those articles in the remainder of this document.

In February, 2008, Apple Insider reported the following MacBook Air SSD speed data:

  • Air SSD writes 60-80% faster.
  • Air SSD reads up to 18x faster.
  • The overall Xbench disk scores: HDD=28.83, SSD=47.97 (higher is better)

They also add this statement about the MacBook Air SSD performance:

"The SSD was able to finish booting and connect to a wireless network while the HDD model was still spinning its gear on the grey boot screen."

Here's a link to that Apple Insider article.

2008 PC World MacBook Air SSD performance

In 2008 a website that seems to be related to PC World provided these statements about the MacBook Air SSD performance:

... the SSD makes the Air feel exceptionally snappy. For instance, that first Air took 70 seconds to boot up from Mac chime to desktop; my 2007 vintage MacBook Pro takes 48 seconds; this new Air needs only 28 seconds.

... (applications launch faster) -- Adobe Photoshop Elements took 8 seconds on the new Air, 16 seconds on my MacBook Pro...

... Xbench benchmarking scores are coming in higher than those for Apple's more powerful MacBook Pro lineup (higher is better.) My MacBook Pro, which has a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor and a 160GB hard drive spinning at 7,200 rpm, checks in with a score of about 118; the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models return scores of around 123; this particular Air hit 141. In comparison, the first-generation Air with a standard hard drive returned an Xbench score of 43.

(I'm not going to include a link to the website where I found these statements, as I'm not sure what their relationship to PC World really is. If/when I find the original PC World article I'll be glad to link to it.)

MacBook Air SSD speed/performance - Summary

As you can see from all this MacBook Air SSD speed/performance data, the Air SSD storage system is definitely faster than a traditional MacBook HDD hard drive subsystem. Apple reports the SSD is two times faster than an HDD, while all these other sites report different performance improvements, including overall MacBook performance improvements.

Myself, I hope to find out in the next few weeks. My current notebook is a 2GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro system I purchased in 2005 or 2006 (one of the original Intel-based MacBook Pro systems), so I'm looking forward to seeing how much faster a MacBook Air is overall compared to this system. When I find out, I'll report that information here.