Apple's new Mac Pro kicks HDDs and SSDs to the curb in favor of PCI-e flash

Apple's new Mac Pro kicks HDDs and SSDs to the curb in favor of PCI-e flash

Summary: Under the Mac Pro's black, cylindrical, aluminum shell is a whole raft of high tech components, including super-fast next-generation PCI Express flash storage.

TOPICS: Storage, Apple

Yesterday, Apple took time during its WWDC 2013 keynote speech to give the developers a sneak peek at the upcoming newly revamped Mac Pro workstation.

Everything about the new Mac Pro is cutting edge, from the dual Xeon E5 processors, to the twin FirePro GPUs, all the way to the thermal core and the machined aluminum cylinder encasing the components. But one place where the new Mac Pro really shines is in the storage department.

(Source: Apple)

See alsoHow Apple's new Mac Pro revolutionizes the desktop workstation

Since a system like the new Mac Pro needs something special when it comes to storage, and Apple hasn't disappointed us.

Rather than go for old-school hard drives (HDDs), or even faster solid state drives (SSDs), Apple has instead chosen to top both of thee and go for next-generation PCI Express flash storage.

This storage is not just fast, it blows away SSDs. PCI Express flash storage is up to 2.5 times faster than the fastest SATA-based solid-state drive, and a whopping 10 times faster than a 7200-rpm a SATA hard drive.

To put this into hard numbers, a SATA hard drive offers about 110MBs, while a SATA flash drive can top 550MB/s. Compare this to PCI Express flash which can manage 1,250MB/s.

That's an incredible level of data throughput. 

(Source: Apple)

This means that the new Mac Pro will have the fastest storage available to a desktop workstation.

The new Mac Pro is, in my opinion, a game changer. Just as SSDs have replaced HDDs, PCI Express storage is now set to push aside SSDs in high-end systems. PCI Express flash storage isn't new, there are a number of PCI Express flash storage cards on the market, but what Apple has done by putting it into its Mac Pro is legitimize it. I have no doubt that we will be seeing similar storage making its way into high-end PC systems – and quite possibly high-end gaming systems – over the coming months.

Topics: Storage, Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Sounds like a variant of SSD to me.

    "PCI Express flash storage"

    Sounds like a variant of SSD to me. SSD just means "solid state drive," a generic term for anything that doesn't have moving parts. It's not a particular technology.
    • My thought exactly.

      PCI-e SSD's have been available for a while now. They can be installed in any PC which has PCI-e slots. Which excludes this "game changing" Mac Pro.
      • Mmm... Though of course if you read the article...

        It says it's not new. Just like apple say AMD are doing the graphics and intel are doing the processors.

        The point is that an OEM has decided to make it the default, an end user doesn't have to pull out cards or buy extra ones. I know, I know, it is apple and we can't give an inch.... However that also means that no OEM has released anything game changing in the last 5 years? Or that they never could because the OEM's don't pt develop the underlying tech?

        Fact is, I've not seen a work station like it before.

        The argument 's silly - it's like saying there was nothing game changing about surface pro because old windows tablets could take mice and keyboards, or used intel, or whatever. Fact is whilst on paper all those things were rocking about, it took MS to take the popular tablet from ipad to surface and other OEM's to perfect it. Same thing here - as work stations go, this is a huge chage, why pretend it isn't? It's the job of an OEM to take existing technologies and put them together into a final product. Yes any other OEM could have made this. Fact is they didn't any more than apple made the surface, why not recognise that? It is an impressive machine. Very niche market, but impressive.
        • It implies it with the following statement

          "This means that the new Mac Pro will have the fastest storage available to a desktop workstation."

          The PCI-e based SSD cards not only make this type of speed available in other desktop workstations they also are available to my $325 HP Paviliion because it, unlike this workstation, has PCI-e slots.

          This isn't about Apple. It's about Apple fanboi's treating everything Apple does as revolutionary despite the fact these options have existed before. If I understand your response correctly what is "revolutionary" here is that Apple has decided to include it by default. I don't see that as revolutionary. Nor do I see anything revolutionary about a dockable mouse/keyboard. But then I don't think anyone has been selling it that way.
          • Re: revolutionary

            Who cares whether it is revolutionary, innovative, or what other buzzword you prefer today?

            This is the high end computer Apple sells today. If you think it does not meet your needs, then just don't buy it. Other people might think otherwise. For whatever reasons that you can't comprehend.

            Or you think you know everything and everyone around must obey your opinion?
      • I guess you missed the part where

        The adoption by the Mac Pro will legitimize the market. Much like the old teardrop iMacs legitimized USB. Yeah, it was out there, but nobody was really using it until the iMac adopted it.

        The point isn't that it's already out there, but that it is now been adopted as a standard configuration by a major computer manufacturer.

        Seriously, this is not that hard a concept, so I can't help but think your inability to grasp it is deliberate.
        • LOL! Yeah, you keep selling yourself on that.

          "Much like the old teardrop iMacs legitimized USB."

          And you keep selling yourself on this too:

          "The adoption by the Mac Pro will legitimize the market."

          These PCI-e solutions are already legitimate.
          • Re: These PCI-e solutions are already legitimate.

            Then share with us: how many desktop computers with PCI-Express flash storage you already have?

            How many of these came with PCI-Express flash storage standard?

            I will not ask how many of these have 6x Thunderbolt 2 interfaces and 4x USB 3.0 interfaces, 2x Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac wireless -- because I know the answer: none.

            If for some reason you think this Mac Pro computer is not for you, all is fine. But you might be surprised how many actually think it is quite desirable configuration to have on your desk.
          • Fanbois

            Dude, my 3 year old Lenovo Workstation has this. Total Flash as the OS drve right to the motherboard with NO SATA in between. It also has USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet. 802.11ac and thunderbolt (Not that I'd give a hoot) wasn't standardized yet at the time. Apple's "Technology" is nothing "new". Just like usual! I think it's oddly FITTING that Apple's new "Top of the line" is shaped like a trash can LOL.
            Wes Man
        • Right!

          And how shocked the PC community was when Apple dropped the floppy...but they followed right along.
      • It's a Game Changer

        Those older PCI-E cards were definitely old school, requiring PCI-SATA bridge chips and RAID0 controllers to get the performance, at a much higher cost to boot. The new SSDs link straight to the PCI-E bus and do not need RAID0 to boost performance. The speeds beat the old cards by a substantial margin.
    • lied to by a sales person!!

      oops. I think I was lied to by a salesperson when I bought an SSD 10X faster? huh., He said 30x.

      Or maybe he didn't lie at all. There is one thing that should be remembered about SSD using non-volatile memory, and that is the speed has to do with the memory speed itself, multiplied by the number of flash (or other) banks that are interleaved.

      For arbitrary example, if you have memory that takes 1us to be written, you can take 10 banks of it and interleave them, breaking up the write into a round robin of 10 pieces, and sending a chunk to the next bank every 0.1us and now it is a product that can eat the data 10x as fast. It's an oversimplification. I'm not going to addres the asymmetrical read/write time of flash used in some memories.

      Flash type solid state disks (like the above) are slow compared to ones using RAM and backed up by spindles or flash. Those have their own controller and internal or external battery to power it should there be a failure, until the RAM contents are written to the real storage. Those are not really intended for consumer use, are intended to be left on 24x7. That's the top shelf. Those RAM-based ones have been around for decades and used to be huge rack mounted things, or as someone else said, recent ones used the PCIe slot and hooked to a RAID, but were those recent ones not also flash-based?

      I have not yet seen this adapted for consumer use, perhaps in the future. Can anyone imagine a two-cabinet PC system, one being the SSD as a system disk connected by external SATA? I could see it. I'm sure there is abetter way to actually design that overall system. Very costly too, if one wants to consider the price of 1TB of DDR3 (and future memories). Take long to save and spin down? Not really with RAID-like arrangements of flash SSDs or physical drives, interleaved the same.

      So that's how fast a 'disk drive' can be. This innovation from our friends at Apple is nice and it's an improvement because they are using a faster data channel, but not anywhere as great a triumph as the trumpets are sounding.

      BTW the shape is interesting. Sort of reminds me of a 45 slug. It is nice looking and conservatively futuristic. Apple always makes an effort to use good-looking cabinets. I have to pay extra for premium cabinets when I build a PC.
  • fuzzy math or bug in apple's calculator?

    "To put this into hard numbers, a SATA hard drive offers about 110MBs, while a SATA flash drive can top 550MB/s. Compare this to PCI Express flash which can manage 1,250MB/s."

    using plain old pen and paper
    1250/550 = 2.2727... not 2.5

    does the apple calculator have a bug?
    LlNUX Geek
    • fuzzy math or bug in apple's calculator?

      More likely just a typo, with which this article is rife (at 07:17 PDT), if improper grammar is also considered a "typo." The accompanying graphic shows the SATA flash drive at 500MB/s and the ratio 2.5. Does one pronounce "SATA" like a two-syllable acronym, sa-ta, or read out the letters, S-A-T-A?
      • This was but one example.

        Micron is selling an enterprise grade PCI-e SSD which has 3.2GB/sec throughput. Yet Andrian considers Apple's solution to be the fastest.
        • This was supposed to be a response to danjames2012 post

          ZDNet...PLEASE get some real forum software. This one sucks!
        • Re: PCI-e SSD which has 3.2GB/sec throughput

          Oh, sure they do!

          But do you know how much that "faster" thing costs? Did you ever know it is not meant to be used in a desktop system, such as this Mac Pro? There is a reason it has the label "Enterprise grade" in there -- the thing is for use in servers.

          You could drive a Ferrari on the normal roads, but if you have to obey the speed limits just like every one else, that doesn't make much sense, right? A more comfortable and way cheaper car would be your preferred choice.

          Then again, could you share with us, how many desktop system you own (built yourself or purchased) that contain this Micron device?
  • Uh, no.

    "This means that the new Mac Pro will have the fastest storage available to a desktop workstation."

    RevoDrive 3 X2 - PCI Express

    240GB - 960GB / MLC / 3-Year Warranty
    Up to 1500MB/s and 230,000 IOPS

    Available for any PCI-e equipped PC. Apple is just playing catchup.
    • this is what happens

      this is what happens when fanboys write articles.... fact checking goes out the window in favour of what benefits their favourite brand....
    • What computer manufacturer installs this as the standard configuration

      in their desktop workstation?

      Are you incapable of comprehending the difference between buying a drive and plugging it into your PCI express slot or having it a standard configuration?

      Apparently so, since the current crop of Mac Pros can use the very same drive you just mentioned, and yet, you are completely unable to recognize that fact.