Mac Air and the cost of flash

Mac Air and the cost of flash

Summary: Apple offers a flash drive on their new MacBook Air. And it ain't cheap.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

Apple offers a flash drive on their new MacBook Air. And it ain't cheap. Should road warriors bite?

$999 Replacing the standard 80 GB hard drive with the 64 GB flash drive costs $999. 64 GB is plenty for business use and way-too-small for personal use - as is the 80 GB. But this isn't a desktop replacement. The Air is a road warrior's status symbol.

2 odd things in the announcement Apple didn't make a specific claim for improved battery life with the flash drive, like X minutes more. They spec'd the Air at 5 hours battery life with either drive.

Nor did they offer any specific performance claims for the flash, which surprises me. The stock 4200 RPM 1.8" drive is about as slow as they come for today's notebooks. If a flash drive can be faster than a disk, this is an easy target.

But perhaps Apple made a marketing decision to ignore any differences. So few people will shell out a grand for the flash, so why denigrate the popular model?

The only specific Apple claim for the flash drive is that it is more durable than the disk drive. While the 1.8" has a very good shock and vibe spec, the flash drive is better and will likely outlive the disk. Both will outlive the rest of the system.

The Storage Bits take Flash drives make exciting copy, but in today's power-hungry notebooks they don't make much of difference in battery life. The LED-backlight on the Air contributes more to the battery life than the flash drive can.

The Air should boot faster with the flash drive, but an ultra-portable like this will mostly awake from sleep mode, where the difference will be minimal. Once up and running few users will be able to tell the difference.

Apple's low-key announcement of the flash drive is a welcome change from the hype and spin offered by flash vendors. Don't expect too much and perhaps you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Comments welcome, of course. Is the flash drive worth it for you?

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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  • Question about flash drives in general

    I've read that flash memory (SD cards, CF, etc.) have a finite number of writes before they stop working.
    a) Is this true?
    b) Does it happen quickly enough to be relevant? In other words, as long as the drive lasts 5+ years, that is probably good enough.
    c) Again, if true, is there anything you can do to extend the life of flash memory?
    • Wear leveling

      The finite number of writes issue is pretty much a moot point. Wear leveling algorithms(spread the writes throughout the disk so the same areas aren't constantly being re-written) help significantly. See this Anandtech article reviewing an MTRON SSD drive:

      "The drive features a write/erase endurance of approximately 140 years at 50GB of write/erase cycles per day thanks to an exclusive controller chip design that features proprietary wear leveling and bad block management algorithms."
      • Thank you for the info

        [i]The drive features a write/erase endurance of approximately 140 years[/i]

        I'm guessing not many people will keep the same drive for 140 years. :)
  • The speed difference between

    a 4200rpm 1.8" and a 5400rpm 2.5" is small. Since the read/write head will pass by the same spot on a smaller drive more often, even if it is a slower rotational speed. But also, last I checked, there was no 5400rpm 1.8" drives on the market.
    • HDD RPM Clarification

      Just to clarify, RPM's do indeed dictate how many times a read/write head will pass by the same spot on a disk. So 5400 RPM's will naturally spin faster than 4200, as opposed to the description above. Stuka has the dynamics backwards regarding size of disk vs angular velocity.

      Now, a larger disk will spin faster than a smaller disk at it's largest circumferance when spinning a the same rpm's. So the actual speed that the r/w head sees with respect to the larger disk is faster when considering the same rpm's.

      A smaller disk with lower rpm's will have much slower data transfer rates. The seek time for the head might be faster, but that is less significant in terms of performance than the data transfer rate. For example, a 5400 rpm 2.5" drive will have a maximum transfer rate of 100 - 150 M Bytes per second. and a sustained transfer rate of 42 MBps. A 4200 rpm 1.8" drive will have a sustained transfer rate of 24 MBps.
      • flash performance

        Would be interesting to have some hand numbers about the flash disk performance - I believe the random access will be better, specially comparing with the 4200 rpm unit access times.
        green alien
  • RE: Mac Air and the cost of flash

    64 GB is plenty for business use and way-too-small for personal use - as is the 80 GB.

    Who says so? How can that be said so generally?
    • it's conventional wisdom.

      for example, at home i have a 250 gig drive as my main one, and a 500 gig for extra storage, and they have a ton of stuff on them.
      i could get by with just the 250, but having more for all my junk is nice.

      at the office, i have a 160 gig drive which is mostly empty. i could easily get by with 60 gigs.
  • It's a Starbucks laptop

    Perfect little subcompact for surfing the web while drinking your $6 cup of coffee.
  • The real advantage of the flash drive...

    If you're in a micro-gravity situation, the rotating media, acting as a gyroscope, will influence your motion, as it resists changes in velocity (direction, speed), and may induce unwanted wabble or turning when you rotate the Air along most axii (well, I think it should be spelled that way!)

    The SDD has no rotating platters, thus is better for those in low-mass space vehicles, or vehicle-less, in micro or zero gravity. It may also have less cooling footprint, but I don't have the specs.

    I'll leave it for the rotating media loyalists to point out that the 1.8" rotating media can be viewed as a boon to people in the exact same scenario, as it will serve to stabilize their trajectory.
  • :: The MacBook Air is Riddled with Contradictions ::

    In considering the MacBook Air, one should take note of the newer trends that Apple is beginning to introduce in it's products in adapting them from others.

    Overall, I can't see the MacBook Air entering into the public sphere with the kind of widespread acceptance the Apple is looking for, at least not now, given the MSRP of the notebook. Also, given the limited capacity of it's standard HDD (80 GB), using optical media (4.7 GB on DVD) would seem as a more reasonable alternative to digitalizing every bit of content for mobility.

    The MacBook Air is riddled with contradictions. For one, it's offers less than a standard MacBook, yet retails for more than the MacBook Pro - with only .32 inches between itself (0.76 in.) and the MacBook (1.08 in.)! However, the standard MacBook still manages to offer an additional hour of battery life, while providing every function of the MacBook Air, and more. There's very little here other than aesthetics.

    With a battery life of 5 hours, the MacBook Air isn't for watching Movies, listening to Music, or for other like activities. The truth of the MacBook Air is that it's work-centric, considering Mr. Jobs new philosophy in realizing a 'wireless economy' in which future computing itself works, in the most strict and restrained sense. However, this perspective takes wireless technology for granted, maybe too soon.

    Even as an "alleged" sub-notebook, it again contradicts itself in neglecting to offer a compelling Price/Performance balance that "authentic" sub-notebooks strive to offer consumers who would otherwise do without any notebook. Rather, consider the MacBook Air as the boutique trophy from somewhere in between Cupertino's Engineering Lab and New Yorks MoMA.