NVMe -- the future of the SSD Mac

I'm shifting the dial from Apple Watch to glance at Apple’s other growing product family, the Mac...

I’m pretty confident Apple maintains a strong development road map for the range.


Take its move to improve SSD support in Macs. We already know the future of the Mac is solid state and that disk drives are rapidly moving into history. Now, the company intends on developing the technologies it uses in SSDs to make them faster, with lower latency, heightened capacity and at costs that match what we’re used to.

Case in point: The newly launched MacBook. This release came as Apple added support for the NVM Express (NVMe) SSD Interface in OS X 10.10.3. Apple had to introduce this support as these new Macs are the first designs in which Apple has deployed NVMe, with an NVMe controller inside the Mac replacing the AHCI Advanced Host Controller Interface we’ve seen the company use the last few years.

What is NVMe? The NVMe standards group says the standard “demonstrates up to six times greater 4KB Random and Sequential Read/Write performance, and lower latency than SATA solid state drives.”

Replacing the AHCI (which was built to deal with rotating hard drives, rather than SSDs) NVMe improves both random and sequential performance by “reducing latency, enabling high levels of parallelism, and streamlining the command set while providing support for security, end-to-end data protection, and other Client and Enterprise features users need. NVM Express provides a standards-based approach enabling broad ecosystem adoption and PCIe SSD interoperability,” the standards group says.

Recent reports even claimed future Apple SSD drives will deliver triple the capacity at the same price.

NVMe for Mac

It seems inevitable Apple will introduce NVMe across its platforms – improving system latency appears to be a major goal for the company.

Apple’s current Vice President for Hardware Technologies, Johny Srouji, joined Apple in 2008 to lead development of Apple’s first custom system on a chip (SOC) processor, the A4.

Srouji “is responsible for oversight and delivery of breakthrough custom silicon and hardware technologies including application processors, storage controllers, touch and sensors, display silicon, connectivity, and other chipsets powering many of Apple’s industry-leading devices,” according to his executive profile.

He took charge when Apple acquired Anobit for $390 million in 2011. That company’s technology was designed also to improve the speed, endurance and performance of flash storage systems.

The US Patent Office recently published a wave of seemingly related Apple patents (some dated 2012) designed to reduce latency, improve memory read accuracy and to improve transfers of data from a storage device to a host, among other things.

Beyond SSD, Apple has a host of other technologies that could make sense on future Macs: Siri, Touch ID and even Force Touch all appear appropriate to the platform. Then there is the next-generation Retina Display as evidenced by the 4K Mac; or sundry battery technology improvements the company is clearly working on, as evidenced by the curved batteries it also deployed inside its new MacBook.

Apple continues to develop proprietary technologies on which to build the future of the Mac, further refining the unique advantages of its now Intel-based PC platform.

“We’ve got incredible new technologies for iOS and OS X to share with developers at WWDC and around the world, and can’t wait to see the next generation of apps they create,” Apple’s Phil Schiller has said. It will be interesting to see how these apply to the future of the Mac.

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