Macbooks as Fast as Data Center Servers Coming in 2014

DRAMeXchange expects second-generation PCIe to replace SATA III in servers and higher-end laptops as the interface of choice for manufacturers, including Apple.

By Lucas Mearian
Mon, December 16, 2013

Computerworld — Solid-state drives (SSDs) will undergo a major change next year: the predominant interface will begin moving from SATA III to PCIe Generation 2.0 in data centers and higher-end laptops.

According to a new research report from Trendforce's research division, DRAMeXchange, this year's Macbook Air and MacBook Pro laptops already come equipped with PCIe G2 SSDs, which have two I/O lanes (known as PCIe G2x2). Next year, "it is highly likely" that Apple will upgrade to PCIe G2x4, offering four I/O lanes and up to 2GBps throughput.

A speed test performed on a new MacBook Pro with the PCIe G2 SSD shows performance that's 200MB/s to 300MB/s faster than SATA III SSDs.

Other PC brands are likely to follow Apple's lead, according to DRAMeXchange's senior manager Alan Chen.

"In 2014, both Microsoft's Windows 8.1 and Intel's Broadwell CPU are expected to provide in-box drivers that are compatible with PCIe G2 SSDs," Chen said in a statement. "In addition to bolstering the existing faith in the technology, the Wintel group's aforementioned decision will help lower the threshold for many of the SSD controller chip manufacturers that are hoping to use the PCIe G2 format."

PC manufacturers are still deciding whether to adopt PCIe G2x2 or PCIe G2x4 for 2014.

With the price gap between them shrinking, "PCIe G2 has a legitimate chance of becoming the mainstream PC SSD format in 2015," Chen said. "TrendForce projects that the PCIe G2x4 format will ultimately win out."

As PCEe G2 gains momentum in higher-end systems, so, too, will SATA III TLC SSDs in lower-end laptops and desktops, according the DRAMeXchange.

That's not the only change expected for SSDs next year. A second trend expected to take hold will be the growing use of triple-level cell (TLC) SSDs in low and midrange computer products. That should drive the price of SSDs down in general.

All SSDs that save two or more bits per transistor of memory are known as multi-level cell (MLC) flash. Currently, the most popular MLC flash stores two bits of data per transistor or "cell". This past fall, however, Samsung started mass producing flash that stores three bits of data per cell, known in marketing terms as triple-level cell (TLC) flash memory.

The greatest advantage to TLC NAND flash is that it increases flash density by roughly 33%, reducing the cost to produce the flash. Those savings, traditionally, are passed on to the consumer and make SSDs more marketable to the general public.

Samsung's new 1TB TLC SSD came online on sites such as for $599, well below the 80 cents per gigabyte that traditional two-bit MLC flash costs.

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