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Apple Downgrading SATA in New MacBook Pros?

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MacRumors is reporting on a discussion that is on fire with reports of a downgrade in SATA speeds for the new 13″ MacBook Pro, and the 15″ models as well. Apparently, System Profiler is now reporting a SATA speed of 1.5 gigabits, down from 3 gigabits on the new machines.

While this change will not matter to anyone with a mechanical hard drive, or a low-end SSD, those using high-end SSDs like the Intel X-25M could see a performance decline. MacRumors forum member Shao was the first to post benchmarks from a 13″ unibody MacBook and a 13″ MacBook Pro, and the results are startling.

13" MacBook
13" MacBook Pro
13" MacBook Pro

The theoretical maximum for throughput is effectively halved in machines with identical chipsets, the NVIDIA MCP79 AHCI. While one could argue that theoretical maximums and the real world seldom overlap, in at least some instances, like audio and video work, there might be performance degradation.

Exactly why Apple is doing this, or even what exactly has been done, is only speculation at this point. 1.5 Gbit/s is the specification for SATA I, while 3.0 Gbit/s is SATA II, so the question then becomes whether Apple has downgraded to a previous standard. If the 15″ MacBook Pros turn out to have been downgraded too, one could argue it was just one of many changes made to increase battery life. If some models aren’t throttled, an argument could be made for Apple segmenting its lineup, as it does with discrete vs. integrated graphics. However, the difference here is that the 13″ unibody MacBook already had SATA II. Further, the current white MacBooks apparently still have SATA II, at least according to those posting specs from Apple Stores today.

One thing is certain — the future is fast SSD drives like the Intel X-25M. Those considering a long-term purchase of a MacBook Pro, with the intent of upgrading to an SSD in the future, would do well to wait until more is known. As for those like myself who own unibody MacBooks bought before last week, this news puts a little salve on the burn of being without FireWire.

21 Responses to “Apple Downgrading SATA in New MacBook Pros?”

  1. Travis

    Apple has released a firmware update that enables 3 Gbps on the Macbook Pro 13″. I just updated it and its showing as 3 Gbps in System Profiler.

  2. JohnnyC

    One final interesting note.

    The Nvidia MCP79 series definitely supports SATA II. I found an article as far back as early 2008 confirming that detail.

    PDF below for the MCP79 AHCI – on page 15 you will find in bits 23:20 the encoding for the interface speed 1.5gbps / 3.0gbps / 6.0gbps. Looks fixable in firmware (according to a post on MacRumors), and hopefully bumped to 6.0 gbps if and when this magical fix ever becomes available.

  3. JohnnyC

    PS – This is what system profiler is showing:


    NVidia MCP79 AHCI:

    Vendor: NVidia
    Product: MCP79 AHCI
    Speed: 1.5 Gigabit
    Description: AHCI Version 1.20 Supported

    Hitachi HTS545050B9SA02:

    Capacity: 465.76 GB
    Model: Hitachi HTS545050B9SA02
    Revision: PB4AC60Q
    Native Command Queuing: Yes
    Queue Depth: 32
    Removable Media: No
    Detachable Drive: No
    BSD Name: disk0
    Mac OS 9 Drivers: No
    Partition Map Type: GPT (GUID Partition Table)
    S.M.A.R.T. status: Verified

  4. JohnnyC

    Well, crap. I just got the new 15″ MBP, and I even shelled out for the high-end model. To know that I paid a premium for a “Pro” machine that has outdated technology inside is infuriating. (Though perhaps this is but one reason why the prices were able to be dropped across the board with this new release?)

    I will be calling my local Apple store to discuss refund or upgrade options related to this issue (once I look into these claims a little bit more that is).

  5. i agree that this does not sound good. i really wanted to buy now and upgrade to SSD drive once they become affordable.

    would be great if you inform us through a comment here when it becomes clear as to the motivation and implications for those upgrading to fast SSDs.

    for now, i am putting off my purchase.

  6. Results are consistent across platforms. The theoretical maximum throughput is effectively halved, however I’m hard pressed to find examples in which the average user will notice. Still, I can’t help but think this was a mistake, hopefully incompetence and not price-segmentation malice. One conspiracy theory suggests that those buying BTO models with an SSD will have SATA II “enabled” somehow. I would be shocked if that were true.

  7. @Charles: so will you update the comments section here to let readers know whether this is true or not? indeed i was hoping to buy the new MBPro and upgrade the HDD with SSD in a year or so to get significant speed boost. this one does not sound like good development.