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Teardown Confirms Apple Still Using Modular Solid-State Drive on New MacBook Air

Teardown and repair firm iFixit is well underway on a teardown of the new 13-inch MacBook Air, and while most of the computer's internals are nearly identical to that of its predecessor, a few items of note have been discovered.


- Apple is continuing to use a modular design for the MacBook Air's solid-state storage, meaning that it can be replaced or upgraded if necessary, although it is not officially supported as a user-replaceable component by Apple. A report in the weeks leading up to the machine's debut had claimed that Apple might be shifting to new Toggle DDR 2.0 flash memory, which would be soldered directly onto the motherboard. This is not the case, however, with Apple continuing to use a separate, pluggable board for the solid-state drive.

- A review of the new MacBook Air's wireless card shows two chips from Broadcom: a BCM4322 Wi-Fi chip and a BCM20702 Bluetooth 4.0 chip. As we briefly touched on in our "notes of interest" article yesterday, Bluetooth 4.0 is supported on both the new MacBook Air and Mac mini and offers lower power, decreased latency, and greater security.

- The teardown of course also reveals the new keyboard backlight cable for evenly illuminating the computer's keyboard in dark conditions. The system includes several fiber optic channels to ensure that the illumination is distributed evenly.

iFixit will be looking further into other changes such as the Thunderbolt connectivity to learn what else is behind the updated machine's capabilities.

We'll update this post with any additional information of note as the teardown continues.

Related roundup: MacBook Air

Top Rated Comments

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39 months ago

Good! A soldered-on SSD would be a fairly bad idea at this point, considering the failure rate of SSDs in general. I'm not too crazy about soldered on RAM, either, as that's a component that fails often as well.


I have been using computers for decades now, including a 6 month stint at a shop repairing PCs (albeit 13 years ago), and I can tell you that memory does NOT fail often. In fact, I'm not sure I can recall a single instance of memory failing in any of my computers, or those of my colleagues. Memory is pretty reliable.

SSDs shouldn't fail often either, though they're still a bit new to have any meaningful longevity data. Certainly the certified r/w cycles should be plenty to ensure the typical SSD sees many years of service. Nobody I know with an SSD has suffered a single failure yet (admittedly it's a tiny sample size of about 5 drives over 3 years, starting with the original Air).

That said, I do agree a soldered on SSD would be silly. Upgradable/replaceable RAM would also be nice, but I see why Apple can't do that in this case design.
Rating: 7 Votes
39 months ago
Like I suspected, the controller is the same as in Samsung 470.

Rating: 5 Votes
39 months ago

Is there value in sticking with the stock 128GB and then upgrading to 256GB via a 3rd party? or is the Apple charge ($300) for going from 128gb to 256GB reasonable?


reasonable for what it is..
Rating: 3 Votes
39 months ago

Look closely at the photo of the SSD -- it is now confirmed, it is a Samsung SSD and not a Toshiba, as was used in the 2010 MacBook Airs:


Some of the 2011 models are still shipping with Toshiba according to early buyers. It's the same controller as in Samsung 470 series like I posted above and speculated in AnandTech in April: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4275/apple-now-using-samsung-ssds-in-macbook-air
Rating: 3 Votes
39 months ago
So the Samsung SSD is faster than the Toshiba SSD?

Is it possible to know which SSD is inside prior to buying?

if not

Is it possible to tell which SSD you have without tearing the aluminum case open? Like in system settings or hardware or whatever.
Rating: 2 Votes
39 months ago

What's up with all those Samsung chips on Apple motherboards?


If you are referring to the actual SSD (there are no other Samsung parts), they are NANDs. They are the chips that hold your data. Looks like four NANDs so 32GB each in 128GB model. Either 8x4GB dies (if 3Xnm) or 4x8GB dies (if 2Xnm). I would guess the latter.

This is the best news I've heard since the MBA refresh was announced! :D

That means that an SSD can be replaced after the warranty or Apple Care has expired without having to replace the entire motherboard. (Before that it's Apple's problem.)

Given all the conflicting information about how many times flash storage can (or can't) be rewritten, I feel a lot better about buying a new MBA knowing that the flash storage can be replaced as needed.

ETA: ifixit rocks. :cool:


2Xnm flash memory has 3000 P/E cycles so for 128GB SSD that makes up up to 384 000GB, or 384TB of writes (theoretically). Nothing to worry about that but it's always nice to have a user replaceable part.

Will the differences show in System Profiler?


Yes.

TS128C = 128GB Toshiba
SM128C = 128GB Samsung
Rating: 2 Votes
39 months ago
Dang, even the inside of that computer looks nice :eek:
Rating: 2 Votes
39 months ago
Is there value in sticking with the stock 128GB and then upgrading to 256GB via a 3rd party? or is the Apple charge ($300) for going from 128gb to 256GB reasonable?
Rating: 2 Votes
39 months ago

Is there value in sticking with the stock 128GB and then upgrading to 256GB via a 3rd party? or is the Apple charge ($300) for going from 128gb to 256GB reasonable?


OWC/macsales.com has their line of Aura SSD's here (http://bit.ly/pgFhU8) for the 2010/2011 Macbook Airs. The cheapest one, 180GB, is $399. So, I guess Apple's price is pretty reasonable. For a 240GB Aura, it'd be $519. Ouch.
Rating: 2 Votes
39 months ago

Is there value in sticking with the stock 128GB and then upgrading to 256GB via a 3rd party? or is the Apple charge ($300) for going from 128gb to 256GB reasonable?

I think it depends on the SSD they're using. You can see a price increase close to that; and knowing that initial benchmark tests show an increase in performance between the 128 and 256, I'd imagine there's more to it than just capacity.
Rating: 2 Votes

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