Apple has slipped new PCIe flash into its thinnest of thin notebooks -- the new MacBook Air models released on Monday.
The MacBook Air, unveiled at yesterday's Worldwide Developers Conference, now sports an uber-fast PCIe flash drive that Apple said increases performance by 45% over past SATA III flash-based models, and is nine time faster than a hard drive.
While mini-PCIe cards, such as Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) cards, are expected out later this year, analysts believe Apple is using a proprietary form factor, possibly using a controller from Marvell, according to IHS analyst Fang Zhang.
PCIe-based flash takes solid-state performance to new levels. Serial ATA, the most common interface for consumer NAND flash products, communicates through a high-speed serial cable over two pairs of conductors. PCIe uses a switch architecture, which has multiple end points to allow the sharing of one endpoint with multiple end devices, according to Zhang.
Gregory Wong, founder and principal analyst at Forward Insights, said that while Apple is the first to use PCIe flash in its consumer laptop, at least one other system manufacturer will produce one later this year.
"Other [system manufacturers] are definitely looking at it," Wong said, noting that Intel is developing the technology. "The real start will be next year when NGFF cards come out. They are a smaller form factor than current PCIe cards and they will support both SATA and PCIe."
Plextor is also working on NGFF flash drives Plextor's NGFF SSD measures just 22mm by 44mm in size and connects to a computer's motherboard through a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface.
The MacBook Air with PCIe flash is already available. The 11-inch model comes with a 1.3 GHz Haswell processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage. It starts at $999. The 11-in. version with 256GB of flash storage starts at $1,199. The 13-in models with the same configurations sell for $100 more, respectively.
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