Apple MacBook Review: Part 1

Hard Disk Drive

Our MacBook shipped with the Toshiba MK1653GSX SATA-II 160GB drive. MacBook 2.4 GHz machines with 250 GB also ship with Toshiba HDDs.  These drives have some of the highest areal densities per platter (254 gigabits per square inch). The 160 GB drive is a single platter design with two data heads. Average seek time is 12 ms with a track-to-track of 2 ms to a maximum of 22 ms seek. Seeks require 2.2 watts, read/write eats up 1.9 watts, while idle power consumption is 0.85 watts. MTTF is a disappointing 300,000 hours.

We also tested a MacBook that shipped with a Fujitsu MHZ2160BH SATA-II 160 GB drive. Track to track time is a faster at 1.5 ms and idle power consumption is better at 0.6 watts. Read/write is slightly worse at 2.1 watts. Seek power consumption is not reported. MTBF is also a disappointing 300,000 hours.

The unibody MacBook Pro ships with a different 5,400 rpm drive. We’ve seen MBP’s shipped with Hitachi Travelstar 5K320 drives (HTS543232L9SA02). While this specific model is not listed in Hitachi’s product documentation, the “SA0” designation typically refers to SATA 1.5 Gb/s designs as opposed to SATA 3.0Gb/s. This only makes a difference when transferring data from the cache to the host as 5,400 rpm notebook drives are unable to saturate a SATA 1.5 Gb/s connection. In theory, SATA 1.5 Gb/s connections require less power than SATA 3 Gb/s connections. Average seek time is also 12 ms, but the track-to-track time of 1 ms and a maximum full stroke of 20 ms is slightly faster. Seeks require 2.2 W, read/write is superior at 1.8 W, and active idle consumption is 0.8W. MTBF is not disclosed.

In general, these are run-of-the-mill notebook HDDs and we recommend upgrading to aftermarket HDDs. Time Machine makes it extremely straightforward to migrate your computer from one HDD to another (provided that you have an external drive). One good choice is the Seagate Momentus 7200.4. Not only is this a 7,200 rpm drive for added performance, but power consumption is improved to 1.554 W for seeks and 0.67 W at idle. MTBF is 500,000 hours. The Seagate drive offers a 5 year warranty as opposed to the 3 year of the Toshiba, Fujitsu or Hitachi drives that ship with the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

Solid State Storage

For our setup, we elected to go with solid state drives. SSDs are available in two formats: SLC and MLC. SLC is more expensive but offers added reliability and performance. MLC allows higher density memory chips to be produced, resulting in higher capacity drives at relatively affordable prices. Many of the early budget MLC solid state drives have been reported to have poor performance with small files (“stuttering”). The newer MLC drives that ship from Apple directly (manufactured by Samsung), the Intel X-25M, and the OCZ Vertex SSD line are all expected to have good performance because they use a different memory controller.

We elected to go with the OCZ SATA-II 64 GB SSD. Based upon Samsung’s SLC SSD technology, the OCZ solid state drive features a flagship 2,000,000 hours MTBF. In addition to the added performance and reliability that solid state drives can offer, the OCZ drive also adds considerable performance benefits over the standard 5,400 rpm hard drives. Power consumption during read/writes is just 0.5 W and 0.35 W with an idle of 0.2 W.The Intel X-25E is expected to offer the same level of reliability as the OCZ drive (2M hours MTBF) with even greater performance.

The enthusiast-priced Vertex SSD drives from OCZ have an MTBF of 1,500,000 hours and use a new memory controller which is supposed to prevent the stuttering that has plagued the other budget drives. The Intel X-25M has an MTBF of 1,200,000 hours. The Samsung MLC drives available in 128 GB capacities shipping in current MacBooks have an MTBF of 1,000,000 hours.

Going to SSD halved our boot times to about 25 seconds as compared to 56 seconds off the 5,400 rpm drive. Interestingly, the time it took to write a 2GB file was nearly equivalent to the boot time:

Time to Write 2GB File (1k blocks)

Factory installed HDD: 50.577 seconds (42.46MB/sec):

OCZ SATA-II SSD: 25.076 seconds (85.63MB/sec)

Time to Read 2GB File (1k blocks)

Factory default HDD: 49.915 seconds (43.03MB/sec)

OCZ SATA-II SSD: 18.935 seconds (113.41 MB/sec)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Stock HDD (5400 rpm)OCZ SATA-II SSD
Write 2GB File (1k blocks)42.46 MB/sec85.63 MB/sec
Read 2GB File (1k blocks)43.03 MB/sec113.41 MB/sec
Row 2 - Cell 0 Row 2 - Cell 1 Row 2 - Cell 2
SequentialRow 3 - Cell 1 Row 3 - Cell 2
Uncached Write (4k blocks)62.07 MB/sec85.56 MB/sec
Uncached Write (256k blocks)46.28 MB/sec77.91 MB/sec
Uncached Read (4k blocks)19.76 MB/sec17.5 MB/sec
Uncached Read (266k blocks)55.82 MB/sec95.34 MB/sec
Row 8 - Cell 0 Row 8 - Cell 1 Row 8 - Cell 2
RandomRow 9 - Cell 1 Row 9 - Cell 2
Uncached Write (4k blocks)1.26 MB/sec5.2 MB/sec
Uncached Write (256k blocks)26.58 MB/sec69.41 MB/sec
Uncached Read (4k blocks)0.46 MB/sec10.58 MB/sec
Uncached Read (266k blocks)21.01 MB/sec93.82 MB/sec
  • mrubermonkey
    My spider sense is telling me that Tom's is desperate to bring in more readers with the release of this article, which is bound to conger up the same epic comment wars regarding Mac vs. PC of Mac articles past.
  • mrubermonkey
  • curnel_D
    Yawn. Basically, you were just explaining a normal notebook that costs more than it should. It's slightly thinner by the standards in it's class but is 0.38" really a big deal? (No.) The famed apple screens can be outperformed and sometimes for cheaper if you shop around, upgradability is shaky at it's very best, and it is generally more expensive than everything in it's class.
    Then of course, you list the Mac OS X as an improvement over the PC's. That's where almost every single person will find error in your article. It is nothing more than a watered down version of more powerful unix/linux OS's. Anyone who has work to do, wont use this. Yawn.
  • ravenware
    I had three options, all of which would require considerable amounts of time. One was to reformat the HDD and start with a fresh install of Windows Vista. It’d be tried and true, but it was still going to take a lot of time to redo the whole thing. I could switch entirely to Linux. I had already switched from IRIX to Linux several years ago, so I was already comfortable managing and troubleshooting Linux systems. Unfortunately, I still needed a system capable of running the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. Open source alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite didn’t have the same quality or capabilities that I needed, while OpenOffice lacked the same multi-core computation capabilities that Excel offers for some of my more complex spreadsheets. The third option was to try switching to a Mac.

    When Core i7 desktop processors were available in greater quantities, I’d rebuild my Windows PC then.

    I was too careful, too savvy, and too poor to switch to a Mac.

    This seems rather illogical. Reformatting the drive wouldn't cost anything but time and if your too poor then why spend 1300+ on a new computer? You would also still spend time and possibly more money on installing your apps.
    You also spent time and money on upgrade options.

    Who is "We"? We is used often in the article, I thought this article was one mans account/review on switching over to a mac.

    I would like to know more about what you actually do for a living and what you really use your computers for too.

    I and the majority of the Toms hardware readers are diehard windows users too and I can not afford to pick up a $1300 laptop to see if I like it or not. So I am very interested to see how this unfolds.
  • ravenware
    Oh yeah, why would the need to reformat your computer lead to building a new core i7 machine?
  • one-shot
    ..The scent of Mac-ness and the sense of power that comes with it. Maybe spending twice as much isn't such a bad idea after all.............
  • marraco

    I found lots of spam "comming" from my computer. Even when I had run Linux -Live CD only- for a month.

    Headers are easy to fake, so, are a common spam trick, to hide real spam origin.

    By the way, there are some easy fix you could had used:

    1- Use virtual machines to access Internet.
    2- Use utilities as Norton Ghost for fast "formatting". In minutes your computer restore a partition image ready to use with all your software installed.

    I don't want to hurt your feelings, but it looks like you spent an enormous effort to justify pay for an overpriced Mac OS (overpriced because the obsolete hardware you had buy does not wort a penny, so you are paying for the OS only).
  • Pei-chen
    Reads like crap only Anand himself would have written. You went Mac because someone better (a hacker, virus writer, whoever) defeated you? That's like saying you went gay because someone get the girl you're after.

    BTW, where are the reviews of web based Java game we were promised? You got a Mac so you're not reviewing SC2 that's for sure.
  • chaosgs
    Why would anyone "switch" to a mac, when pc will do everything you need for half the price. Everything you mentioned in this article, all pc's (vista pc's) in the world can do at half the price.

    As for security, i don't need security on my computer, i NEVER get any viruses, and if i did Norton or avg would take care of all that.

    Mac aint got shit on pc.
  • arkadi
    It more like an opinion (commercial stile) not a review. It a good article with all the specs and the pictures, but it far from being objective. And the suggestions that was made here...If you writing a review, you can't emphasize the superiority of your product on expanse of other (Microsoft in this case).