Owc macbook air ssd review: An NVMe Upgrade For Older Macs

An NVMe Upgrade For Older Macs

by Billy Tallison June 5, 2019 10:15 AM EST

  • Posted in
  • SSDs
  • Storage
  • Mac
  • Apple
  • OWC
  • NVMe
  • Silicon Motion
  • SM2262EN



IntroductionmacOS Random IO PerformancemacOS Sequential IO PerformanceSLC Cache SizesAnandTech Storage Bench — The DestroyerAnandTech Storage Bench — HeavyAnandTech Storage Bench — LightPower ManagementConclusion

Apple was an early adopter of PCIe SSDs, introducing them in 2013 when the NVMe specification was still in its infancy and before any NVMe hardware was available. Apple’s earliest PCIe SSDs used the AHCI protocol for compatibility with existing operating systems, but hardware compatibility was a very different story. Apple’s PCIe SSDs used a proprietary form factor rather than the M.2 standard that went on to become the standard for client PCIe SSDs. So even though Apple’s machines from 2013 through at least 2016 (depending on the model) included the fastest storage that money could buy at the time, those systems have been left behind as the NVMe storage market has matured from an exotic high-end novelty into the technology that’s rapidly displacing SATA for mainstream computing.

This is where Mac accessory and upgrade specialist Other World Computing (OWC) comes in. OWC has offered several aftermarket SSDs in Apple’s custom not-quite-M.2 form factor, culminating in the recent release of the Aura Pro X2 SSD. This is a modern high-end SSD with 3D TLC NAND and the latest Silicon Motion SM2262EN controller, with the reference M.2 PCB layout adjusted to fit Apple’s form factor. The Aura Pro X2 is sold either as a bare drive, or in an upgrade kit that includes an external USB enclosure for the Apple original SSDs it replaces.

The Aura Pro X2 isn’t OWC’s first attempt to offer an upgrade for Apple PCIe SSDs, but it’s the first one that does the job well. Their first Aura SSD hit the market back when Mac OS X didn’t include a standard NVMe driver, so the Aura had to present a standard AHCI interface. Rather than use an outdated AHCI PCIe SSD controller comparable to the ones in the early Apple PCIe SSDs, OWC put two SATA SSD controllers and a RAID controller onto one card. This allowed OWC to provide a functional drop-in replacement that could offer higher capacities, but it was a big step backward in performance (and probably power efficiency, but we didn’t get the chance to test it).

Apple eventually added a standard NVMe driver to MacOS, albeit after retiring upgradable internal storage from almost all of their product line. OWC responded with the Aura Pro X SSD, based on Micron 32-layer 3D MLC NAND and the Silicon Motion SM2260 NVMe controller. Unfortunately, Micron’s first-generation 3D NAND and Silicon Motion’s first-generation NVMe controller were both disappointing performers, so the Aura Pro X was again not a clear upgrade over the Samsung-based Apple original SSD.

Micron and Silicon Motion have since fixed their performance issues and the current generation of SSDs with 64-layer Micron 3D TLC and Silicon Motion SM2262(EN) controllers are serious competitors at the high end of the consumer SSD market, and a big step up from anything that was available in the 2013-2015 time frame. With the Aura Pro X2, OWC can now offer performance and capacity far beyond what Apple’s factory-installed SSDs could provide.

The downside to the OWC Aura Pro X2 is that as it’s a niche product, retail pricing is well above commodity M.2 SSDs. The Aura Pro X2 currently starts at 26¢/GB, when M.2 SSDs with the same hardware are retailing for just over half that price. The price disparity is even worse at 2TB, which may be the most important capacity for the Aura Pro X2 since Apple never offered a 2TB SSD in this form factor.

HP EX950 and adapter compared to OWC Aura Pro X2

Gallery: OWC Aura Pro X2 960GB

OWC doesn’t have a complete lock on this upgrade market. The Apple PCIe SSD form factor is a bit longer than M.2, so it’s possible to use a standard M.2 NVMe SSD and a dirt-cheap passive adapter. In Apple’s laptops, these adapters are just a hair too thick, so closing the machine back up completely leaves the bottom panel bulging slightly and puts pressure on the adapter and SSD connector. These connectors weren’t designed to bear the weight of the machine, so there’s some risk of a mechanical failure leading to an unreliable connection. However, I’ve been using one in my personal 13″ MacBook Pro for several months with no trouble so far other than a bit of creaking in the bottom panel when there’s too much pressure near the SSD.

OWC Aura Pro X2 Specifications
Capacity 240 GB 480 GB 1 TB
2 TB
Form Factor Apple custom, double-sided
Interface NVMe 1. 3 PCIe 3.1 x4
Controller Silicon Motion SM2262EN
NAND IMFT 64-layer 3D TLC
Sequential Read 2989 MB/s 3282 MB/s 3194 MB/s 3194 MB/s
Sequential Write 1208 MB/s 2432 MB/s 2488 MB/s 2488 MB/s
Power Active 5.7 W
Idle 0.3 W
Endurance 150 TB
0.34 DWPD
225 TB
0.27 DWPD
450 TB
0.27 DWPD
900 TB
0.27 DWPD
Warranty 5 years
Retail Price
(drive only)
$109.99 (46¢/GB) $159. 99 (33¢/GB) $249.99 (26¢/GB) $599.99 (31¢/GB)

Since macOS has supported standard NVMe drives for over a year and a half, there’s no need for the OWC Aura Pro X2’s hardware to differ from typical M.2 SSDs in any way other than the physical form factor. The specifications are basically what we expect from a typical high-end M.2 NVMe SSD in today’s market, but OWC’s sequential IO ratings are a bit lower than the most optimistic numbers we see for M.2 drives. The 5-year warranty and ~0.3 DWPD endurance rating are normal for high-end drives. Aside from the form factor and price, the only thing that really stands out in the spec table is that OWC is using more overprovisioning than the the other SM2262EN drives we’ve encountered: 960GB for our review sample rather than the 1000GB or 1024GB usable capacities we’ve previously tested.

The layout of the Aura Pro X2 is very similar to M.2 SSDs with the SM2262EN controller. Apple’s form factor is the same 22mm width as M. 2 SSDs, and the extra 9mm length doesn’t provide enough space to move around the major components, though some of the smaller passives have been rearranged. We’re still looking at a double-sided drive, with two NAND packages and one DRAM package on each side. The Apple original SSDs we have on hand are actually more crowded with four NAND packages on each side, but the 64Gb per-die capacity of the Samsung 19nm MLC Apple was using back then is a far cry from the 256Gb TLC dies that now dominate the market.

Aura Pro X2 SSD Compatibility
  Supported Models
MacBook Pro Late 2013 to 2015
(MacBookPro11,x — 12,x)
MacBook Air 2013 to 2017
(MacBookAir6,x — 7,x)
Mac mini 2014
Mac Pro 2013

As a Mac-specific SSD, the OWC Aura Pro X2 demands a different testing procedure from our usual mix of Windows and Linux based test. We’ve still run it through our usual tests by putting the Aura Pro X2 in an adapter that lets it fit in M.2 slots on our normal desktop testbeds. We’ve also ported our Linux-based synthetic tests over to macOS with a few changes, and tested the Aura Pro X2 in two different MacBook Pro machines.

For those macOS tests, we’re comparing against two Apple original SSDs and several current high-end M.2 NVMe SSDs used in an adapter. The Apple original SSDs are both Samsung designs, similar to their XP941 and SM951 OEM M.2 drives. The latter drive uses the same UBX controller as the Samsung 950 Pro, the first retail M.2 NVMe SSD, while the older Apple drive uses the UAX controller that only supports PCIe 2.0 speeds. Samsung is still using MLC NAND in their top of the line 970 PRO (more than two generations removed from the Apple SSDs), while the rest of the market has concluded that 3D TLC NAND is fast enough and much more affordable.

The newer SSDs included in this review all have a capacity advantage over the 128GB and 512GB Apple SSDs we are comparing against. In general, larger drives are faster because they have more NAND flash memory dies to use in parallel. However, since the older Apple SSDs use NAND with a much lower per-die capacity, they aren’t as handicapped as their total capacity might suggest. Most of the performance improvements the newer SSDs provide come from controller improvements and from using NAND that is fundamentally faster on a per-die basis.

macOS Random IO Performance
IntroductionmacOS Random IO PerformancemacOS Sequential IO PerformanceSLC Cache SizesAnandTech Storage Bench — The DestroyerAnandTech Storage Bench — HeavyAnandTech Storage Bench — LightPower ManagementConclusion



The OWC Aura Pro X2 SSD Review: An NVMe Upgrade For Older Macs

by Billy Tallison June 5, 2019 10:15 AM EST

  • Posted in
  • SSDs
  • Storage
  • Mac
  • Apple
  • OWC
  • NVMe
  • Silicon Motion
  • SM2262EN



IntroductionmacOS Random IO PerformancemacOS Sequential IO PerformanceSLC Cache SizesAnandTech Storage Bench — The DestroyerAnandTech Storage Bench — HeavyAnandTech Storage Bench — LightPower ManagementConclusion

The OWC Aura Pro X2 is based on much newer technology than the Apple original SSDs it is intended to replace. In principle, this allows for not only higher capacities at lower prices, but also better performance and power efficiency. The older Macs that the Aura Pro X2 is designed for impose some performance limitations that modern machines don’t experience, so in most real-world use cases the Aura Pro X2 isn’t able to show off the full capabilities of its newer hardware.

Our macOS-based testing showed that the performance differences between modern NVMe drives are largely erased by bottlenecks elsewhere: filesystem overhead and the general inefficiency of performing asynchronous IO using kernel thread pools on low-power mobile CPUs with low core counts. In spite of these limitations, the Aura Pro X2 is consistently able to deliver better performance than the Apple original SSDs, especially for random IO. The differences in benchmark scores aren’t always large enough to have a dramatic impact on real-world use, but the Aura Pro X2 is definitely faster overall. That’s something that could not be said for OWC’s earlier attempts to provide an upgrade in this form factor.

(from top: HP EX950 1TB, OWC Aura Pro X2, Apple SM0512F)

Putting the Aura Pro X2 in an adapter and testing it on our usual desktop testbed allowed us to dig into its power efficiency and explore its performance potential with fewer limitations from the host system, which may be more relevant to Mac Pro users than MacBook Pro users. We found that the Aura Pro X2 was generally slower than current high-end M.2 NVMe SSDs, though it typically still outperforms entry-level NVMe drives. Surprisingly, this lower performance enabled much better power efficiency than we’ve seen from other drives using the Silicon Motion SM2262EN controller, though the Aura Pro X2 isn’t quite as efficient as the Western Digital WD Black SN750. High-end drives tend to sacrifice efficiency in an attempt to set benchmark records. That is pointless for the Aura Pro X2 that is intended for systems where the host CPU and OS will be the more significant bottleneck, so OWC made the right tradeoffs with this drive.

The only truly disappointing performance result was on the mixed sequential IO test under macOS, where the Aura Pro X2 was pathologically slow except with very read-heavy mixes and the pure read or write phases at the beginning and end of the test. In spite of this, the average across all the mixes we test was only slightly slower than the older Apple SSD. (This behavior was not evident when testing the Aura Pro X2 on our desktop testbed under Linux, so it seems this was due to a poor interaction between the drive and macOS/APFS.)

For users who have Apple’s later PCIe SSD based on the Samsung UBX controller (also seen in the Samsung 950 PRO), upgrading to a newer drive like the OWC Aura Pro X2 won’t bring any huge performance increases, but the improvements to power efficiency in newer SSD controllers and flash memory may help offset the battery life degradation in an aging notebook. The earlier Apple PCIe SSDs based on the Samsung UAX controller are distinctly slower than NVMe SSDs, but still outperform SATA drives and are fast enough for most use cases. Thus, the main selling point of the Aura Pro X2 is that it allows for a big capacity upgrade: Apple never offered a 2TB option in this form factor, and for some machines even 1TB wasn’t an option when they were new. And Apple’s build-to-order SSD upgrades have always been expensive even compared to the ridiculous prices most other OEMs charge.

For Mac mini and 2013 Mac Pro users, the obvious solution for a storage upgrade is to buy an adapter and use a much cheaper standard M.2 NVMe SSD. These machines are much smaller than typical desktops, but they still have room to spare for the extra height of an adapter. For the notebooks, an adapter can work, but it prevents the bottom panel of the case from being fully closed without bulging and putting pressure on the adapter itself. Which probably increases the odds of one of the connectors or solder joints breaking—these weren’t designed to be load-bearing. For most users, this is probably an acceptable tradeoff for getting access to the much broader market for standard M. 2 SSDs.

NVMe SSD Price Comparison
(June 5, 2019)
  240-280GB 480-512GB 960GB-1TB 2TB
OWC Aura Pro X2 $109.99 (46¢/GB) $159.99 (33¢/GB) $249.99 (26¢/GB) $599.99 (31¢/GB)
Silicon Power P34A80 $37.99 (15¢/GB) $59.99 (12¢/GB) $109.99 (11¢/GB) $264.99 (13¢/GB)
SX8200 Pro
  $74.99 (15¢/GB) $149.99 (15¢/GB)  
HP EX950   $86.99 (17¢/GB) $152.99 (15¢/GB) $305.99 (15¢/GB)
Intel 660p   $61.99 (12¢/GB) $99.99 (10¢/GB) $194.99 (10¢/GB)
970 EVO Plus
$69. 99 (28¢/GB) $117.99 (24¢/GB) 227.99 (23¢/GB) $499.99 (25¢/GB)
Samsung 970 PRO   $159.99 (31¢/GB) $332.99 (33¢/GB)  
Western Digital
WD Black SN750
$69.99 (28¢/GB) $107.99 (22¢/GB) $227.99 (23¢/GB)  

The OWC Aura Pro X2 does not have any true direct competitors on the retail market. They also have a lot of leeway to charge a premium for these upgrade parts while still staying far below what Apple charges for build-to-order storage upgrades. But the availability of cheap adapters and even some SSDs bundled with an adapter means that the Aura Pro X2 is in competition with the broader M.2 NVMe SSD market.

Almost every M.2 NVMe SSD still in production beats the Aura Pro X2 in price; even the Samsung 970 PRO manages to just barely undercut OWC at 512GB for the same price as OWC’s 480GB. The cheapest TLC-based high end drives such as the Phison E12-based Silicon Power P34A80 are less than half the price per GB of the OWC Aura Pro X2.

Even adding in $15-20 for the necessary adapter does nothing to change the story. The Aura Pro X2 is simply way too expensive. If OWC was providing their Envoy Pro USB enclosure for the Apple original SSDs bundled at these prices, then they would be closer to sanity, but the bundles are $60-80 more expensive than the bare drive prices shown above.

OWC has also recently introduced the Aura N, based on the entry-level Phison E8 controller platform. This is probably still plenty fast for use in older Macs and also tends to be more efficient than high-end NVMe SSDs. However, their pricing on the Aura N is so far only $20 cheaper than the Aura Pro X2 at best, so it really isn’t at all competitive over M.2+adapter solutions either.

Power Management

IntroductionmacOS Random IO PerformancemacOS Sequential IO PerformanceSLC Cache SizesAnandTech Storage Bench — The DestroyerAnandTech Storage Bench — HeavyAnandTech Storage Bench — LightPower ManagementConclusion



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This PCIe SSD is the gold standard for upgrading your Mac. Up to 10x faster speed, 16x capacity,

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Completely non-original SSD in Macbook Air / Habr

It so happened that two weeks after my Macbook Air 13 «ended Apple Care, the SSD died. I did not want to go to the official representative, as well as to the left laboratories. In the first in the second case, the price of the check was not at all adequate, in the second I could not get the repair price from the laboratory, if it turned out that only the SSD had really broken.The problem was aggravated by the fact that I was not 100% sure that it was an SSD, and not a motherboard for example, therefore, a surrogate from well-known and not very brands, for example, OWC, was not ordered.Another difficulty was that Apple deliberately makes its devices as difficult to repair as possible, even just to unscrew the cover you had to ask a friend for a set of screwdrivers, so it’s not surprising that you couldn’t just take the first SSD you came across and check it out. 0075
Fortunately, this tricky nut also found its own threaded bolt, namely, an adapter to use standard SSD drives with Macbook. I stumbled upon it quite by accident and I think that few people know about this possibility of replacing a disk, so I decided to tell about my experience here. The experience lies in the fact that an adapter was ordered for $ 4 from aliexpress, on the second attempt, a 128Gb Samsung SSD lying around with a friend was found, which stood up like a native. I didn’t measure performance especially, but visually opening and installing programs is like native. Glitches were also not noticed. Trim mode was turned on manually, according to the instructions in this article. As a result, the repair was much cheaper than if I had bought a compatible surrogate disk, or, even more so, the original one. nine0003

Keep in mind that there are adapters for different models of SSDs and Macbooks, prices range from $4 to $20. Sometimes a disc won’t work for no apparent reason, so if one disc doesn’t start and the adapter is correct, try another disc. Choose very carefully, visually they are all very similar. It’s best to email the seller with your specific Macbook model so you don’t have to guess. In my opinion, the same adapters are sold for $4 and $20, the difference is only in the inscriptions on the board. You can buy on aliexpress, ebay, amazon, and there are sites that specialize in them. A couple of photos of what it looks like at the end of the article (I apologize for the quality, it was shot with a phone in haste). Hope my experience helps someone. nine0003

Update , got this comment from user Helytdoff some time ago:

Good afternoon!
After reading this material habr.com/ru/post/400279, I ordered an adapter, but it did not fit 🙁
Everything is fine with him, only the Chinese made the board thicker than the original SSD for poppy and he just stupidly does not go into the slot. Maybe it’s worth adding a warning to the article that this can happen.