Apple's Retina MacBook bears first fruits of Anobit acquisition with new in-house SSD controller

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited April 2015
Already a showpiece of technical innovation, Apple's 12-inch Retina MacBook appears to have one more trick up it sleeve in the form of a new, in-house SSD controller likely born of the company's 2011 acquisition of Israeli firm Anobit.


Apple's new in-house SSD controller, via iFixit


The new chip bears part number 338S00055, and while it isn't screened with with an Apple logo --?as most of the company's bespoke silicon is --?semiconductor analysis firm ChipWorks confirmed to iFixit that the chip is "definitely an Apple custom device." OS X's System Information utility reports the part as "Apple SSD AP0512H."

Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC is said to have been responsible for fabrication.

Moving to an in-house SSD controller, rather than using off-the-shelf parts from longtime suppliers Toshiba or Samsung, is a logical next step for Apple as it looks to become more vertically integrated. The writing has been on the wall since Apple paid nearly $400 million for Anobit, whose MSP technology improves speed and reliability in NAND flash by predicting and reducing write errors.

At the same time, Apple's new controller enabled the company to shift its SSD interface from the venerable AHCI protocol to NVMExpress, a replacement protocol specifically optimized for PCIe SSDs that has yet to be widely adopted in consumer devices. NVME brings with it a number of performance improvements, which also lead to power efficiency gains as drives spend more time in low-power idle modes.

While this is a troubling development for Toshiba and Samsung, who potentially risk losing their supply contracts for drive controllers throughout Apple's product lineup, it might also presage an even larger shift toward fully-integrated NAND architectures. Flash storage is arguably the second most important component in Apple's supply chain, trailing only the A-series processors used in iOS devices.

That would be a huge blow for Toshiba, Samsung, SK Hynix, and SanDisk, who now supply the bulk of Apple's NAND in orders worth billions of dollars per year.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    The logical next step would be for Apple to design their own baseband.
  • Reply 2 of 24
    ralphmouth wrote: »
    The logical next step would be for Apple to design their own baseband.

    And they already bought a team to do just that. :lol:
  • Reply 3 of 24
    rcoleman1rcoleman1 Posts: 153member

    There's Apple again. Slowly becoming almost totally self sufficient. Steve would be proud.

  • Reply 4 of 24
    Designing great products that can't be copied. Tough for competitors.
  • Reply 5 of 24
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DogCowabunga View Post



    Designing great products that can't be copied. Tough for competitors.



    Maybe Apple can share the wealth by selling these controller chips? It would drive down Apple's own cost if the volume goes up, right?

  • Reply 6 of 24
    Oh no! A custom device! iFixit will give this a zero! /s
  • Reply 7 of 24
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,749member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by CincyMac View Post

     



    Maybe Apple can share the wealth by selling these controller chips? It would drive down Apple's own cost if the volume goes up, right?


    I'm guessing that they are very tuned to either iOS, OS X or both and Apple hardware.

  • Reply 8 of 24
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by CincyMac View Post

     



    Maybe Apple can share the wealth by selling these controller chips? It would drive down Apple's own cost if the volume goes up, right?


    you're not from around here.  Apple doesn't sell it's competitive advantage.

     

    It is illogical to 'share the wealth' 

     

    The cost of the chips is miniscule compared to the profit  you can drive from being considered the 'best' laptop. (If I can sell 100,000 more $1200 laptops ($500 gross profit) because of the net benefits of the chip [$50M profits], vs selling 5 million chips at $5 (and a build at $2.50). [$12.5Million+ say 2.5 Million savings if you build a million laptops with the controller =15M].    Yeah, leave 37.5M on the table, sharing the wealth.

  • Reply 9 of 24
    cincymac wrote: »

    Maybe Apple can share the wealth by selling these controller chips? It would drive down Apple's own cost if the volume goes up, right?

    That's certainly how many of Apple's suppliers work. The GTAT business model was to sell sapphire to Apple an its competitors because there would be an inevitable rush from Samsung and others to slap sapphire screens on their next phones after Apple does it. GTAT would have the facilities to do it cheaply and at scale needed for mass production, and they'd be one of the leading suppliers because they also had the technology to make those large boules. Alas, they did not.
  • Reply 10 of 24



    Doing a back-of-the-napkin here, the marginal cost saving in bulk production of controller chips (*which Apple already bought the company so they would have them and others wouldn't) is outweighed by how much extra you can charge for an ACES-performing part that competitors can't copy.

     

    In general, Apple is not in the commodity business and I think their success will eventually change the thinking of analysts who were brought up in the "parts is parts, plug 'em together best" go-go hardware wars of the last century.

     

    And as others here have pointed out, it's not like you can just get these chips and plug them in to your design.

  • Reply 11 of 24
    normmnormm Posts: 567member

    The updated retina MacBook Pro also uses NVMExpress, from what I've read.  Does that mean it also uses this new SSD controller chip?

  • Reply 12 of 24
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,791member
    First fruits? I don't buy that at all, I was under the impression that the original purchase of Anobit was to drive support of flash in cell phone chips. In fact it was my understanding that Apple was using this technology before they decided to buy Anobit.

    Beyond all of that Apple has had many patents granted for flash related technologies to engineers in California. It is just a jump to far for me to credit Anobit with this chip. It could be sure, but we don't know that. Further they could have partnered with other engineer groups to deliver the chip at Apple.

    In any event one of the things I like about this Mac Book is that it is a technology tour de force. They really have pulled out all the stops to deliver the absolute best considering what is available to them at the time. Sadly this doesn't make up for the ports short comings, however I still look at this machine with a twinkle of wow in my eye.
  • Reply 13 of 24
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,791member
    normm wrote: »
    The updated retina MacBook Pro also uses NVMExpress, from what I've read.  Does that mean it also uses this new SSD controller chip?

    It doesn't on mine. That is a model with a 512 GB SSD. Apple could of course use NVMExpress cards on other variants.
  • Reply 14 of 24
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,791member
    One more comment! I think this highlights one reason why I would like to see Apple go tomARM in at least some of its Mac products. Given access to the silicon, an interface like is can be integrated right into the SOC. In the case of the Mac Book that would shrink the motherboard even more.

    Another way to look at this is that we may be seeing much higher performance out of flash in the next iPads.
  • Reply 15 of 24
    cincymac 04/17/2015 11:24 AM - I often wonder how much ideas such as yours have been kicked around by Apple. I agree that it would be more beneficial to license some of these benefits in order to drive down overall costs and increase margins. Additionally, I do not believe these advantages will hurt Apple as the user base itself won't go running to a different vendor due to a single feature that both share. This is definitely something I would hope that they are considering...
  • Reply 16 of 24
    tg88tg88 Posts: 4member

    No it uses a variant of the samsung SM951 nvme ssd wich much faster.

  • Reply 17 of 24
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,218moderator
    normm wrote: »
    The updated retina MacBook Pro also uses NVMExpress, from what I've read.  Does that mean it also uses this new SSD controller chip?

    The 13" rMBP uses a PCIe Samsung board, which isn't NVMe:

    https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/MacBook+Pro+13-Inch+Retina+Display+Early+2015+Teardown/38300
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8979/samsung-sm951-512-gb-review

    They've actually soldered the SSD onto the motherboard on the 12" Macbook so storage capacity can't be increased later on:

    https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Retina+Macbook+2015+Teardown/39841

    They've used Toshiba MLC too. Toshiba is moving to 3D NAND:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/9113/toshiba-announces-48layer-128gbit-3d-nand

    If their prices for MLC end up better than Samsung, they might switch to Toshiba in other models. I could see them soldering SSD chips on other models if prices improve a lot with 3D NAND (e.g base with 512GB, BTO 1TB for $300, 2TB for $800) but I don't like the idea of soldered storage. If motherboards die, with a removable board you can at least recover your data. This way, any RAM failure, board failure, PSU failure and your data is completely inaccessible until the problem is fixed.
  • Reply 18 of 24
    cincymac wrote: »

    Maybe Apple can share the wealth by selling these controller chips? It would drive down Apple's own cost if the volume goes up, right?

    1. Selling controller chips makes hardly any profit. So Apple won't do so. Keeping controller chips for itself so Apple can add value to its high priced and high profit products makes far more sense. Apple is willing to pay the high price for its own components.
    2. Selling controller chips means disclosing secrets like the chips' capabilities and specs. Apple would rather keep this a secret so its products can't easily be copied.
  • Reply 19 of 24
    Marvin wrote: »
    The 13" rMBP uses a PCIe Samsung board, which isn't NVMe:

    https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/MacBook+Pro+13-Inch+Retina+Display+Early+2015+Teardown/38300
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8979/samsung-sm951-512-gb-review

    They've actually soldered the SSD onto the motherboard on the 12" Macbook so storage capacity can't be increased later on:

    https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Retina+Macbook+2015+Teardown/39841

    They've used Toshiba MLC too. Toshiba is moving to 3D NAND:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/9113/toshiba-announces-48layer-128gbit-3d-nand

    If their prices for MLC end up better than Samsung, they might switch to Toshiba in other models. I could see them soldering SSD chips on other models if prices improve a lot with 3D NAND (e.g base with 512GB, BTO 1TB for $300, 2TB for $800) but I don't like the idea of soldered storage. If motherboards die, with a removable board you can at least recover your data. This way, any RAM failure, board failure, PSU failure and your data is completely inaccessible until the problem is fixed.

    This is why you have external backups right?
    That way if the drive dies you still have your data.
  • Reply 20 of 24
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jameskatt2 View Post







    This is why you have external backups right?

    That way if the drive dies you still have your data.

    A failed drive is a failed drive. It does not matter if it is soldered on or not, that would only concern upgradability and replacement of a failed drive. But as Marvin said, anything else that fails that ISN't the drive will being down the entire board including the storage drive.

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