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The Ultimate Guide to Apple’s Proprietary SSDs

The Ultimate Guide to Apple’s Proprietary SSDs
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Remember the good ol’ days of carrying a spare battery, upgrading your own RAM, maybe even adding a second hard drive? If you’re an Apple user, those luxuries may be behind us, but upgrading your own solid state drive is still a privilege the Apple overlords allow us to have, for now that is.

Despite retaining the ability to upgrade your own SSD, ever since Apple introduced their proprietary “blade” SSDs in 2010, the task hasn’t been as simple as it once was. Apple talks up read and write speeds, but they rarely dive into the nitty gritty details of the technology behind the SSDs they use — drives specially designed only for Apple computers.

After countless questions, both from customers and our own staff, we decided to start our own investigation into the hardware involved. You have to be a bit of a private eye to uncover the secrets behind these drives, and the deeper we looked, the more surprises we found.

Table of Contents

LTR: Gen. 1 SSD, Gen. 2B, Gen. 2A, Gen. 3A (comparable to Gen. 4A and Gen. 4C), Gen. 3B (comparable to Gen. 4B), Gen. 5B, Gen. 5A

SSD Interfaces Compared

Every hard drive or solid state drive you’ve used in the past ten years is likely to have used either a SATA interface, or more recently a PCI Express interface. If you’re into vintage computers and you think patience is a virtue that can only be honed by waiting for programs to respond, maybe you’re still rocking a drive with a PATA interface. If you are, it’s time to get up to speed!

Ever faster drive technology, brought about by faster spinning disks, increased cache, advances in controller architecture, and a host of other factors keeps pushing the host interface to become the bottleneck for read and write speeds. Luckily, advances in host interfaces invariably stay ahead of the pace of drive technologies, always allowing room to push speeds a bit farther.

What is SATA?

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) refers to the technology standard for connecting hard drives, solid state drive, and optical drives to the computer’s motherboard. The SATA standard’s been in use for many years and is still the most prevalent interface for connecting internal storage drives.

The SATA standard has now undergone three major revisions, resulting in connectors that are identical in appearance (hurray for backwards compatibility), but with bandwidth doubling each time. This can cause some confusion in the event that you connect a hard drive that supports the SATA III standard into a SATA II connector, creating a bottleneck at the SATA II interface that will limit the potential bandwidth of the drive. But as it applies to SSDs, if you’re not using a SATA III connection, it’s safe to assume you’re limiting the potential of your drive. And even if you’re using a SATA III interface, you’re still probably limiting your SSD. In short, SATA just wasn’t made for solid state drives.

SATA Performance
InterfaceRaw Transfer RateEncodingEffective Data RateEffective Data Rate
SATA I1.5Gb/s8b/10b1.2Gb/s0.15GB/s
SATA II3Gb/s8b/10b2.4Gb/s0.30GB/s
SATA III6Gb/s8b/10b4.8Gb/s0.60GB/s

What is PCIe?

Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) is a computer bus standard with incredibly high bandwidth potential, and is the fastest bus option that most computers have available. It’s no wonder that manufacturers moved towards PCIe technology for their bandwidth hungry SSDs. Like the SATA bus standard, PCIe has undergone multiple revisions over the years and is still evolving at breakneck speeds. PCIe 2.0 (which is likely to be the most common PCIe revision found inside in-use computers) maxes out at ~500MB/s with a single channel of throughput. Those speeds may sound a bit slower than SATA III, but PCIe has the advantage of utilizing multiple channels of throughput to accommodate the needs of the connected peripheral.

Two channels of throughput (~1GB/s) not enough for you? Double the number of channels to four and you’ll realize double the data transfer rates, if the connected device can make use of it that is. PCIe bandwidth can be scaled up to 16 and even 32 lanes for a single device, but that’s uncommon in SSDs and primarily reserved for devices like graphics cards which have larger data transfer requirements. Most PCIe SSDs will have either 2, or more recently, 4 channels of throughput.

In 2011 the PCIe 3.0 revision was released, and finally brings more to the table than just the ability to add additional channels. PCIe 1.0 and 2.0 both use 8b/10b encoding to transmit data (the same as SATA), meaning that for every 8 bits of data sent, the data is sent via a 10 bit line code. In other words, 2 of the 10 bits are just overhead necessary to transmit the rest of the data. That 20% overhead eats into the potential bandwidth of an interface, resulting real world bandwidth that’s 20% lower.

PCIe 3.0 introduced the much more efficient 128b/130b encoding, resulting in only only ~1.5% overhead to eat into the potential bandwidth.

PCIe Performance
InterfaceRaw Data RateEncodingEffective Data RateChannelsEffective Data Rate
PCIe 1.x2.5GT/s8b/10b2.0Gb/s21.0GB/s
PCIe 1.x2.5GT/s8b/10b2.0Gb/s42.0GB/s
PCIe 1.x2.5GT/s8b/10b2.0Gb/s84.0GB/s
PCIe 1.x2.5GT/s8b/10b2.0Gb/s168.0GB/s
PCIe 1.x2.5GT/s8b/10b2.0Gb/s3216.0GB/s
PCIe 2.x5GT/s8b/10b4.0Gb/s22.0GB/s
PCIe 2.x5GT/s8b/10b4.0Gb/s44.0GB/s
PCIe 2.x5GT/s8b/10b4.0Gb/s88.0GB/s
PCIe 2.x5GT/s8b/10b4.0Gb/s1616.0GB/s
PCIe 2.x5GT/s8b/10b4.0Gb/s3232.0GB/s
PCIe 3.x8GT/s128b/130b7.9Gb/s23.95GB/s
PCIe 3.x8GT/s128b/130b7.9Gb/s47.9GB/s
PCIe 3.x8GT/s128b/130b7.9Gb/s815.8GB/s
PCIe 3.x8GT/s128b/130b7.9Gb/s1631.6GB/s
PCIe 3.x8GT/s128b/130b7.9Gb/s3263.2GB/s

AHCI vs NVMe

Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) was originally created when storage devices still used spinning magnetic disks to store data. and communicated data based on the speeds and needs of those devices. AHCI was versatile enough to work with SSDs while SSDs were still in their infancy, but it’s been a hindrance to transfer rates for a few years now.

Enter NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express. NVMe was created specifically to work with SSDs, reducing the latency and allowing for larger amounts of data to be transferred at a single time, making better use of modern multi-core processors. NVMe becomes especially important with PCIe SSDs, where AHCI starts to bottleneck the speeds. By the time the PCIe 3.0 revision came out, NVMe became essential to reach the full potential throughput of the drives.

Apple's Proprietary Connectors

When Apple released their first “blade” solid state drive in the Late 2010 release of the MacBook Air, they still used established mSATA interface technology, but ditched the traditional SATA and mSATA form factors found in most laptops at that time, instead opting for a custom connector that’s never been used by another manufacturer before or since. With the 2010 MacBook Air, Apple began a new trend of developing proprietary connectors and form factors that eventually pervaded the entire Apple lineup and ushered in an era of drives that, while easily replaceable, were not so easy to source.

Many people incorrectly assume the connectors use one of the M.2 variants found in many PCs, but to date, Apple has still never used a standard M.2 connector. And unlike M.2 pin arrangements, Apple’s connectors were never given distinguishing names, so from this point on I’ll just refer to the connectors by their pin arrangements as described in the image below.

Comparison of proprietary SSD connectors.

A History of Apple SSD Releases

Generation 1: MacBook Air (Late 2010 - Mid 2011)

For the Late 2010 and Mid 2011 releases of the MacBook Air 11″ (Model A1370) and MacBook Air 13″ (Model A1369), Apple’s desire to shave down the height of the already thin original MacBook Air necessitated a switch to a thinner drive. Rather than use a 2.5″ SATA SSD as seen in the rest of Apple’s product lines, or even the 1.8″ SSD found in the original MacBook Air, Apple switched to an even thinner, custom drive. This “generation 1” drive utilized a proprietary 6+12 Pin connector, but still used an mSATA III interface limited to 6Gb/s; the same limitation as the other product lines released during this period.

Samsung and Toshiba both manufactured the generation 1 SSDs, but rather notoriously, the Samsung drives performed significantly faster. Both drives performed up to Apple’s advertised specs, but MacBook Air customers were subject to an SSD lottery, with owners of laptops with Samsung drives performing reads and writes at ~1.5x-2.0x the speed of their Toshiba counterparts. Apple seems to have learned from this oversight and later generations of SSDs never saw such a large distinction between drives of different manufacturers.

Generation 2

The second generation of Apple SSDs saw the expansion of the blade style drives into the MacBook Pro laptops and iMac desktops. The Gen. 2 drives were faster than than the previous generation, but still used the mSATA III interface — finally approaching the maximum throughput capable of the SATA III specification.

The Gen. 2 drives were characterized by their use of two distinctly different drives; the shorter, wider Gen. 2A drive used in the MacBook Pro and iMac computers, and the taller, thinner Gen. 2B drive used in the MacBook Airs. Both Gen. 2A and 2B drives use the same mSATA 3 interface and the same 7+17 Pin connector type. Despite the use of identical connectors and interfaces, the drives aren’t truly compatible because the space allotted in each computer simply isn’t designed to fit the other drive type.

MacBook Pro (Mid 2012 - Early 2013)

With the release of the first MacBook Pro with “Retina” screen, Apple began including SSDs standard in the MacBook Pro line, and in fact the only storage device interface is the single 7+17 Pin SSD connector. The Gen. 2A SSDs used by these MacBook Pro laptops were offered in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 768GB capacities, and manufactured again by Samsung, but also by SanDisk.

Both the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro laptops use the same drives, and either MBP can have any of the four SSD capacities installed.

iMac (Late 2012 - Early 2013)

The Late 2012 and Early 2013 iMacs had a rather different arrangement, with a traditional 3.5″ SATA III HDD standard, but the Late 2012 release also unveiled the Fusion Drive. Apple’s Fusion Drive pairs a larger capacity traditional hard drive with a smaller capacity solid state drive, offering much of the performance benefits of a SSD, but in a more cost effective package. The operating system displays the two drives as a single drive to the user, but behind the scenes optimizes file storage so files that need to be accessed more frequently and files that benefit more from quick read times are stored on the SSD, while the majority of the files are stored on the HDD.

In order to utilize Apple’s fastest SSDs in the Fusion Drive setup, the iMac logic boards now included Apple’s proprietary 7+17 Pin SSD connector, in addition to one of the two SATA III connectors found in previous iMacs, allowing you to install any combination of SATA and Apple SSDs. It’s not necessary to use the SSD in the Fusion Drive arrangement, and the two drives can act independently of each other if desired. The SSD connector can use any of the Gen. 2A options (128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 768GB), while the SATA connector can accommodate any 3.5″ SATA HDD or SSD, or a 2.5″ SATA drive when using a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter.

One important caveat is that while the 27″ iMac always has the 7+17 Pin connector present on the board, the 21.5″ model will only have the connector if the iMac was originally configured with a Fusion Drive. If a Fusion Drive was not selected at the time of purchase, there’s only an empty space where the PCIe connector would have been, and there’s no way to add the connector to the board, short of replacing the entire logic board.

MacBook Air (Mid 2012)

As mentioned above, the Gen. 2B drives have a different form factor, but use the same interface and connector as their Gen. 2A counterparts. The 2B read/write speeds are noticeably slower, likely due to engineering constraints from the smaller footprint of the 2B drives.

Another likely result of the engineering constraints is the absence of a 768GB option. Samsung and Toshiba manufactured the Gen. 2B drives, which came in 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB options, all of which are interchangeable in the Mid 2012 releases of the MBA 11″ (model A1465) and MBA 13″ (model A1466).

Generation 3

It was clear with the Gen. 2 drives that mSATA’s 600MB/s limitation would not allow for further speed increases, so Apple’s next generation of drives began using a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface, bringing about the most substantial performance increases to date. Performance varies wildly across different devices and drives, but the fastest Gen. 3 configurations can perform at more than double the speeds of the fastest Gen. 2 drives.

Generation 3 also saw a consolidation of drive types, with almost all Gen. 3 drives compatible with all Mid 2013 through Mid 2015 releases of Apple computers. Of course, a few exceptions apply; notably the MacBook Air and iMac 21.5″.

Not only are the SSDs cross compatible between the different devices, but the different computers do in fact share the exact same drives. The SSDs were manufactured by Samsung, SanDisk and Toshiba, and the same manufacturer part numbers have been found on drives retrieved from all of the different computers. Samsung seems to have appended unique endings (/0A2, /0A4, /0A6, etc.) to drives used in different devices, but the drives all use the same flash controller and our testing has shown zero performance difference between them.

The Gen. 3 solid state drives are all the same form factor (which we’ll refer to as Gen. 3A), except for the 1TB SSD (Gen. 3B) which is the same length, but roughly twice as wide. All Gen. 3 drives use the same 12+16 Pin connector and all share a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface, except for the 1TB Gen. 3B SSD which has a PCIe 2.0 x4 interface, likely due to the larger physical size of the drive which allows for less engineering constraints.

All the Gen. 3 drives use AHCI technology, but many of the computers that shipped with Gen. 3 drives support NVMe SSDs as well, allowing for upgrades to later generation NVMe drives.

MacBook Air (Mid 2013 - Early 2014)

As with previous MacBook Airs, both the 11″ and 13″ laptops use all the same drives, which include 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities, leaving behind the 64GB option found in earlier MacBook Airs.

Interestingly, while the drives are all limited to a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface, the MacBook Air logic boards all support PCIe 2.0 x4, opening up the possibility to upgrade to the faster four channel drives found in Gen. 4.

Mac Pro (Late 2013)

The big revision to the Mac Pro desktop saw big changes to it’s storage devices as well. The Late 2013 Mac Pro was the first Mac Pro to have a solid state drive standard, the first to natively use PCIe storage, and to the dismay of many power users, the first to support only a single internal storage device.

The Mac Pro supports all capacities (128GB – 1TB) of Gen. 3 SSDs, but originally included drives with heatsinks that are attached with an extremely strong thermally conductive adhesive. It’s generally a safe bet that if Apple’s engineers decided it was necessary, it’s probably necessary, but it’s worth mentioning that the Mac Pros can use SSDs without heatsinks found in the other devices, and our internal testing showed absolutely no difference in SSD temperature when using drives with and without heatsinks, even under stress test conditions.

The Mac Pro’s logic board has the same limitations as the MacBook Air laptops, supporting a PCIe 2.0 x4 connection, allowing for improved performance with later four channel drives. The nMP also supports NVMe SSDs and can upgrade to some of the Gen. 5 drives when running macOS 10.10.3 or later.

MacBook Pro (Late 2013 - Mid 2014)

The Late 2013 and Mid 2014 MacBook Pro laptops both support all generation 3 drive options, and as with the MacBook Airs, while the included drives were PCIe 2.0 x2, the logic boards all support four channel PCIe connections.

The MacBook Pros also support the NVMe protocol, and like the Mac Pro, require macOS 10.10.3 or later.

iMac (Late 2013 - Late 2015)

The 21.5″ iMac originally shipped with either a 1TB SATA HDD, a 1TB Fusion drive (128GB SSD and 1TB SATA 3.5″ HDD), or a 256GB standalone SSD. The 27″ iMac offered the same 1TB Fusion Drive as the standard option, with optional upgrades to a 3TB Fusion Drive (128GB SSD and 3TB SATA 3.5″ HDD), or a standalone SSD in either 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB capacities.

Given that the iMacs have relatively ample free space inside, at least compared the rest of Apple’s product lines, it should come as no surprise that all drive capacities are supported in both the 21.5″ and 27″ iMacs. As with the previous generation, the 27″ iMac always included the PCIe connector on the logic board, while the 21.5″ iMac only included the PCIe connector if originally configured with a Fusion Drive or standalone SSD when ordered. If the connector is not present on the logic board, there’s no way to add it after the fact, short of replacing the entire motherboard.

The 21.5″ iMacs and the 27″ from 2013/2014 only support PCIe 2.0 x2 connections.  All iMacs of this era support NVMe, but the speed increase is more limited in the 21.5″ iMacs and the 2013/2014 27″ iMacs, where the two channel interface acts as a bottleneck.

Mac mini (Late 2014)

Late 2014 was the first Mac mini to support Apple’s blade solid state drives, but it’s extremely limited internal space required a unique solution in order to connect the drive to the logic board. Rather than a 12-16 pin PCIe connector on the logic board where the SSD would connect directly, the Mac mini positioned the SSD on the rear of the plastic hard drive carrier, off to the side of the board, and required a flex cable to connect the SSD.

The flex cable has the 12+16 pin female connector on one side and a female 40 pin mezzanine connector which attaches to the 40 pin male connector on the motherboard. This was the first and last time Apple used this smaller connector for PCIe connections in any of their product lines.

Mac mini Late 2014 PCIe SSD connector PCIe connector on the Late 2014 Mac mini

The connector is present on the board regardless of which storage configuration was initially ordered, so it’s possible to add a PCIe SSD to all Late 2014 Mac minis. If the Mac mini wasn’t originally configured with a Fusion Drive or standalone SSD from the factory, the flex cable will need to be purchased in order to add an SSD afterwards.

The Mac mini motherboard only supports a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface, but does support an upgrade to NVMe SSDs, but like the 21.5″ iMac, the speed increase is a modest 10-15% due to the two channel PCIe bottleneck.

Generation 4

With the release of the first Early 2015 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, Apple unveiled their four generation of blade SSDs. Gen. 4 included a few variations, but for the most part was again used across all the product lines of the time, and even stuck with the same 12+16 Pin connector found in the Gen. 3 drives, making the Gen. 4 drives a great option for upgrading earlier devices.

The Gen. 4 drives all used a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface, with the exception of the drive used in the MacBook Air 11″ which used a newer version (Gen. 4C) of the PCIe 2.0 x2 drives found in the previous generation. I’ll be referring to the 128GB, 256GB and 512GB Gen. 4 drives as Gen. 4A, and the larger 1TB drive as Gen. 4B, similar to the Gen. 3B 1TB drive from the previous generation.

Generation 4 brought massive increases in speeds when compared to their Gen. 3 counterparts, with read and write speeds that are roughly twice that of the previous generation. All the laptops and desktops released during this period could make use of the four channel PCIe connection, but only a few select models could reap the benefits of the PCIe 3.0 technology. For devices that did support a PCIe 3.0 connection to the SSD, read and write speeds were more than doubled. All in all, the fourth generation of solid state drives represented another monumental leap in drive technology.

Then SSDs were manufactured exclusively by Samsung this time around, with the exception of the Gen. 4C drive from the 11″ MacBook Air which was manufactured by Toshiba. The Samsung drives are commonly referred to by the identifier of their flash controller, dubbed UBX — or as it’s printed on the drive, SSUBX. This is quick an easy way to identify the generation four drives from the Gen. 3 Samsung drives which have SSUAX printed on the labels.

MacBook Air (Early 2015 - Mid 2017)

The last release of the 11″ MacBook Air in Early 2015 brought minor upgrades to a few components, but left the SSD tech virtually unchanged. The drives were the only of Apple’s product lines to keep the PCIe 2.0 x2 technology from the previous generation, but the drives were still modified with firmware changes that rendered them incompatible with earlier MacBook Air laptops. The new drives were also now branded “Apple” rather than with the third party manufacturer’s name, although the flash chips on the SSD make it clear that Toshiba and SanDisk were manufacturers.

Despite the two channel drive, the 11″ MacBook Air actually supports four channel PCIe connections, and they can be upgraded with the Gen. 4A drives found in other devices. In fact, if the 11″ MacBook Air was configured with a 512GB SSD from the factory, it already included the same Gen. 4A drive found in the other Apple computers of the era.

The 13″ MacBook Air used the same Gen. 4A drives as the rest of Apple’s product lines, but didn’t support the PCIe 3.0 connection the newer drives were capable of. Despite the lack of PCIe 3.0 support, the Early 2015 release still saw read/write speeds that were 90-120% faster than the 2013/2014 models. The same Gen. 4A drives are still in use in the most recent Mid 2017 release.

Like the MacBook Air laptops before them, the Early 2015 – Mid 2017 MacBook Airs lack the space to fit the wider 1TB SSDs, and are limited to the 128GB, 256GB and 512GB options.

MacBook Pro (Early 2015 - Mid 2015)

The 2015 releases of the MacBook Pro laptops were also relatively minor upgrades, but again the SSDs brought about a huge speed boost, especially for the 15″ model A1398. Both the 13″ and 15″ computers support the full range of drive capacities and supported four channel connections, but the 15″ MacBook Pro also supported PCIe 3.0.

Both the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros also support the NVMe protocol and upgrading to Gen. 5 SSDs can bring a modest speed boost to the 13″ model A1502, but the 15″ model A1398 with its PCIe 3.0 connection really allows the NVMe technology to shine. Read speeds increase by ~40% and write speeds can increase by ~60%.

iMac (Late 2015)

The Late 2015 iMacs see a lot of the same trends found in earlier iMac releases. The 21.5″ iMac only has a PCIe connector on the motherboard if the computer was originally configured with a Fusion Drive or standalone SSD. To the dismay of many people, the 1TB Fusion Drive now only included a 24GB SSD paired with the same 1TB SATA HDD, and continued offering an option for a standalone 256GB SSD. The 27″ iMac also tweaked the 1TB Fusion Drive to include the smaller 24GB SSD, but the 2TB and 3TB Fusion Drives still included the 128GB SSD. The 27″ iMac also continued offerings of 256GB, 512GB or 1TB standalone SSDs.

You might have noticed that there had not been a 24GB SSD option until this point in time, and in addition to bringing about a new capacity, the 24GB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD was also Apple’s first removable NVMe SSD. Another interesting oddity with the 24GB drive is that it’s actually designated as a 32GB drive on its label, with 25% of the available space reserved and unusable to the user. All SSDs have some portion of their capacity reserved to replace bad blocks that have become unreliable due to the natural wear introduced during the writing process. Reserving a quarter of a drive’s capacity is highly unusual, but considering that the drive is designed to act as a cache for the Fusion Drive and will likely take a lot of wear, it makes total sense that a large segment of the drive would be allocated to replace worn out sections. Unfortunately this is the only NVMe drive available during this period, and NVMe SSDs didn’t become widespread in Apple’s lineup until Gen. 5.

All of the SSDs found in the Late 2015 iMacs are of the new PCIe 3.0 x4 variety, but the A1418 only supports a PCIe 2.0 x4 connection. The 27″ iMac on the other hand is the only device other than the 15″ MacBook Pro to support a PCIe 3.0 x4 connection. Both iMacs support the NVMe protocol though, and can upgrade to later Gen. 5 SSDs for a big speed boost.

Generation 5

The fifth generation of Apple SSDs introduced a few major changes. On the performance front, all the Gen. 5 SSDs support the NVMe protocol, and the devices that included these drives all support PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe connections. These two changes meant that not only are the Gen. 5 drives quite a bit faster, but all the Apple computers of this era saw the same benefits.

Gen. 5 also saw changes to the form factor, now with two distinct SSD types. The Gen. 5A drives use a brand new, significantly smaller form factor, and a new 22+34 Pin connector. The Gen. 5B drives continue to us the 12+16 Pin connector found in the Gen. 3 and 4 drives, and have the same form factor found in the Gen. 3B and 4B 1TB SSDs. Despite the larger connector on the Gen. 5A drive which one might assume could help performance, the Gen. 5B drives have superior read/write speeds, topping out at ~2,700 MB/s reads and ~2,350 MB/s writes.

MacBook Pro (Late 2016 - Mid 2017)

Starting with the Late 2016 release, Apple began releasing two versions of its MacBook Pro laptop: the non Touch Bar (nTB) version, and the version with Touch Bar. Only the 13″ MacBook Pro was offered in the nTB version, and notably, the nTB version is the only MacBook Pro of this release that has a removable SSD. All of the MacBook Pro laptops with a Touch Bar share the same PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD, but the SSD is soldered to the logic board and is not removable/replaceable. The only way to upgrade the storage on the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is to replace the entire logic board.

The non Touch Bar MacBook Pro that does have a removable SSD uses the new Gen. 5A variety of drive, and is the only Apple computer to do so. The Late 2016 MacBook Pro offered either a 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD, while the Mid 2017 release also introduced a 128GB option. All of these Gen. 5A drives are compatible with both releases though.

SSD Upgrade Guide

If you’ve got this far and are looking for more, I’m sorry to say this is the end of the line. This post has attracted more attention than our average post so I’m currently in the process of adding more and better information. I’m planning on adding lots more info, speed tests, part numbers and more upgrade guides. This post ain’t dead yet, so check back soon.In the meantime, if you have and questions or comments, leave them below because I probably already have the answer.

About The Author

Cody Henderson

Cody Henderson

Cody's the founder of Beetstech and has been involved in computer repair since he started taking things apart (and sometimes even putting them back together!) as a young kid. He doesn't get a chance to perform as many repairs these days, but still remains active driving Beetstech's repair department forward, and finding new ways to delight Beetstech customers.

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Jason Morris
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Jason Morris

Do the Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro’s have the capability to utilize the PCIe x4 SSD’s? In other words, if I put a 2015 SSD into my Late 2013, will I be able to take advantage of the higher speed from x4 vs. x2 bandwidth?

Brite Cheney

Sadly, they do not have the capability to use these extra channels.

Brite Cheney

I have a correction for my previous comment.
We recently tested the 2015 PCIe 3.0 x4 drives in a Late 2013 MacBook Pro, and were surprised to find that the MBP recognized the four channel link speed of the newer drive. The read/write speeds were around 80-90% faster with the new drive in the older machine, and have prompted a new round of testing for us to perform. So the new answer is, absolutely yes!

Montmac
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Montmac

Does it wake from sleep? I have done the same with 2TB SSPolaris in Late 2013 MacBookPro 15″, speed is great but it doesn’t wake from sleep reliably.

John Albergo
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John Albergo

More info here than I’ve been able to find anywhere else yet. But still I have no idea how to source a replacement blade ssd for my “late 2015” iMac 27. Currently it has a 1TB fusion drive with a wimpy 24GB ssd component. I’d like to go up to 512GB or 1TB NVME PCIE blade ssd. The connector is still a mystery to me. I’m trying to solve that without having to open the machine first.

Michael Rathjen
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Michael Rathjen

Mr. Cheney, I came to this article looking to find out more about the Blade SSD in the 2014 Mac Mini so that I can research drop-in compatible replacements. Unfortunately I have found that you’ve omitted the Mini entirely.

Fabio Nass
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Fabio Nass

I have a question regarding this connectors. I have a hard drive that I need to format so I can use it again. Is there a SSD to USB that works for this particular set of ssd’s? I have tried several from Amazon but none of them seem to work.

Thanks,

Christopher Ratliff
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Christopher Ratliff

Ditto to what Fabio said! Thanks

Alan Lin
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Alan Lin

Hello Cody I am so thankful to see this article you posted, like John Albergo said, this article has most useful info that I have saw from other websites, it helps me a lot. Thank you But I still have some questions that I hope you could help me out. Question 1. In the article, you mentioned NVMe is supported for Macbook Pro after Late2013 iMac after Late2013 (21.5” has two channel bottleneck) Mac Mini after Late2014 ( has two channel bottleneck) Mac Pro after Later 2013 And you also mention NVMe is supported when running macOS after 10.10.3 But… Read more »

Louis Chrétien
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Louis Chrétien

I just found your amazing post on Apple SSD’s and it is a treasure trove on informations! Great work and thanks! I have a MBP 13″ Retina, Mid-2014, and after reading your article, i still have a few questions: 1) Will the Mid-2014 MBP be able to accommodate the 12-16 pins 1 TB SSD Gen3B or 5B? Since the drive is larger, is there room inside the laptop? 2) I understand that the MacBookPro 11,1 is has PCI 4x, and NVMe. Is there a substantial speed advantage to go with the Gen 5B 1TB model over the Gen 3B, since… Read more »

Alex
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Alex

Thank you so much for this incredibly useful guide. I only can confirm that this is the best article by this topic on the Internet. It clarifies a lot and super usefull for those who look for upgrade opportunity.

I wonder if you have plans about “MacBook Pro 13-inch SSD Upgrades” table? It’s mentioned in two different paragraphs in the article but I want to be totally sure if MBPr 13” late 2013 can utilize PCIe 2.0 x4 NVMe SSD? Thanks in advance.

Wes Keener
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Wes Keener

Alex! Thanks for your feedback. We have plans to update this blog entry and will get that info in a table. The late 2013 A1502 can utilize PCIe 2.0 x4 drives. Many users will go with the SSUBX PCIe 3.0 x4 drives. You’ll still be operating at PCIe 2.0 but the two added PCIe lanes will really make that system scream.

karbator
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karbator

Hello from Paris France
i am looking for a NVMe SSD who would fit with an imac 27 5k i7 Kaby lake … (18.3) early2018
I replaced the 2giga by a SSD, now I would like to increase the 128giga PCi a little small for me!
merci !

Duncho
Guest
Duncho

Great article, many thanks for posting this!!!!

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Thanks Duncho! We hope you found it useful.

Duncho
Guest
Duncho

Cody, do you know whether my MBA 6,2 (mid 2013) which original 256GB SSD had controller link width x2, should support link width x3 with Transcendent TurboJet 820 960GB SSD? I have Sierra OS X installed on my MBA. Would upgrade to High Sierra increase the speed to x3 (NvME)?
Do you think I should rather go to Samsung SSD and upgrade to High Sierra in order to get full performance of chipset controller?
Also, could you please advice compatible and high speed / low power consumption 1 TB SSD for my MBA?

Many thanks!!
Dan

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

Great article. I’m left wondering something about the 2015 MacBook Pro Retina. I’m considering purchasing either the 13″ early 2015 MacBook Pro A1502 or the 15″ mid 2015 MacBook Pro A1398. In either case I will likely go with the highest memory and processor speed with a 1 TB drive. I like the 13″ for size and lower weight but am concerned about longevity vs the 15″. You state that both the 13″ and 15″ support NVMe, but the 15″ supports PCIe 3.0 (implying that the 13″ only has a PCIe 2.0 interface). Also stating that because of the 15″… Read more »

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Thanks Kevin! The short answer is Mactracker is wrong. The 2015 13″ A1502 has a PCIe 2.0 x4 connection and would be limited to 5.0 GT/s. The 2015 15″ A1398 is the one to get if you wanted to reach 8.0 GT/s. We’ve tested all of these setups in person and I can tell you personally that the Gen 5 1TB POLARIS drive is a beast in the 2015 A1398.

Binkis
Guest
Binkis

Cody, truly incredible and diligent work on this guide, I am extremely impressed. It is quite clear that you are the only man who can finally answer this question, so here I go. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a brand new factory sealed 2017 MacBook Air model number MQD32LL/A from Best Buy on one of their one day sale’s for $600.00 I truly didn’t need the machine, but just couldn’t pass up the opportunity at that price. Now that I have it the 128Gb SSD that comes from the factory is clearly inadequate my use. If… Read more »

Binkis
Guest
Binkis

Cody, Out of respect for your guide I separated my other question from my question about the SSD, as I was not sure if you wanted it included with posts that were more specific to your guide. Again, I am sure you’re opinion and recommendation will serve me well. If you were going to use the SD slot as a storage option, even though it is not secure and potentially volatile, how would you go about maximizing the slots deminished potential, in the most productive fashion. Again, I thank you in advance for your kindness and incredibly hard and diligent… Read more »

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Adding an SD card for expanded storage is a good way to take advantage of the available slot. One of the most important things to do if your card is greater than 32GB is to format it properly so your Mac can use all the storage space. Many times SD card manufacturers ship them with a FAT32 file system which is fine up to 32GB but otherwise you’ll want to format it Mac OS Extended. Companies like Transcend make SD cards that will fit completely inside the slot to avoid accidental removal. As long as you understand the limitations and… Read more »

Montmac
Guest
Montmac

Will the SSPOLARIS SSD from a 2017 iMac fit a Late 2014 iMac?

Hayden Duncan
Member
Hayden Duncan

The SSPOLARIS SSD won’t work properly in a 2014 iMac. If the computer goes to sleep while using the SSPOLARIS drive it will cause a kernel panic. Let me know if you have any other questions, thanks!

Nathan Smallshaw
Guest
Nathan Smallshaw

I’ve put an SSPOLARIS SSD in my late 2014 iMac 27 inch……. working fine (aside for the x2 v’s x4 lane issue I’ve commented about earlier). Not noticed any issues with sleep.

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Nathan, thanks for sharing your experience. This is good information. It’s been a bit since we tested the POLARIS drive in the 2014 iMac 27. We definitely got some kernel panic on wake from a few different setups but this is great news. Keep us apprised of any findings, if you would. We’re adding this to the list of systems to retest.

Nathan Smallshaw
Guest
Nathan Smallshaw

I wrote a reply earlier but it looks to have disappeared? To answer your question, yes, because I’ve done it. See my other comment earlier today about the link width – thats the only ‘issue’ I’ve noticed using an SSPOLARIS with my late 2014 imac.

Nathan Smallshaw
Guest
Nathan Smallshaw

Hi – thanks for this awesome page, a proppa treasure trove of info! I’m struggling though with the iMac late 2014 27inch 5k (15,1). Above you say that this supports 4 lane apple SSD’s (which pushed me to attempt an upgrade), but everything I’ve seen points to it only supporting 2 lanes. It comes with an SSAUX SSD (2 lanes). From discussions on a separate forum, I know that people have tried an SSUBX 4 lane model SSD and they still only see 2 lanes. I’ve upgraded my original SSD with a 512gig SSPOLARIS SSD and I see the switch… Read more »

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Nathan, I’m getting this information updated. Looking at our testing data you are correct and as I said above thanks so much for contributing and helping us improve our page!

John
Guest
John

Thanks for this guide. I had a question about the mid 2012 MacBook Air. I had been looking to upgrade my ssd and had been hearing of issues with using non proprietary drives when I was looking into options like the Samsung Pro 860. While you explained everything pretty thoroughly, I still wanted to know if the drives available here are comparable to the Samsung Pro 860 manufacturer model sold on Amazon? And what are the main differences between this and the Transcend JetDrive 520? Based on what I am reading, the products here seem to be, essentially, factory sourced… Read more »

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

Thanks for the comment and question, John! You’re correct that the products here are factory sourced upgrades and do not require any adapter. It’s wise to question the reliability of pin adapters found online. The companies making adapters offer no testing data or compatibility information. So far none of the adapters we’ve sourced have lived up to the manufacturers claims. I pulled our 2012 MBA upon reading your question because I wanted to throw in the 512GB Apple drive manufactured by Samsung for a quick test. I’m seeing read speeds at 449 MB/s and write speeds at 390 MB/s. This… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Appreciate this thorough answer as well as you running those tests. This machine actually has a 256GB Samsung SSD in it factory standard. I will try and run some tests on my machine to see how much different the 256 and the 512 are. I believe I might go for the JetDrive because of the faster write speeds and the conversion of my old drive to a decent sized SSD. But I actually have a few more machines and will certainly be buying from here in the future. If there are any signs of issues with the JetDrive I will… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Also quickly wanted to ask which software you are using to do the test just so we have the same benchmark to go by..

Wes Keener
Member
Wes Keener

I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test to test the 512GB Apple SSD. It’s fast and gives pretty solid results. We have had some inconsistent results, primarily with the NVMe drives, so we’ve been developing our own testing software for SSDs that we hope to make available this year in conjunction with added content to this blog. Thanks John.

Montmac
Guest
Montmac

Will the 2TB NVMe SSD from the 2017 iMac (https://beetstech.com/product/solid-state-drive-512gb) work in my LATE 2013 Macbook Pro 15″?

Has this ever been answered?

I installed the 2TB SSPolaris in our Late 2013 MBPr 15″ and I can say it works great. Black Magic around 1500 RR. However there is one problem, it doesn’t want to wake from sleep. I have reset PM and Pram but just doesn’t like to wake up. Ideas anyone on getting sleep to work reliably?

michele
Guest
michele

Hi 🙂 i have here a Mac Pro 5.1 Twelve cores and im lookin for a dual SSD pcie solution bootable with 10.9.5 and 10.12, any suggestions? thx in advance 🙂

Devin G Rhode
Guest
Devin G Rhode

What’s the actual speed difference of various size SSD’s? Wish this was part of geekbench!!

Devin G Rhode
Guest
Devin G Rhode

Funny how the traditionally assumed “best” Macbook Pro configuration uses a slightly slower drive connection (5A) – you’d assume the highest specs for cpu are matched for drive speed. That said I’m quite curious what the differences

Mike Sims
Guest
Mike Sims

Excellent article Cody! Very thorough and I love the detail you provide which Apple sadly doesn’t. Do you have or can you recommend a link that explains the issues surrounding why a mac will boot from some SSD PCIe drives but not from others? I’m trying to learn what a drive needs in order to boot without an external boot manager (Obviously I’m referring to non-mac SSD drives and I am aware that they need pin converters … but the cost savings are just too good to not make an attempt at an non-apple drive upgrade). Thanks again for the… Read more »

Lane Jasper
Guest
Lane Jasper

So can I take my 128GB 2015 A1502 retina a model pcie SSD and out it.in an internal 2.5″ case for say an older 2012 Mac? I have an extra 128GB I’d love to put in a machine and I believe it’s fit as far as the length because it’s the shorter style
.
Any options for an I ternal pcie ssd to 2.5″ sata enclosure?

Reinis
Guest
Reinis

Hi, First of all I have to say that this is absolutely the best manual of Apple SSDs in the entire internet. Thanks a lot for this! Moreover, I would appreciate if someone could please help me a bit with advice. I have a MacBook Pro 13” (Late 2013) with the stock 256GB Gen 3A PCIe 2.0 x2 drive running the latest macOS High Sierra. I need more storage space, hence I want to replace my existing stock drive with a 512GB one. In addition, it would be great to have not only more space, but also more speed. Given… Read more »

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