The current Sandforce controller is used in the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro solid state drives that I favor. Now Sandforce has announced the next generation controller, and it is worthy of some serious drool.
In a nutshell, just one (1) SSD based on the new controller will deliver sustained read/write performance of about 500 MB/sec when used on a SATA III 6Gb/s controller (current Mac Pro has 3Gb/s ports). It takes 3-4 fast hard drives in RAID-0 stripe to achieve that level of performance!
Bottom line: disk I/O speed will cease to be a significant factor for 99% of computer users, whether it’s a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro, a MacMini, or an iMac. Which is a never-before transition. For ultra-high performance, just put two of them together in a RAID-0 stripe.
In light of the recent Thunderbolt technology on the MacBook Pro, 500MB/sec is 4Gb/sec, so that three SSDs will max-out even Thunderbolt, which offers 10 Gb/sec.
Mac Pro throttling
The 2009 and 2010 Mac Pro motherboard maxes-out at about 640MB/sec total I/O bandwidth for all SATA ports. The Mac Pro SATA ports are 3Gb/s, which means that the Mac Pro will not only throttle the performance of even a single SSD, the maximum achievable speeds with any number of SSDs is only about 25% more than with a single SSD. Which is very fast of course, but who wants a rev limiter?
The above means that Apple needs to deliver two things this year in a Mac Pro:
- Internal SATA III 6Gb/s ports so that individual SSDs can run at full speed;
- An improved motherboard that allows for much higher overall bandwidth when two or more SSDs are used.
- Multiple Thunderbolt ports for external drives (for more bandwidth, and to avoid the hassle of daisy-chaining).
Given Apple’s 2010 rehash of the Mac Pro design with no appreciable improvements (except CPU speed and cores), one has to hope the non-progress has been due to work in progress on all sorts of goodies for a new model this year.
A workaround to Mac Pro performance throttling
There is a solution coming that avoids the SATA limitations of the Mac Pro: the OWC PCIe SSD card, with up to eight onboard SSDs. PCIe has ample bandwidth, and such a solution is neat and clean and leaves all the drive bays free for 3TB hard drives for voluminous storage.