What MacBooks needs to learn from rivals about transparency

Look, I get it. When you buy an entry-level laptop, you don’t get the same components as more expensive models. But usually, this includes things like the size of the SSD, the amount of RAM, or a specific CPU. These are the obvious choices you know you’re making when you lay down your cash.

But Apple has been taking things a step further. It all started with the MacBook Air M2 and MacBook Pro M2, where the entry-level model with 256GB of storage uses a slower single NAND SSD compared to a faster dual NAND SSD. Without going into unnecessary technical detail, suffice it to say that smaller drives are slower than larger drives – about half as fast in fact. Then, to make matters worse, Apple did the same with the performance-oriented M2 MacBook Pro, and the smallest 512GB SSD was also single NAND, and it was pretty slow.

Apple MacBook Pro viewed from the side.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

What does it mean?

According to 9to5Mac, the 512GB SSD has read speeds of 2,973MB/s and write speeds of 3,145.5MB/s, while 1TB and larger SSDs have read speeds of 4,900MB/s and write speeds of 3,950MB/s. Especially in terms of read performance, it’s a meaningful flaw that affects the laptop’s ability to boot up, open and save files, and swap with RAM when physical memory is exhausted. This is just a performance indicator, as Apple points out, the entry-level MacBook Pro M2 Pro is still faster overall than the entry-level MacBook Pro M1 Pro. This difference mainly affects the most demanding users. But that’s not the point.

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The point is that there’s no way of knowing when you’re buying a laptop, if you save a few bucks, you’ll reduce the storage capacity and affect performance. That might not matter to MacBook Air users who might be running mainstream productivity apps on their machines, but it might matter more to people buying a MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,000 for the entry-level MacBook Pro 14 .

Editing photos and videos benefits from fast storage speeds, and slower performance means it takes longer to perform the same tasks. Over time, this affects productivity and revenue.

When I purchased my machine, I ended up with a 1TB MacBook Pro 14 with the M1 Pro, but only because the model I bought was offered with a $450 discount, compared to the $350 discount on the entry-level model. If I had chosen an overall cheaper machine and got worse performance, I would be very unhappy right now. In fact, I’d be happy to pay a little more to get a faster configuration if I made a conscious choice. And I’m not even an advanced user.

What is the solution?

Lots of people have already complained in columns, Twitter, Reddit, and more, and I don’t want to add to the mess. But there is a simple solution, and it should be considered if Apple wants to be transparent with customers.

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This doesn’t apply to every manufacturer, many of which may use cheaper components like this in fewer configurations, and say nothing. But some companies, such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, will tell you exactly what you’re getting when you configure your laptop. For example, here is the Lenovo SSD configuration section for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 configuration page showing SSD performance.

As you can see, when you make your choice, it’s pretty obvious which drive you’re getting. And look out for 512GB and 1TB options. Yes, that’s right, there is a PCIe Gen3 (presumably) and a PCIe Gen4 option. You can choose to spend a little more and get a more expensive drive. I’m not suggesting that Apple offer the same type of product, but communication is important here. Buyers are well aware that if they opt for a smaller drive, they’re giving up the option of faster storage.

HP has done something similar in the HP Envy x360 13 configurator. Again, this isn’t exactly the same situation with the MacBook, but HP clarified that there are higher-performance options.

HP Envy x360 13 configuration page showing SSD performance.

I can’t find specific examples of entry-level drives from these vendors being slower than the next version, but I suspect the same will be provided. And that’s exactly what Apple should do.

This is the storage configuration section of the MacBook Pro 14.

Apple MacBook Pro configuration page showing SSD performance.

see it? If you opt for the 512GB SSD, there’s no indication your drive will slow down. All Apple needs to do here (and in configurations of other affected products) is add some sort of disclaimer. They could be technical, putting “(single NAND)” next to the 512GB listing and “(dual NAND)” next to the larger SSDs. Or, they could simply show that larger SSDs provide faster performance. Ironically, not only are they avoiding upsetting people who don’t get what they expected, but they’re also likely to upsell larger drives to more people and increase their sales.

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do the right thing

Then again, I’m sure it’s not just Apple playing this game. However, if you’re buying a very expensive MacBook Pro, Apple’s marketing efforts are heavily skewed toward promising maximum performance for the laptop. There’s no question that the MacBook Pro, which starts at $2,000, is an expensive machine. Most people who buy them probably want the best possible performance while spending the right amount of money.

Does saving $200 justify what may only be a slight performance hit in the real world? Maybe. But that should be decided by buyers, not Apple.

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