Dueling disks: Apple's 128GB response to Surface Pro

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Apple began selling the 128GB iPad today with Microsoft's Surface Pro in mind. But don't confuse Apple's flash drive with Microsoft's SSD.

Not all disk subsystems are created equal. Microsoft has opted for a speedy mSATA-based SSD for its Surface Pro.
Not all disk subsystems are created equal. Microsoft has opted for a speedy mSATA-based SSD for its Surface Pro. Micron Technology

With the 128GB iPad, Apple is obviously trying to steal thunder from Microsoft's Saturday roll out of the Surface Pro. But that doesn't mean you can equate the iPad's disk performance with the Surface Pro's.

Apple's carefully-timed release of the 128GB iPad ostensibly puts the iPad's storage on par with Microsoft's 128GB Surface Pro, which will go on sale Saturday .

Well, not quite.

Apple is using a flash drive optimized for power efficiency, while Microsoft's solid-state drive favors speed -- the same kind of drive used in ultrabooks. (And Apple's MacBooks, for that matter.)

"Apple is using something that's more optimized for cost/power/form factor while Microsoft is using the type of SSD you'd stick in a high-end Ultrabook or other PC," Anand Shimpi of Anandtech, told CNET.

For the Surface Pro, Microsoft went with an SSD based on the mSATA interface, according to Michael Yang, a memory and storage analyst at IHS iSuppli. And Microsoft confirmed the mSATA interface today with CNET.

That's the same interface used in ultrabooks boasting read speeds of more than 400MB per second and writes up 250MB per second.

But Yang said that it's really a combination of silicon that should give Microsoft's tablet its snappy disk performance. "The Surface Pro [has] hardware almost identical to an Ultrabook...the Core i5, 4GB of DRAM and mSATA SSD should provide users with very peppy performance with the new Windows 8 operating system," Yang said.

And a high-performance SSD is necessary with Windows, which is designed as a multitasking OS: users typically have multiple windows open on the desktop and multiple tasks executing (e.g., encoding a video and editing a photo) at the same time. That's not the case with iOS, which is designed to run one thing at a time.

And Yang added that there are a lot of other factors that come into play, including how the operating system interacts with storage subsystem.

And, speaking of software, another key difference between the two devices has nothing to with hardware and everything to do with software. Microsoft has stated publicly that the 128GB Surface with Windows 8 Pro will ship with 83GB of available storage.

Apple's 128GB iPad, on the other hand, will undoubtedly have considerably more available storage due to the small footprint of iOS.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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