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Apple recently upset their users by removing support for third-party software that enables TRIM functionality. Perhaps most distressing was the fact the change went unannounced. Many Apple users with Trim Enabler, a third party app that enables TRIM functionality, unfortunately bricked their installs when they updated to OS X 10.10 Yosemite. There is a method for enabling TRIM with third-party SSDs, but it involves creating a massive security vulnerability. SSDs can work without TRIM but speed is reduced and endurance also takes a hit. TRIM works by complimenting the Garbage Collection routines inside the SSD, which allows the early removal of previously deleted data.
After the news was released we were contacted by several third-party SSD vendors about the impact of removing TRIM functionality. From our conversations it was revealed that only one manufacturer currently has native TRIM support for Apple products. Angelbird has supported native Apple TRIM support for two years, and the Angelbird wrk for Mac is the only SSD right now that circumvents the issue. Chris, our consumer SSD guru, recently took an in-depth look at the SSD in the Angelbird SSD wrk 512GB SSD Review. The wrk leverages a Silicon Motion SM2246EN controller, but we aren't sure if that specific controller is the key to native Apple TRIM support. We contacted Angelbird representatives and they confirmed native TRIM support, but could not share specifics on exactly how they enable it. Angelbird representatives also confirmed they have external USB 3.0 devices that support TRIM through their proprietary software.
BadUSB was developed by a team of researchers to highlight the inherently flawed design of the USB specification. Once injected, this exploit allows full control to the users computer. The worst aspect of this vulnerability lies in the nature of the hack, it actually resides in the firmware of USB devices. Erasing or wiping a USB stick is the most common method of removing malware, but since this exploit resides in the firmware of the device, it renders traditional virus removal techniques useless. The hack goes far beyond just flash memory sticks and includes USB hubs, SD card adapters, SATA adapters, all USB input devices, webcams, and storage devices.
The concept of attacking a computer through USB devices certainly isn't new, the NSA has been known to utilize similar tactics via the Cottonmouth device leaked by Edward Snowden. A recent update on the severity of the issue was released at the PacSec security conference. Researchers tested eight USB controllers from leading manufacturers and determined that only half of them were safe from the attack. This is a better outlook than previous research that indicated all USB devices are vulnerable, but is a hollow comfort because users have no method of determining which devices are exposed to the nefarious firmware hacks. There is no known method for the common user to even detect an infection, let alone remove it.
The original researchers refused to publish the BadUSB code, but some other friendly sorts have published their own BadUSB code, purportedly for studying the problem and providing incentive for companies to fix the issue. The bad news? The code is now available to the public. The only recourse for end users is to simply not trust any USB device.
Apple and Samsung have had a contentious history, but business makes for strange bedfellows. Apple and Samsung curtailed their supplier agreements as they broadsided each other with full-on legal attacks over the last few years, but Samsung resumed supplying Apple earlier this year. This alliance has been fruitful for both participants as they continue to enjoy favorable operating profits. Samsung's 10 percent volume growth for NAND last quarter is likely due to Apple demand. This couldn't come at a better time for Samsung, whose own mobile unit is experiencing some turbulence. Apple continues its meteoric rise with record performance.
Much of Samsung's growth is spurred by increases in eMMC, eMCP, and SSD shipments. eMMC enjoys broad use in mobile applications, and Samsung is already transitioning to new UFS 2.0 (Universal Flash Storage) designs. These designs quadruple eMMC's performance, jumping from a top speed of 400MB/s with eMMC 5.0 to 1.45GB/s with UFS 2.0. UFS 2.0 allows for command queuing and simultaneous read/write operations, which lead to the big boost in performance. UFS 2.0 will provide enough throughput for next-gen cameras and multimedia applications.
Apple is likely including the new UFS 2.0 devices into their next generation of devices, and several NAND fabricators are also producing UFS 2.0 designs, which are slated to debut in 2015. Samsung has already announced their intention to leverage UFS 2.0 into new designs from their struggling smartphone unit.
Cindori Software provides the Trim Enabler program that allows Apple users to use third-party SSDs and still have TRIM functionality. An SSD has no idea what data is erased by the filesystem, but TRIM marks data for deletion that has been removed at the filesystem level. This allows the SSD to clean itself up during a routine task called garbage collection. TRIM is important for SSDs, without it they will eventually slow down and become less responsive. Without notice Apple has blocked third-party applications, such as Trim Enabler, from working unless users institute a workaround that creates a security risk with OS X 10.10 Yosemite. Unfortunately, users are finding this out after the upgrade has already taken place.
A summary of the issue from Cindori Software:
In OS X 10.10 (Yosemite), Apple has introduced a new security requirement called kext signing. (A kext is a kernel extension, or a driver, in Mac OS X)
Kext signing basically works by checking if all the drivers in the system are unaltered by a third party, or approved by Apple. If they have been modified, Yosemite will no longer load the driver. This is a means of enforcing security, but also a way for Apple to control what hardware that third party developers can release OS X support for.
Since Trim Enabler works by unlocking the Trim driver for 3rd party SSD's, this security setting prevents Trim Enabler to enable Trim on Yosemite. To continue to use Trim Enabler and continue to get Trim for your third party SSD, you first need to disable the kext signing security setting.
It is important to note that the kext-signing setting is global, if you disable it you should be careful to only install system drivers from sources that you trust.
From an OEM perspective it makes good sense for Apple to restrict third-party TRIM applications, it forces their customers to only use Apple SSDs. There is an ecosystem of third-party SSD suppliers for Apple products that might feel otherwise, and customers certainly aren't going to be happy with this move.
NVMe is a radically efficient and powerful protocol that reduces latency, increases performance, and reduces CPU load. The Intel DC P-Series are the first branded NVMe SSDs on the market, and as indicated in our Intel SSD DC P3700 1.6TB PCIe NVMe Enterprise Review, it delivers on the promises of NVMe. The Intel PCIe SSD family is broken down into three segments that feature different levels of endurance and performance. The DC P3700, DC P3600, and DC P3500 are designed for the datacenter, but enthusiasts have shown incredible interest in the DC P3500.
The Intel NVMe SSDs are very competitive in prices, and the 0.3 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) for the the DC P3500 brings its pricing within striking distance of other enthusiast PCIe SSDs, which are nowhere close in performance. The relatively low endurance is more than suitable for the desktop environment, and the DC P3500 features an amazing 450,000/35,000 4k random read/write speed, and 2.5/1.7 GB/s of sequential speed. Most importantly, it delivers amazing speed at lower queue depths, which offers the best performance for workstation/desktop workloads. The 400GB DC P3500 has begun to pop up on retailers for pre-order for around $600.00. This works out to roughly $1.50 per GB, which will have them flying off the shelves soon.
CalDigit has announced that pre-ordering is available for their new T4 Thunderbolt 2 RAID enclosures, and units begin shipping on November 14th. Thunderbolt 2 is a flexible interface that provides up to 10 Gb/s of throughput. This massive bandwidth allows for easy daisy-chaining of connected devices, such as storage devices and monitors. The small connector is a big benefit, and there are adapters for a myriad of other devices, such as USB, Ethernet, DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, or VGA. It might seem counter-intuitive to connect displays onto the same connection as a storage device, but this eliminates multiple connectors while providing up to 4K resolutions for video displays. Thunderbolt 2 has made a big splash with content creators and video/picture editors, as big bandwidth equates to faster external storage options.
CalDigit has yet another innovative product for the Thunderbolt 2 crowd with the surprisingly compact T4 external RAID enclosure. The 4-bay device supports HDDs and SSDs in striped, mirrored, or redundant configurations. The enclosure supports RAID 5, which protects against a single drive failure. For professionals who use their external storage in the field this is a big plus. Some of the most common data recovery projects involve data recovery for photographers and videographers. The T4 will satisfy even the most demanding professionals with 1,370 MB/s of throughput and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports. 4 drive bays allow for plenty of storage capacity and also allow creation of multiple storage arrays. All of this is backed up by a five-year warranty. The T4 is available for $899 MSRP with 4TB of storage. For the latest in Thunderbolt 2 performance data head over to our Thunderbolt section, where out resident Thunderbolt expert Tyler Bernath breaks down the latest products.
DriveSavers are like the MacGyver of data recovery services. If you lose data from your phone, SD card, SSD, HDD, NAS, SAN, or anything inbetween, they can recover it. One of the keys to timely and affordable data recovery are the numerous technical alliances they forge with storage companies. SanDisk has become the latest company to partner with DriveSavers by providing them with technology, techniques, and tools to assist in SSD data recovery. This partnership will help SanDisk customers recover from disasters like the fire that mutilated the poor notebook below.
DriveSavers is one of the most trusted names in data recovery for good reason, they have been at it since 1985 and have a slew of technical certifications and clean rooms for data recovery. DriveSavers actually recovered the data from the notebook above, and that might actually be considered tame by their standards. We actually had a unique opportunity to visit the DriveSavers facility earlier this year, and it was a fascinating learning experience. For a deeper understanding of data recovery jump over to our DriveSavers Data Recovery Site Tour - Your Data, Recovered article for a close look at our tour and their data recovery techniques.
OWC has built a reputation around offering a wide assortment of Apple-related products, perhaps most notably SSD upgrade kits. The latest upgrade bundle from OWC features a 1TB Aura or Aura Pro SSD (960GB user-addressable) for MacBook Air users with 2010, 2011, and 2012 models. The large capacity provides double the maximum storage offered by Apple.
OWC includes several items in the kit. All of the tools necessary for dissembling and reassembling the laptop are included, along with an Envoy USB 3.0 external enclosure. After installing the new SSD the external enclosure allows users to clone over their previous install, or copy files back and forth. The external enclosure also affords users the ability to continue to use the old SSD from their MacBook.
The Aura Pro SSD features the tried-and-true SF-2200 controller, which still manages to deliver solid performance for most consumer workloads. The SandForce controllers also offer low power consumption, which extends battery life, and AES-256 encryption for the security conscious. The entire package is covered by a five-year warranty. The bundle price for a 1TB SSD is $579.00, for 480GB it is $329.00, 240GB for $189.00, and a 120GB kit weighs in at $119.00.
HGST is now shipping its helium-filled 8TB HDDs to retailers, with both Amazon and Newegg now listing them. Newegg is listing the HGST Ultrastar He8 8TB 3.5-inch HDD for $899, while Amazon is slightly more expensive at $933.
The HGST Ultrastar He8 8TB drive is a 7200RPM HDD with 128MB of DRAM buffer, and three interfaces: SAS-6Gbps, SAS-12Gbps and SATA-6Gbps. The 8TB HDD is based off of seven 1.2TB PMR platters, which are filled with helium which shrinks the distance between the platters, without increasing the risk and sacrifice of performance. HGST promises 205MB/sec maximum sustained transfer rates, with a 4.16ms typical latency.
The drive is also available in Japan, cheaper than it is in the US, at around $695 after conversion. The drives aren't aimed at the consumer, so we should expect these prices to not drop quickly, for now.
Apple seems to have gotten themselves in a bind with TLC flash, at least if one is to believe the reports that the intermittent crashes and reboot cycles for iPhone 6 Plus users are due to the TLC controller. Apple refuses to comment on the issue, but several sources have speculated the problem lies with TLC NAND. Apple only uses TLC in a select few products, one being the iPhone 6 Plus, which also just happens to be the only model with the issue. Now sources are speculating that Apple is going to abandon the use of TLC NAND entirely.
Apple, as the world's largest flash customer, has a vested interest in using as many types of NAND as possible. This also includes TLC, which some view as a less-desirable form of flash. TLC stores 3 bits per cell, compared to MLC, which stores two. In the dinosaur ages (only a few years back), even MLC was considered unfit for use in mainstream devices. Only one bit per cell NAND (SLC) was considered fit for consumption. Time and clever engineering have radically altered that view, and common MLC NAND powers computers, datacenters, and just about every mobile device inbetween.
Enter TLC. Many of the same concerns have been voiced about TLC, mirroring the initial concerns about MLC. Cost savings for Apple are always a concern, they are in the business of making money, but there are other advantages that go beyond price. In reality, Apple only saves roughly five cents per GB using TLC, but have had to invest millions to utilize it. TLC does have lower endurance than other forms of NAND, but it also stores more data. For Apple this is a desirable attribute that has more traction than the cost savings of slightly cheaper TLC NAND. They can pack more data into the slim device, and that is part of the reason they are very unlikely to abandon TLC. HD Video and high-res images require more storage space, and recent concerns about the safety of data in the cloud are leading to increased storage capacity in mobile devices.