Explaining the Mac Studio’s detachable SSDs, and why you may’t simply swap them out

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You'll see the Mac Studio's blinking orange SOS light if you try to change its SSD modules. Here's why.
Enlarge / You will see the Mac Studio’s blinking orange SOS gentle when you attempt to change its SSD modules. This is why.

Apple’s new Mac Studio desktop started arriving in prospects’ arms final week, and a few of these prospects wasted no time in taking the machine aside. Among the many extra attention-grabbing discoveries was the sheer dimension of the M1 Extremely and its voltage regulator modules (VRMs); as well as, it appears that evidently the Studio contains detachable storage reasonably than the soldered-down NAND chips that almost all Macs use. In idea, this might make the Mac Studio the primary new Mac (exterior of the Mac Professional) to help upgradeable storage in fairly some time.

As a result of the Studio’s SSD slots aren’t appropriate with common M.2 SSD sticks that you simply would possibly use in a PC, YouTuber Luke Miani determined to check the Studio’s detachable storage by swapping storage from one Studio into one other. He discovered that, whereas the drives are bodily swappable, his Mac Studio would not boot after the actual fact—the desktop’s energy LED would solely flash an amber-colored “SOS” sample. This continued each when he tried to put in the second SSD module within the Studio’s second storage slot and when he tried to put in an SSD from one Studio into the opposite Studio’s foremost SSD slot.

“What Apple is doing right here with the Mac Studio is solely inexcusable,” Miani concluded. “Apple doesn’t care about your proper to restore, make no mistake. What we have seen right here at the moment is that Apple is deliberately, intentionally limiting your entry to your individual gadget. In my view, that is truly worse than soldering the storage onto a logic board.”

Deeply sympathetic as I’m to the targets of the right-to-repair motion, and deeply annoyed as I’m by Apple’s storage costs relative to different high-end SSDs, Miani’s conclusions are based mostly on incorrect assumptions about how trendy Mac SSDs work. It is also doubtless that these modular SSD slots truly do facilitate simpler upgrades and repairs than, say, desoldering NAND chips from a logic board and soldering on higher-capacity NAND chips. There are simply caveats you want to concentrate on first.

Three incorrect assumptions will likely be defined right here, and we’ll take them separately:

  • As a result of the Mac Studio has bodily detachable SSDs, eradicating and changing them ought to work because it does in a PC.
  • Apple has carried out some sort of “software program block” to forestall the Mac Studio from booting after its storage has been changed, as evidenced by the facility LED’s blinking amber “SOS” sample.
  • One of many Mac Studio’s two SSD slots is inoperative in some configurations due to a lacking SSD controller.

To deal with these three points, I’ve pulled collectively Apple’s personal documentation about how its chips work, in addition to info from a Twitter thread by developer Hector Martin. He is a part of a crew that has been engaged on Asahi Linux, the primary Linux distro that runs on Apple Silicon Macs, and this work informs his understanding of how storage is dealt with in trendy Mac {hardware}.

How trendy Mac SSDs work

To dramatically oversimplify, all SSDs want a minimum of two issues: NAND flash chips that retailer information and an SSD controller that handles the particulars of studying from and writing to these chips. (Some SSDs additionally use a small quantity of DRAM as a cache, although budget-priced and mainstream SSDs more and more simply steal a small chunk of your system’s reminiscence to carry out the identical operations with a minor efficiency penalty.)

PC SSDs like Samsung’s 980 Professional or Western Digital’s WD Blue SN570 all embrace the controller and the NAND, which is what makes them simple to switch. Every SSD is a self-contained gadget, usable in any PC that has a bodily SATA port or M.2 slot and that helps the SATA/NVMe storage specs.

Apple’s SSDs used to work this fashion, however beginning with the Apple T2 chip and persevering with into the Apple Silicon period, Apple started constructing storage controllers straight into its personal chips as a substitute. Which means that the Mac Studio’s SSD playing cards, whereas detachable as a substitute of soldered down, are simply NAND plus what Martin calls a “uncooked NAND controller/bridge.” They don’t seem to be self-contained SSDs that may be swapped out and in at will, as they’ll on a PC. They’re NAND chips which are learn from and written to by the T2 or M1’s built-in controller.

Martin speculates that when you use each SSD slots within the Studio, the NAND modules “positively must be the identical dimension, and so they would possibly have to [use NAND chips from] the identical vendor.” In different phrases, the SSD controller constructed into the M1 is designed to work with particular NAND modules in particular configurations. Mixing and matching, as Miani tries to do, would possibly fail due to mismatched NAND, mismatched capacities, or each.

It is also that Apple does not help using a 1TB NAND module in every of the Studio’s SSD slots—which is what Miani tried to put in— as a result of it is not a configuration that Apple ships. However that is only a guess, since I am unsure if a 2TB Mac Studio makes use of a single 2TB NAND module or a pair of 1TB NAND modules or if Apple’s SSD controller cares how massive the NAND modules are, as long as they are a matched pair and the system has been reset correctly (extra on that under).





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