When AnandTech first published its review of Apple‘s 2015 MacBook, the reviewer observed that Apple may have designed its own solid state drive controller based on how Mac OS identified the solid state drive. iFixit’s teardown of the new MacBook leads AnandTech’s Ryan Smith to suggest that “Apple had some kind of hand in developing the SSD controller.”
Back in 2011, Apple purchased Israel-based Anobit, a developer of flash memory controllers, for a purchase price said to be $390 million.
To put this into perspective, this is the kind of money that established flash memory controller vendors — complete with respectable revenue streams — have sold for. For example, LSI paid $370 million for flash controller vendor SandForce in 2011 (It was later sold to Seagate for $450 million).
At any rate, Apple’s purchase price was probably a major hint that it had significant ambitions in the flash controller silicon space; it seems that acquisition may finally be paying off with the new MacBook.
What does this mean for Apple (and its current suppliers)?
Most of Apple’s Mac products use flash controllers sourced from third party vendors. In the latest MacBook Air, Retina MacBook Pro, and Mac Pro computers, iFixit reports that Apple uses controllers designed and built by Samsung.
I suspect that, if the new MacBook really does feature an Apple-designed flash controller, Apple eventually plans to migrate away from Samsung controllers in favor of internally designed chips.
By bringing its own controllers to the market, Apple can have more control over the storage subsystems in future Macs. Apple seems to like having as much control of the design and performance characteristics of its products as possible, so this fits right in with Apple’s strategy.
Has Apple done a good job?
In AnandTech’s review of the new MacBook, the storage subsystem of the device seems to deliver very high performance. In many tests, the new MacBook delivered better storage performance than the mid-2013 MacBook Air, although it did fall behind in the 4KB random write test.
At any rate, if this really is an Apple-designed flash controller, it looks like the company got its money’s worth from that acquisition of Anobit.
This is why I love Apple’s M&A strategy
Although Apple recently spent a lot of money acquiring Beats (I’m still scratching my head over that one), it generally buys relatively small companies to help it add key technological assets and capabilities to its portfolio.
Perhaps the best examples of this strategy in action are Apple’s acquisitions of P.A. Semiconductor and Intrinsity for $278 million and $121 million, respectively. These relatively small acquisitions, coupled with smart investment over several years, have allowed Apple to become a premier processor design house.
Apple obviously doesn’t announce every acquisition that it makes, but news of those acquisitions often leak to the public. Given Apple’s successful track record of acquiring and developing compelling technology, I can’t wait to see the fruits of Apple’s other acquisitions, such as its recent purchase of mobile camera start-up LinX, in due time.
Reports The Motley Fool