Apple's Fusion Drive: hybrid done right!

Apple's Fusion Drive: hybrid done right!

Summary: Apple takes their trademark top-of-the-line approach with the Fusion drive: a 128GB SSD built into a 1 or 3TB hard drive. Suddenly every other hybrid drive looks like old news. And they are.

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TOPICS: Apple
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Thanks to friendly Seagate PR folks I've played with their 1st and 2nd gen hybrid drives - a technology Seagate pioneered - and found them both a worthy advance on hard drives. But I also felt they were under-configured and that at least 32GB of flash would be needed to make a really snappy hybrid drive.

Apple is kickstarting the hybrid drive market with an obviously superior product.

Apple goes big

Apple storage engineers were thinking along the same lines, only bigger. There is no doubt in my mind that for 95% of all iMac buyers, the new Fusion Drive will give them SSD performance with HDD capacity.

They'll be happy campers. They'd better be, because I'd guess Apple will charge their usual $2GB - or another $250 - on top of their normal outrageous HDD prices. Say $500 for the 3TB Fusion Drive. 

But as sales guys like to say: "The bitterness of poor performance remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." And as the former owner of a quad-core i7 iMac whose performance was hamstrung by a 7200 rpm 1TB drive, I have to agree.

People who use iMacs for work will gladly pay the money.

The Storage Bits take

If HDD vendors want to stay in business, hybrid drives are a necessity. 1TB drives are overkill for most consumers, and the old strategy of same capacity in a smaller form factor has run out of steam.

But vendor price timidity has not helped the hybrid concept. Middling improvements don't win consumer's hearts - or wallets.

Apple has again leveraged their dominance of the $1k+ PC market to introduce the Fusion Drive - the hybrid all others will be measured against - to the only customers who can afford them: Apple customers. And what do you bet they have Fusion Drive production committed for the next 12 months, so PC competitors couldn't buy them if they wanted to?

In kickstarting the hybrid market, Apple has done consumers and the storage industry a huge favor.

Comments welcome, of course. While I'm happy with my 500GB SSD, I think I'd be even happier with 2.5" 1TB/128GB Fusion Drive.

Update: My friend and unindicted co-conspirator Stephen Foskett did a deeper dive on the Apple announcement and thinks the evidence points to a combination of a standard hard drive a 128GB SSD with a Mountain Lion specific driver that handles the management of file movement between the two.

Given my long time concerns over HFS+ data integrity, I don't think letting the OS move the data is a good idea. But we don't know for sure yet. In any case, going big with a flash cache - bigger than the drive vendors have yet gone - is still the right call. End update.

Topic: Apple

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41 comments
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  • What so specail of this Fusion drive?

    There are already other hybrid drive on the market
    voidvoice
    • This has Apple's special sauce all over it

      First off, it doesn't have a dumb name. Hybrid is a dumb name just like Backup and Restore is a dumb phrase. Apple totally revolutionized Backup and Restore by calling it Time Machine. Likewise, Apple has revolutionized the concept of SSD/HDD drives by calling it Fusion. No one else can come close. If you were trying to pick up a girl in a bar and you said "I just bought a hybrid drive and it is pretty sweet" she'll slap you across the face. If you told her "I just bought a Fusion drive and it is pretty sweet" she'll drop her panties on the spot.

      Second, it costs more. Everyone knows that if it costs more, it is better, it is innovative, and it is revolutionary.

      Finally, it has an apple on it. Everyone knows that an apple a day keeps the doctor away and no one wants to be close to a doctor.

      So that's what is so special about Fusion:
      1. Name
      2. Price
      3. Logo
      toddbottom3
      • Maybe if you actually watched the presentation rather than guessing....

        @toddbottom3

        1) Hybrid may be a dumb name, but that isn't Apple's problem (though I don't think its a dumb name either).

        2) Apple has revolutionised domestic backup restore by building in a system where the average user can actually restore selected files from his backup without having to seek expert help. It doesn't hurt that MacOS can completely and reliably back itself up in a restorable state, while running from the disk that you are backing up. Not a trick that Windows was ever too good at.

        3) Apple hasn't called the concept of SSD/HHD Fusion. Its called its SSD/HHD/Software combo which lets the OS predictively control and optimise the allocation between SSD and HHD, Fusion. Hybrid never claimed to do that. I'm not sure that there was already a name for it.

        4) I suggest that you continue to work on the pick up technique.

        5) From experience many people will trust the name, price, logo and benefit from Fusion. Thats because Apple rarely let people down. Do you have a problem with that?
        Henry 3 Dogg
        • Apple = Trusting without knowing gets you screwed without knowing

          Apple is using a simplified tier structure in which entire files are moved to the SSD and backed up the HDD, rather than a more sophisticated caching mechanism. Tiering is easier to implement, but requires more space since it moves the entire file from HDD to SSD. This would explain Apple’s 128GB drive size.

          Not to mention you can purchase a full 1TB SSD for around $500. Gotta give Apple credit though, they really know how to shovel it....
          shoey5@...
  • That is so innovative

    Wow, this new hybrid drive from Apple is so incredibly innovative. While there have been hybrid drives before, and there have been 128GB SSD drives before, and there have been 3TB HDD drives before, there has NEVER been a 128GB/3TB hybrid drive before. This proves that Apple is innovative. It is clear to all of us the number 32 when used as the size of the SSD drive in a hybrid drive is totally uninnovative. Change the number 32 to 128 and suddenly this is the most innovative thing in the world.

    I really wish I was kidding with my sarcasm above but you really can't make this stuff up.
    toddbottom3
    • Well, you said it yourself, Todd. This hybrid capacity has never been

      available before. When something is "first" on the market, isn't that one of the definitions of innovation?
      kenosha77a
    • Gee, did I say innovative?

      No, I didn't. But I suppose it's natural to equate "Apple" and "innovative" since Apple out-innovates the rest of the PC industry by any metric. But don't put words in my mouth.

      What I did say was slightly more complicated: that by building a cost-be-damned hybrid drive that will appeal to power users, Apple is giving consumers and the storage/PC industries a newer and higher bar for hybrid technology. Other vendors can offer cheaper hybrids that, thanks to the publicity Apple's adoption will give hybrid technology, will find greater acceptance than hybrids have before.

      That's a little complicated, I know, but sometimes reality is complicated. Deal.

      Robin
      R Harris
      • Except this isn't even a higher bar

        As proeger noted below, a 128GB hybrid drive has already been done before.

        But just to clarify Robin, are you now going to go on the record as stating that the Fusion drive is NOT innovative? Yes or no Robin, you can't have it both ways.
        toddbottom3
        • Please, elucidate!

          Where is this earlier 128GB hybrid drive? Seagate has been the only manufacturer of hybrid drives and their PR people have been very good about keeping me informed.

          Give me a link, please!
          R Harris
          • Boom goes the dynamite

            http://www.eteknix.com/reviews/storage/ocz-revodrive-hybrid-1tb-pci-express-solid-state-drive-review/

            By Chris Hadley on July 23, 2012 at 10:44 am
            "OCZ have answered this request by creating the RevoDrive Hybrid which combines a 1TB hard drive with 128GB of Raw MLC flash memory"
            toddbottom3
          • Oh snap!

            This is what I was thinking as well. Then again, OCZ doesn't have a nice fruit themed logo, probably what's holding back their innovation.
            mrmessma
          • That's a bitchslap of truth right there

            Apparently knocked big RHarris out cold.. I don't see a response here..
            stojozano
          • Nice to see you're backing a struggling might someday be

            A useful company's products. So now, see the traffic, go, play!
            ego.sum.stig
          • Oh, the OCZ drive

            Toddy,

            Did you by any chance notice this isn't an SATA drive? Did you notice how much it costs? Did you notice that is in fact an "normal" OCZ Revo PCI-expres SSD with bolted-on Hitachi HDD? Not the prettiest of setups, quite bulky and by the way, if you need to do anything like that -- you could do it yourself (that is, have an 128GB SSD + an 1TB HDD) -- it will cost less, use less space and possibly be higher performing.
            danbi
  • Fusion Drive

    Did you see the presentation? You are always present to be sarcastically anti-Apple. It isn't simply a hard drive and SSD, it is a dynamic relationship that puts the most used apps and things onto the SSD, managing that invisibly behind the scenes to give you SSD performance as often as possible while still using a hard drive for raw storage. It really is a software innovation.

    I think you missed this, it is not just a simple hybrid drive. This article explains it a bit:
    http://www.theverge.com/2012/10/23/3543876/apple-fusion-drive-imac-mac-mini
    proeger
    • Oh, what a wonderful link you just posted

      From your article:
      "Of course, this hybrid drive technology isn't new — in a lot of ways, Apple's new "fusion drive" sounds a lot like this OCZ hybrid drive (and other similar drives), which also has a 1TB HDD as well as 128GB of flash storage."

      So to answer kenosha above, Apple hasn't even innovated the 128GB SSD hybrid. Oops.

      And further from the article:
      "It also mentions the Dataplex caching software which combines the mechanical drive with the solid state flash to give one seamless drive with the improved performance of an SSD"

      So proeger, this dynamic relationship that you talk about isn't innovative at all. All been done before.

      This is yet another Apple me-too product that Robin is only fawning over because it has an Apple logo on it. How much do you want to bet that Apple doesn't even make the drive?

      The ONLY thing that Apple has contributed that is new is the name. That's it. There is absolutely nothing Apple or innovative about this drive. Well, the price is Apple. Ironically, Robin even thinks that this is one of the selling features of the drive.

      You can't make this stuff up.
      toddbottom3
      • you still aren't getting what the innovation claim is about

        It isn't the same as Dataplex: http://www.nvelo.com/dataplex which is simply caching on the SSD, very different from what Apple proposes on the Fusion Drive. Still not getting it toddbottom3, it is the software innovation of tracking use and moving used items around seamlessly in the background. It IS unique and a great idea!
        proeger
        • So same end result, different approach

          Now I understand. No one has ever written software before to transparently move data between slow cheap disk to fast expensive disk. This is UNIQUE and a GREAT IDEA (your quote).

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_tiered_storage
          "Automated Tiered Storage is the automated progression or demotion of data across different tiers (types) of storage devices and media. This movement of data is automatic to the different types of disk according to performance and capacity requirements."

          Oops. So much for UNIQUE and A GREAT IDEA from the brains at Apple.

          Windows also does something like this by moving often used applications to the outside of a disk so they can be read faster (data IO is faster for data physically living closer to the outside of a disk).

          This concept is old and gives you the same benefits as data caching that you sneer at.

          What makes me laugh about this whole discussion is while all of you Apple fanbois cheer the fact that 95% of the world doesn't need a traditional PC and should instead be buying an iPad, you are going absolutely nuts over a desktop technology that gives a tiny benefit to 0.1% of desktop users. With cloud storage and the plummeting price of SSD (screw hybrid) there are very few people who would ever benefit from these hybrid drives and even the benefits they see are tiny. I have a 100GB SSD drive and a ~700GB HDD drive in my laptop and this system absolutely flies. It boots faster than my iPad.
          toddbottom3
          • Who's sneering?

            Why do you have an iPad? Lemme guess. You won it in some raffle and are preparing to sell it as I type. Liar or sucker? I'll let you choose.
            wigby
          • By the way

            Toddy,

            I am surprised you didn't mention Microsoft, who "invented" this technology :-)
            danbi