Apple's Fusion Drive: hybrid done right!

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.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

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.

Editorial standards