Final Words

For the first time since late 2008, I went back to using a machine where a hard drive was a part of my primary storage - and I didn’t hate it. Apple’s Fusion Drive is probably the best hybrid SSD/HDD solution I’ve ever used, and it didn’t take rocket science to get here. All it took was combining a good SSD controller (Samsung’s PM830), with a large amount of NAND (128GB) and some very aggressive/intelligent software (Apple’s Core Storage LVM). Fusion Drive may not be fundamentally new, but it’s certainly the right way to do hybrid storage if you’re going to do it.

It seems that Fusion Drive is really made for the user who doesn't necessarily have a ton of applications/data, but does have a reasonable sized media collection. For that user, Fusion Drive should be a reasonable approximation of a well managed SSD/HDD setup with your big media files going to the HDD and everything that you launch frequently living on the SSD. I’m always going to ask for a larger cache, but I do believe that 128GB is a good size for most client workloads and usage models today. For me in particular I’d probably need a 256GB cache for Fusion Drive to win me over, but I understand that I’m not necessarily the target market here.

The real question is whether or not it’s worth it. I’m personally a much bigger fan of going all solid state and manually segmenting your large media files onto HDD arrays, but perhaps that’s me being set in my ways (or just me being right, not sure which one). Fusion Drive doesn’t do anything to mitigate the likelihood that a hard drive will likely fail sooner than a good SSD, whereas if you go with an internal SSD and external (Thunderbolt or USB 3.0) HDD RAID array you can control your destiny a bit better. Unfortunately, in situations where Fusion Drive is a choice, you don’t often have that flexibility.

On the iMac, Apple limits your options quite a bit. You can either buy a hard drive or the Fusion Drive on the 21.5-inch model, there’s no standalone SSD option. There the choice is a no-brainer. If you’re not going to buy your own SSD and replace the internal HDD with it (or try to see if OWC’s rMBP SSD fits), then the Fusion Drive is absolutely right choice. You’re paying handsomely for the right ($250 for 128GB of NAND is very 2011), but if you’re not willing to crack open the iMac case this is really the only way to go.

For the 27-inch iMac the decision is similarly difficult. Apple does offer a standalone SSD option, but it’s for a 768GB model that will set you back $1300. All of the sudden that $250 Fusion Drive upgrade sounds a lot more reasonable.

On the Mac mini side the decision is far simpler. The Fusion Drive is only available on the $799 configuration (for $250) but so is a 256GB SSD upgrade for $300. As long as you’re ok with using an external hard drive for mass storage, here I’d go for the big standalone SSD. The usual caveat applies: this  is only true if you’re not interested in cracking open the mini yourself and using a 3rd party SSD.

To make things simpler, I made bold the options I'd choose given Apple's current lineup in the table below. Note that this is still assuming you're not going down the DIY route (if you do go down that path, buy the biggest SSD you can find and rely on some external mass storage for everything else):

Fusion Drive Options
  Mac mini (2012) 21.5-inch iMac (2012) 27-inch iMac (2012)
Base System Cost $799 $1299/$1499 $1799/$1999
1TB Fusion Drive +$250 +$250 +$250
3TB Fusion Drive - - +$400
Largest Standalone SSD 256GB
(+$300)
- 768GB
(+$1300)

I am curious to see how long of a roadmap Fusion Drive has ahead of it. Will NAND get cheap/large enough that even the iMac can move to it exclusively? Or will we end up with systems that have more than enough NAND to easily store everything but large media files for even the most demanding of power users? In less than a year Apple could double the size of the NAND used in Fusion Drive at no real change to cost. I suspect another doubling beyond that would be necessary to really make Fusion Drive a one size fits all, but then we're talking ~2 years out at this point and I don't know how static everyone's usage models will remain over that period of time. Go out even further in time, to the post-NAND era and there are some really revolutionary things that can happen to the memory hierarchy altogether...

Fusion Drive Performance & Practical Limits
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  • StormyParis - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    The device is technically nice, however the price is wayyy too expensiveat around $450 for 128GB+2TB:

    Apple's 128GB SSD+ 2TB HDD "Fusions drive" is about $450 ($400 as an upgrade)

    A regular 256 GB SSD is $170
    A regular 3TB HD is $150.
    regular equivalent for Apple's price: 256 SSD+ 2x3TB HDD = $470

    You can get twice the SSD storage, and 3 times the HDD storage, for about the Apple price. This will take up more physical space, but also offer you way more storage space, both on the SSD side (plenty of space for your OS, apps, and live data files) and HDD space (3TB + 3TB backup, or 6TB JBOD for your archives and media)
    Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    Hence the DIY route. Reply
  • Galatian - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    Thanks for pointing this out! I was very interested in getting a new iMac, as I love working on my 13" rMBP, but since I still like to game I really wanted to use the SSD on bootcamp as well. It is a huge step backward for all those people who want/need bigger SSDs. The only other option Apple offers is the 768 GB version for a whopping 1300€ upgrade price. There is no other size in between. Apple has lost me on that one. Reply
  • BrooksT - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    So Apple is charging $150 to take away the headache of managing files. What you call "gouging" is what many people call "charging for a service." Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    Again I have to wonder what you do with your PC. It appears as though you have no idea what is on your PC, because even saving a .doc in a specific folder is "managing files". Do you just save everything to desktop? Or download everything from the cloud and then start it from the browser download window? Reply
  • name99 - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    And I wonder if you have EVER actually
    (a) viewed how NORMAL people use computers,
    (b) used a Mac more recently than ten years ago.

    Apple realized a long time ago that people has MASSIVE difficulty dealing with the file system and naming/finding files. Practically every large advance in Apple tech has been to deal with this.

    iTunes and iPhoto are about dealing with "songs" and "photos", not "song files" and "photo files". Both create an environment where you never have to give a damn about where your songs and photos are stored or named in the file system. iPod follows the same path, and iOS is the logical endpoint, with no user visible file system.
    And this is not new --- did you EVER expect that you should have to manually organized your email files into folders?

    In OSX Apple first tried to simplify things with automatically provided folders for the most common situations (Documents, Downloads, Music, Movies, Pictures).
    Now, in Mountain Lion Apple is, through a combination of different features (version storage, automatically opening apps at reboot, auto-storing files in iCloud) trying to make it so that, more and more you don't have to name documents created in apps like TextEdit. You CAN, but you don't HAVE TO.

    Insisting on manually controlling the placement of your files really does start to come across as no different from insisting on writing assembly code.

    Look, I'm not an idiot. I have multiple external hard drives connected to my multiple machines, and I have a purpose for the different hard drives.
    The difference between you and me is that I'm not so deluded as to imagine that my needs are in any way typical, and that everyone else would be better off being forced to do things like me.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    I see how other people use PCs. They are managing their stuff, even if they just put documents in a document folder, photos in a photo folder etc. I don't even know what not managing files would look like. Hence why I asked.
    I don't use Apple products.
    I manually organize my Emails to folders in Thunderbird.
    I also don't use the Windows libraries or the media player library or any of that stuff. I have no found a program that gave me the ability to organize "non-files" (songs, photos etc.) in a way I found easy to use, well arranged etc. I also like my files to be program/OS independent.
    I don't think I'm the typical user. I never said as much.

    Your last point though tells me that you don't understand the meaning of my post here. Read the other post that I did not replying to anyone. That should make it clear that I am against this technology. But if someone says he is not managing files, that just sounds dumb (real world equivalent: I don't clean up my closet and have no idea where what is).
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    So many spergs in tech forums, it is unbelievable.

    I'm certain that most of you have low level autism and have no idea how people in the real world are.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    I' pretty sure I'm not. What I am sure of, though, is that you are a dick. :P Reply
  • kyuu - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    People who do the simplest management of their files (saving photos to a Photos folder, music to a Music folder, etc.) have "low-level autism"?

    The argument that basic file management is hard or a "headache" is absurd. It takes no time at all, and managing files and apps between an SSD and an HDD is no more difficult or time consuming than that.
    Reply

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