Ever wanted to have a full solid-state drive and really feel the amazing really speed provided by the SSD technology, but the ones available for Macs were very expensive? Well, Apple has reinvented the notion by introducing Fusion Drive, a technology that elegantly blends the concepts of a conventional SSD with regular hard drive principles, by offering close performance while preserving the price limit. Of course, the price limit has never been too low for Apple, but quality comes with a cost.
In this case, future iMac and Mac mini owners will bathe themselves in the advantages brought by the Fusion Drive, which has just been introduced tonight. But how exactly Fusion Drive works? What are the differences between SSD, standard hard drives and Fusion Drive? How come Apple has came up with this idea and what consequences will this technology generate on the market? All of this, and plenty more, below.
What is Apple Fusion Drive?
To fully understand Apple’s technology, we must first take a dive into regular solid-state drives. As a principle, standard hard disk drives (HDD) store the information inside spinning metal plates and whenever the computer wants to access a bit of information , a needle-like component moves to the position of this component and reads it. On the other hand, solid state drives store data in blocks and does not make use of disks, being formed by a single piece. So, whenever the computer wants a piece of information, the SSD simply hands it over without moving any extra piece. Thus, the interrogation process is done much faster.
In Fusion Drive, Apple actually uses both of the above explained technology, by integrating a regular SSD with 128GB of storage space and a regular HDD with 1TB or 3TB of memory. Now, Apple’s innovation comes in the software part, because the system will analyze what kind of information is mostly used by the owner and will move that onto the solid-state drive. So, in the majority of cases, when the computer will ask for a file, it will find it on the SSD and hopefully, not on the regular HDD.
In theory, the concept works pretty fine, transfers being automatically sorted and Apple praising that the process is so fast, that it can be considered transparent and performances are similar to a regular SSD drive. This is how AnandTech sees it:
Fusion Drive performance versus SSD and HDD
With Fusion Drive enabled, Apple creates a 4GB write buffer on the NAND itself. Any writes that come in to the array hit this 4GB buffer first, which acts as sort of a write cache. Any additional writes cause the buffer to spill over to the hard disk. The idea here is that hopefully 4GB will be enough to accommodate any small file random writes which could otherwise significantly bog down performance. Having those writes buffer in NAND helps deliver SSD-like performance for light use workloads.
How will this impact the current market?
Well, it all depends on what Apple’s software is capable of. A previous technology model was already developed by OCZ in their hybrid drive, but that hasn’t changed the way product makers design device. Now, if Apple manages to make the best of this idea, we just might see adopters like Asus, Toshiba, Samsung and even Microsoft, adopt it in the next generation of hybrid devices.