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Fusion Drive isn’t dead

Thomas Brand over at Egg Freckles writes a piece entitled “The Short Life & Fast Times of Fusion Drive”, in which he explains his opinion that Fusion Drive is pretty much dead:

Fusion Drive, no one needs your fragile combination of storage technologies anymore. If Apple had really believed in you, they would have made you the default storage system on a Mac, any Mac. Instead you were neglected to a build-to-order-option. Even the top-of-the-line 27 inch iMac never shipped with a Fusion Drive standard. Fusion Drive, we will always remember you for the fast plentiful storage you promised. A great idea whose time came too late.

Fusion Drive is an excellent piece of technology, you get the benefit of near-SSD speeds without the drawback of restricted storage space. But despite its initial introductory fanfare, it’s not been popularised. However, I find myself disagreeing with Thomas’ reasoning and I just don’t see how Fusion Drive could be considered dead. It’s still a CTO option on the iMac and Mac mini and offers a better cost-to-storage ratio than just going 100% SSD. When configuring a 27-Inch iMac, a 1TB Fusion Drive option which combines a 128GB SSD and 1TB hard drive is an additional $250 to the base price. Configuring a 768GB SSD (the maximum available) is a rather queasy $900.

SSDs are just not yet cheap enough to be a serious alternative for many people. I happily use a MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD. I saw no point in paying for 256GB when I configured it because my iTunes library alone was 280GB – I knew I was going to be using an external drive either way. With my media libraries sitting on an external drive, my SSD still has 60GB of free space. If I were to look at a desktop Mac then I’d more than likely make sure Fusion Drive was an option.

SSDs have been a CTO option in the MacBook Pro for a number of years and, apart from the Retina models, still isn’t the standard. I think the same will be true of Fusion Drive – it’ll always remain as a CTO option rather than be the default storage solution. If it were to become part of the base spec then the price of the iMac would go up, leading some to either complain that the price is too high or that, for the price increase, they’d rather have 3TB of storage and not bother with Fusion Drive altogether. Keeping it as a CTO option, just like SSDs in the MacBook Pro, means the customer has the choice.

Thomas is right that the iMac and Mac mini are the only Macs that can be configured with Fusion Drive as a CTO option but they’re not the only Macs that can use it. Any Mac that can contain an SSD and hard drive simultaneously as well as run 10.8.2+ is able to have a Fusion Drive running. It isn’t something people might want to do to their workstation Mac Pro since setting up Fusion Drive requires starting from scratch so you’d have to make sure you’ve backed up properly and then restore. Though that doesn’t seem to be that different from when people have added an SSD to an existing Mac and decided to do a clean install anyway.

Don’t forget, we’re due a new Mac Pro at some point this year and if any Mac would benefit from the advantages of Fusion Drive, it’s that. Whilst the Mac Pro market might be small, many of its buyers often purchase and install additional drives. It’s highly unlikely that many Mac Pro users are going to fill the drive bays with just SSDs since it’d be way too costly. However, I think it’s entirely feasible Apple will likely include an SSD and Fusion Drive option.