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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:23 PM   #1
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Apple's Fusion Drive: Faster Performance in a Simple Consumer-Focused Package




Over the past couple of weeks, we've taken a few looks at Apple's new Fusion Drive used in the latest Mac mini and the upcoming iMac. The Fusion Drive system uses software to seamlessly integrate a 128 GB solid-state drive (SSD) with a 1 TB or 3 TB traditional hard drive to offer users the best of both worlds when it comes to speed and capacity. System files and other frequently used data are automatically moved to the SSD for maximum speed, with lower-priority data being stored on the much larger traditional hard drive.

Macworld has now conducted some benchmarks on the various Late 2012 Mac mini models, including one equipped with Fusion Drive, demonstrating how much faster the system runs with the benefit of the SSD.
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[I]t was the Fusion Drive that really kicked the BTO Mac mini into overdrive. The standard configuration $799 Mac mini with its 5400-rpm hard drive took more than three times as long to complete our copy file and uncompress file tests as the Fusion Drive did in the BTO Mac mini. The BTO Mac mini's PCMark productivity test score (using VMWare Fusion) was three times higher than the high-end standard configuration's score. [...]

The BTO Mac mini was actually faster than the Retina MacBook Pro in a few tests, like the iPhoto, iMovie, and Aperture import tests. But file copy and file uncompress tests were a bit faster on the Retina MacBook Pro with its "pure" flash storage than on the Mac mini's Fusion Drive.
A new video posted by TechfastLunch&Dinner also shows how keeping the system files on the fast SSD cuts boot times in half for the Fusion Drive-equipped Mac mini compared to a similar system using only a traditional hard drive.

Ars Technica has also posted a thorough examination of how the Fusion Drive works at a detailed level. The report notes that Fusion Drive is a solid consumer-focused tiering solution with some distinct differences from other caching and tiering implementations.
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There are no options to configure, no pinning settings to adjust, and no user-visible method to decide what goes where. The FD volume is a single volume, and its Core Storage underpinnings direct all IO to the SSD first. New files are saved transparently to the SSD side of the Fusion Drive, as are new applications you install. Everything goes to the SSD first.

The logic behind this is clear: Fusion Drive is not meant to be a feature that appeals to the propeller-head geek. The kind of person who already has an SSD and a spinny disk in his Mac... and who symlinks his iTunes and iPhoto libraries off the HDD onto the SDD... and who enjoys meticulously balancing out which files go where will almost certainly not enjoy Fusion Drive's hands-off approach. Fusion Drive is not designed to be poked at or prodded. Rather, much in the same way that Time Machine's hands-off approach brought backup to people who otherwise wouldn't be bothering, Fusion Drive's hands-off approach brings tiering to Mac masses who otherwise can't be bothered. The presentation is very Apple-like, with no knobs to twiddle.
Ars Technica goes on to force chunks of data and whole files to be promoted up to the SSD, examines Boot Camp functionality on the Fusion Drive, and explores what happens should one of the drives fail.

Article Link: Apple's Fusion Drive: Faster Performance in a Simple Consumer-Focused Package
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:30 PM   #2
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Yes. SSDs are awesome.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:31 PM   #3
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While the Fusion Drive is certainly a fast option, i think everybody is forgetting that the iMac and the Mac Mini do not come with this option by default. It is a £200 upgrade. And what's more, the drive that it DOES come with (even the high spec iMacs come with this drive by default) is a pathetically slow (as we can see in the video on this article) 5400rpm drive. Apple should have put a 128gb SSD in the iMacs at least by default, but instead they've actually put in a drive that's a lot slower than the model it replaced. I'm not paying £200 extra on top of the already overpriced iMac to get a drive that performs the way a 2012 iMac should do. Sorry rant over.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:31 PM   #4
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:32 PM   #5
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I LOVE the Fusion Drive.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:32 PM   #6
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This means that, like Time Machine, when it works it is invisible and beautiful. When there is an issue, there will be jack one can do about it.

I may get it on a mini.

Edit: dangit, only on the core i7 model, which pushes it above $1000.

I'll put it in an SSD myself.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:33 PM   #7
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Nice to see.....

real world benchmarks. Being conducted by Macworld, produces doble assurance. Hope that benchmarks will drecrease the number of posts in the forums about mac Mini o iMac is right for one or not.....

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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:35 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PeterQVenkman View Post
This means that, like Time Machine, when it works it is invisible and beautiful. When there is an issue, there will be jack one can do about it.

I may get it on a mini.

Edit: dangit, only on the core i7 model, which pushes it above $1000.

I'll put it in an SSD myself.
Yeah, my Time Machine drive just decided to weird out and all I can do is read the logs with arcane error codes to try to resolve it. I have not made a backup in 30 days in Time Machine.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:35 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr-Stabby View Post
While the Fusion Drive is certainly a fast option, i think everybody is forgetting that the iMac and the Mac Mini do not come with this option by default. It is a £200 upgrade. And what's more, the drive that it DOES come with (even the high spec iMacs come with this drive by default) is a pathetically slow (as we can see in the video on this article) 5400rpm drive. Apple should have put a 128gb SSD in the iMacs at least by default, but instead they've actually put in a drive that's a lot slower than the model it replaced. I'm not paying £200 extra on top of the already overpriced iMac to get a drive that performs the way a 2012 iMac should do. Sorry rant over.
Typically the high-end iMac comes with a 7200RPM drive. I don’t know if the 2012 model will, though with Fusion it seems moot. As far as the cost it seems perfectly reasonable for an enterprise grade tiering solution. Certainly 200 quid is less costly than my time in creating a Fusion Drive.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:37 PM   #10
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I love the idea of Fusion Drive, but for me -- the propeller-headed geek who does symlink stuff -- I'd like the 768GB SSD + 3TB HDD option to be available in the new iMac.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:37 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eidorian View Post
Yeah, my Time Machine drive just decided to weird out and all I can do is read the logs with arcane error codes to try to resolve it. I have not made a backup in 30 days in Time Machine.
When mine wigged out I needed a Mac OS update to fix it. Make sure to do that if you haven't - it instantly fixed my problem. I spent days trying to troubleshoot it before that update.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:38 PM   #12
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I'm less excited about this for me than I am for friends and family who ask me what computer to buy.

I've felt downright terrible telling them to not buy SSD drives recently, but I just don't want to get into helping them all with moving iTunes and iPhoto libraries to external drives and advising them on how to put large files on the external drive and not on the Desktop or in the Documents folder and then having to help fix it when they forget the rules and clog up their boot drive.

Now I can finally feel safe recommending a higher-performance solution to them without worrying about it turning into a non-stop tech-support nightmare for me.

I'm super excited.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:39 PM   #13
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I've had a Seagate drive I installed in my mbp for the past several months that does the exact same thing. Is this actually something new, or just another example of apple taking an existing tech, putting a clever name on it and making it seem revolutionary?
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:40 PM   #14
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Any insight into why the Fusion Drive is not available as a BTO option in the low-end 2.5 GHz i5 Mac mini?
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:41 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kralnor View Post
I've had a Seagate drive I installed in my mbp for the past several months that does the exact same thing. Is this actually something new, or just another example of apple taking an existing tech, putting a clever name on it and making it seem revolutionary?
No. The Momentus does Caching but it has much less SSD storage. You don't gain any storage you just cache some data to the SSD.

This is data tiering where a 1TB drive and 128GB SSD = 1.128GB of data prior to formatting and seen as 1 volume.

Performance should be better than simply caching.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:42 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr-Stabby View Post
While the Fusion Drive is certainly a fast option, i think everybody is forgetting that the iMac and the Mac Mini do not come with this option by default. It is a £200 upgrade. And what's more, the drive that it DOES come with (even the high spec iMacs come with this drive by default) is a pathetically slow (as we can see in the video on this article) 5400rpm drive. Apple should have put a 128gb SSD in the iMacs at least by default, but instead they've actually put in a drive that's a lot slower than the model it replaced. I'm not paying £200 extra on top of the already overpriced iMac to get a drive that performs the way a 2012 iMac should do. Sorry rant over.
I agree. I've seen 120-128GB drives on sale quite often at $60-70 mark. I'd imagine Apple can get these at an even cheaper rate. Shipping all Macs with at least Fusion drive would have been a pretty good selling point.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:42 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kralnor View Post
I've had a Seagate drive I installed in my mbp for the past several months that does the exact same thing. Is this actually something new, or just another example of apple taking an existing tech, putting a clever name on it and making it seem revolutionary?
From the article:

Quote:
Commenters in the other articles—particularly those who only skimmed the texts—have wondered at length why we're spending so much (virtual) ink covering Fusion Drive. Isn't it just a plain caching solution? Isn't it the same as Intel SRT? Hasn't Linux been doing this since 1937?

No, no, and no. Intel's Smart Response Technology is a feature available on its newer Ivy Bridge chipsets, and it allows the use of a SSD (up to 64GB in size) as a write-back or write-through cache for the computer's hard drive. One significant difference between FD and a caching technology like Intel SRT is that Fusion Drive alters the canonical location of the data it tiers, moving it (copying it, really, because we don't see a "delete" file system call during Fusion migrations, as we'll demonstrate in a bit) from SSD to HDD. More importantly, with FD, as much data as possible goes to the SSD first, with data spilling off of the SSD onto the HDD. Picture Fusion Drive's SSD like a small drinking glass, and the HDD is a much larger bucket, below the SSD. When you put data onto a Fusion Drive, it's like you're pouring water into the glass; eventually, as the glass fills, water slops over the side and begins to be caught by the bucket. With Fusion Drive, you always pour into the glass and it spills into the bucket as needed.

On the other hand, caching solutions like SRT algorithmically determine what things should be mirrored up from HDD onto SSD. Even though the SSD can be used as a write cache, the default location of data is on the HDD, not the SSD. In caching, the HDD is the storage device with which you interact, and the SSD is used to augment the speed of the HDD. In Fusion Drive, the SSD is the device with which you interact and the HDD is used to augment the capacity of the SSD.

I'm definitely not going all starry-eyed over Fusion Drive, and it's not a revolutionary new thing that will make your computer shoot rainbows out of its USB slots while curing cancer and making sick children well again. However, as we'll see, Fusion Drive is a transparent tiering technology that simply works. It's that seamless always-on functionality that makes it newsworthy—you buy a computer with Fusion Drive enabled and you don't need to install or configure any additional hardware or software in order to enjoy its benefits.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:45 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr-Stabby View Post
While the Fusion Drive is certainly a fast option, i think everybody is forgetting that the iMac and the Mac Mini do not come with this option by default. It is a £200 upgrade. And what's more, the drive that it DOES come with (even the high spec iMacs come with this drive by default) is a pathetically slow (as we can see in the video on this article) 5400rpm drive. Apple should have put a 128gb SSD in the iMacs at least by default, but instead they've actually put in a drive that's a lot slower than the model it replaced. I'm not paying £200 extra on top of the already overpriced iMac to get a drive that performs the way a 2012 iMac should do. Sorry rant over.
Slow for what, browsing the internet, writing the occasional word file, having a medium sized iPhoto/iTunes library?

LOL - You obviously don't understand the iMac or Mac Mini target market.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:46 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kralnor View Post
I've had a Seagate drive I installed in my mbp for the past several months that does the exact same thing. Is this actually something new, or just another example of apple taking an existing tech, putting a clever name on it and making it seem revolutionary?
Similar, but not quite the same.

Those drives use something like 4 or 8 GB of space and use that space to cache frequently-used files. In a sense it's sort of like extra emergency RAM.

Fusion-drive uses a large SSD that's actually being used for storage. So stuff actually lives there on a permanent basis, it's not just a temporary landing zone.

So for your seagate the space you have is the size of the hard drive. The SSD just holds stuff temporarily. With Fusion the space you have is the hard drive and the SSD added together, since it's more than just a cache, it's actually a drive that stores things.

So in theory it's the same concept, but in practice it should end up working a bit differently in terms of what the computer can do with it.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:46 PM   #20
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Wondering how this will be in the new iMac! Will be super fast for the average user, who wants a bit more bang for their money.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:46 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by ThisIsNotMe View Post
Slow for what, browsing the internet, writing the occasional word file, having a medium sized iPhoto/iTunes library?

LOL - You obviously don't understand the iMac or Mac Mini target market.
So are you suggesting the 27" iMac isn't targeted at designers and photographers?
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:49 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by PeterQVenkman View Post
This means that, like Time Machine, when it works it is invisible and beautiful. When there is an issue, there will be jack one can do about it.

I may get it on a mini.

Edit: dangit, only on the core i7 model, which pushes it above $1000.

I'll put it in an SSD myself.
LOL...

Maybe I should get a Mini too. I wonder if it comes with a good graphics card and not just that lame Intel HD Graphics junk.

SSDs are cheap now, running for about $100 for a 128GB or about $200 for a 250 GB.

I just wish I could get the 27" iMac, but can't afford it at this time. The Mini may be good enough for me, and I can upgrade it later.

UPDATE: The Mac Mini only comes with Intel Graphics 4000, which in my opinion is junk. I would prefer nVidia or ATI with dedicated video memory...
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:50 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by ThisIsNotMe View Post
Slow for what, browsing the internet, writing the occasional word file, having a medium sized iPhoto/iTunes library?

LOL - You obviously don't understand the iMac or Mac Mini target market.
He's right. Shipping the basic iMac with just a 5400 rpm hard drive is a bit shameful.

I think using 5400 with Fusion is a good compromise. It seems to work out well from what I'm reading. But a basic hard-drive-only iMac can only serve to tarnish Apple's reputation, I think, as people go home with brand new iMacs that perform like old laptops.

They really should have put faster drives in those basic systems. Not everyone needs Fusion...a hard-drive-only system is fine...but there should be some level of standards so long as Apple's not actually selling $600 computers.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:50 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by PeterQVenkman View Post
This means that, like Time Machine, when it works it is invisible and beautiful. When there is an issue, there will be jack one can do about it.
...hows that difference than most tech? Fusion isnt a redundancy solution, its a performance solution. its exactly no different than any other harddrives you may own (or ipods or whatever) -- if things go wrong youd better have a backup.
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Old Nov 9, 2012, 02:51 PM   #25
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Yeah, my Time Machine drive just decided to weird out and all I can do is read the logs with arcane error codes to try to resolve it. I have not made a backup in 30 days in Time Machine.
Tip: if your password to the tm hard drive is the same as the password to your computer bad things happen if running Mountain Lion.
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