What Is Apple’s Fusion Drive?
Like Apple’s Fusion Drive, Seagate’s Momentus XT hybrid drive combines solid state flash memory and a traditional hard drive.
Apple’s latest versions of the iMac and Mac mini include its new Fusion Drive as an option for storage. While it sounds like something that might power the Starship Enterprise, it's actually a technology that's been available for a few years. The Fusion Drive is an example of a hybrid hard drive — one that combines flash memory and a traditional hard drive in order to take advantage of what each type does best. And it's not unique to Apple.
What’s the advantage of a hybrid drive?
Solid state flash memory gets data to your screen faster than traditional hard drives, but flash memory is much more expensive and usually can’t store as much information. For example, a 256 GB internal solid-state drive (for upgrading your computer's internal drive) runs about $170 or more.
With video files often at 1 GB or more and an album worth of music taking up 100 MB or so, you can easily find yourself filling a 500 GB hard drive without trying. That's the appeal of traditional hard drives, which run about $100 for 1 TB of storage (and larger versions are available). But traditional hard drives take longer to pull data, which results in slower boot times and longer waits when using an application — such as when opening a large file — compared with flash memory.
[SEE ALSO: How Much iPad Storage Do I Need?]
A hybrid drive attempts to bridge the gap. It includes some flash memory to store the operating system and applications that you frequently use. Software on the flash memory portion will start up more quickly than with a traditional drive. In addition, you get a standard hard drive to store a lot of data. The price for a hybrid drive falls somewhere between the two other options. For example, Seagate’s Momentus XT 750 GB hybrid model starts at $140.
How can I get a hybrid drive?
Apple offers the Fusion Drive as an upgrade on Mac mini models and iMacs. The upgrade adds $250 to the cost of a Mac mini; Apple has yet to list the price for the iMac upgrade. Since they are special models, consumers must order the models with Fusion Drives online. Apple doesn't currently offer hybrid drives for its laptops.
You can also get hybrid drives in many PCs. For example, HP offers a hybrid drive as an option in some models, such as its Envy dv7t-7200 laptop. Or you can upgrade a Mac or PC yourself with hybrid drives from companies including Seagate, Samsung, Toshiba and Western Digital.
In the future, it’s likely that flash-memory drives will become standard as capacity increases and prices fall. In the meantime, hybrid drives are a good option if you need faster access to data, but can’t find the cash to pay for a big, all-flash-memory drive.