When buying a new Apple Mac you have the option to buy three different types of storage: a Hard drive, Flash storage (also known as an SSD, or Solid State Drive) or a Fusion Drive. But what is a Fusion Drive? And is it worth paying extra to have a Fusion Drive with your Mac?
In this article, we will look at how a Fusion Drive is different from a Flash drive or a hard drive, along with how much it costs and whether it’s worth the money. And we’ll also look into whether you can add a Fusion Drive to your Mac at a later date.
What is a Fusion Drive?
A Fusion Drive is two separate drives ‘fused’ together. It contains a Serial ATA drive (that’s a regular hard drive with a spinning plate inside) and a solid-state drive.
MacOS places the more frequently accessed files - including the OS itself, and apps - on the flash storage part of the drive so that they are always quick to obtain, while less frequently used data is stored on the hard drive.
The benefit of this solution is that you get the best of both worlds. You get faster operation thanks to the fact that the data you use most regularly is accessed quickly from the Flash part of the Fusion Drive, and lots of storage space for keeping all your files, photos, movies and more backed up.
It's much cheaper than the equivalent SSD too; Fusion Drives tend to offer 1TB of storage, and if you were to opt for that much storage in an SSD you would be looking at paying around £300/$400.
Other manufacturers have a similar solution that you may have heard of, often referred to as a hybrid drive.
Fusion Drive vs SSD
The biggest difference between a Fusion Drive and an SSD is, as we have already mentioned, the price. If you want to get a large capacity drive to store all your data on, but you don’t want to spend a fortune, then the Fusion Drive is the best option.
However, there's more to it than simply price; the downside to the Fusion Drive, when compared to SSDs, is that like an HDD, it has moving parts that can fail if you drop/damage your machine. It's also not as fast as a dedicated SSD, although it's only power users that are likely to notice the difference in read-write speeds between an SSD and a Fusion Drive.
If you like the idea of using an SSD on your Mac, we've got a selection of the best SSDs for Mac to help you out.
Fusion Drive vs Hard Drive
You might be thinking that getting a standard hard drive would be an even better solution, assuming that it would cost even less than the Fusion Drive. However, you really don’t pay a great deal more to upgrade to a Fusion Drive if your Mac doesn’t already offer one as standard (as most Macs in the current line-up do).
For example, to update the entry-level 21.5in iMac from a 1TB hard drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive costs just £90/$100. You’d be crazy not to upgrade and take advantage of the SSD storage option. Upgrading to a Fusion Drive would mean that your iMac would start up in seconds rather than minutes, you can expect files to be faster to open, apps to launch quicker, and fewer instances of the dreaded spinning beach ball.
It’s pretty clear from our tests that the Fusion Drive offers a substantial speed boost when compared to a hard drive. For example, we tested the 2017 2.3GHz iMac with a standard hard drive and the 3.4GHz iMac with a Fusion Drive and we found huge differences in file copy times. We also saw for ourselves that startup times were worlds apart.
How to get a Fusion Drive
Not every Mac has the option of a Fusion Drive. You’ll find that it isn’t available with any MacBook, nor the Mac mini, Mac Pro or iMac Pro, although the latter two machines are designed to provide as much speed and power as possible so that's not too surprising.
However, if you are looking for an iMac, chances are it will either ship with a Fusion Drive as standard, or you will be able to add the Fusion Drive as a build to order option when you purchase the machine.
How much does the Fusion Drive cost?
The Fusion Drive comes as standard with the following iMacs:
- 21.5-inch, 4.1GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive: £1,449
- Retina 5K, 27-inch, 4.1GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive: £1,749
- Retina 5K, 27-inch, 4.3GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive: £1,949
- Retina 5K, 27-inch, 4.6GHz Processor, 2TB Fusion Drive: £2,249
The 1TB Fusion Drive is a £90 build to order option for the following iMacs:
- 21.5-inch, 3.6GHz Processor, 1TB Hard Drive: £1,049
- Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, 3.6GHz Processor, 1TB Hard Drive: £1,249
There also is a 3TB build-to-order Fusion Drive option available for the 27-inch iMac range that costs £90 or £270, depending on the model of iMac you opt for.
How big is the SSD in a Fusion Drive?
When Apple first launched the Fusion Drive back in 2012 the SSD component was 128GB. Rather disappointingly, back in 2015 Apple reduced the flash component in the 1TB Fusion Drive from 128GB to just 24GB, although the price has been reduced to reflect this.
Currently, only the 2TB and 3TB Fusion Drives have a 128GB Flash storage component.
Fusion Drive problems
Some people have experienced problems with their Fusion Drive. In one case a Macworld reader found that, following a Mac OS X update, the Fusion Drive became unlinked. Our colleagues at Macworld US recommended rebooting in Recovery and attempting to run Disk Utility to try and fix the Fusion Drive.
Apple also gives advice for how to fix a split Fusion Drive here.
According to Apple, it is possible to use Disk Utility to add a single macOS partition to the hard disk on Fusion Drive, and that partition will function as a separate volume, not as part of Fusion Drive. However, if you wanted to create a Windows partition Apple recommends using Boot Camp for that.
Can I add a Fusion Drive later?
It’s not possible to add a Fusion Drive to a Mac at a later date, so if you want one you need to add it as a build to order option when you are buying the Mac.
Can I build my own Fusion Drive?
It is possible to upgrade the hard drive in some older iMacs and Mac minis, although you may be held back by your own technical ability, and in some cases the Mac itself is so soldered and glued into place that even the most adventurous techies would be stumped. Because the Fusion Drive is proprietary technology, and Apple doesn’t sell the Fusion Drive separately, creating your own Fusion Drive is particularly challenging.
However, it is possible and you can read how to create a Fusion Drive here.