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 to a Flash drive or a hard drive, we’ll also discuss how much it costs, and whether it’s worth the money. And we’ll 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 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. 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 a lots of storage space for keeping all your files, photos, movies and more backed up.
Fusion Drives tend to offer you a 1TB hard drive, if you were to opt for that much storage in a SSD you would be looking at paying around £630.
Other manufacturers have a similar solution that you may have heard of, referred to as a hybrid drive.
Fusion Drive versus 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.
Fusion Drive versus 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.
For example, to update the entry level iMac from a 1TB hard drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive costs just £90. 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 every test we have run that the Fusion Drive offers a substantial speed boost when compared to a hard drive. For example, we recently tested the 2017 2.3GHz iMac with standard hard drive and the 3.4GHz iMac with Fusion Drive and we found huge differences in file copy times. We also saw for ourselves that the start up times were world apart. Read 2017 21.5-inch iMac review.
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 laptop Macs, for example. It also isn't currently an option for the Mac Pro.
However, if you are looking for an iMac or Mac mini 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?
There are a few different Fusion Drives available.
The Fusion Drive comes as standard with the following iMacs:
- 21.5-inch, 3.4GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive, £1,449
- 27-inch, 3.4GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive, £1,749
- 27-inch, 3.5GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive, £1,949
- 27-inch, 3.8GHz Processor, 2TB Fusion Drive, £2,249
The 1TB Fusion Drive is a £90 build to order option for the following iMacs:
- 21.5-inch, 2.3GHz Processor, 1TB Hard Drive, £1,049
- 21.5-inch, 3.0GHz Processor, 1TB Hard Drive, £1,249
There is even a 3TB build to order Fusion Drive option available for the 27-inch iMacs that costs £270 or £90 depending on which iMac model you are purchasing.
The Fusion Drive comes as standard with the following Mac mini:
- 2.8GHz Processor, 1TB Fusion Drive, £949
The 1TB Fusion Drive is a £180 build to order option for the following Mac mini:
- 2.6GHz Processor, 1TB Hard Drive, £679
The 1TB Fusion Drive is a £225 build to order option for the following Mac mini:
- 1.4GHz Processor, 500GB Hard Drive, £479
Note these 2015 Mac minis are powered by a much older processor generation than the iMacs.
How big is the SSD part of a Fusion Drive
When Apple first launched the Fusion Drive back in 2012 the SSD component was 128GB. Unfortunately back in 2015 Apple reduced the flash component in the 1TB Fusion Drive so it is now smaller, but the price has been reduced.
Currently the 1TB Fusion Drive has a 24GB SSD while the 2TB and 3TB Fusion Drives have a 128GB Flash 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 is 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 you build your own Fusion Drive?
It is possible to upgrade the hard drive in some 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 updater would be stumped. However, 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.