What Is a Fusion Drive, and Why Should You Care?

There are two basic types of storage devices available today: hard disk drives and solid-state drives. For the lowest cost per gigabyte, you can’t go wrong with a hard drive, and they come in truly massive sizes—up to a whopping 8 terabytes. However, they’re relatively slow.

For speed, you want a solid-state drive, also known as an SSD. Because SSDs rely on flash storage, a type of non-volatile memory whose chips retain data without power, they’re lightning fast. But chips are more expensive than hard disk platters and read/write heads, so the $250–$300 that will get you an 8 TB hard drive is enough for only a 1 TB SSD.

In 2012, Apple came up with a compromise: the Fusion Drive. As its name suggests, a Fusion Drive melds a hard disk drive with flash storage to provide the best of both worlds. The user sees just a single volume, but behind the scenes, macOS automatically and dynamically moves frequently used files—notably those used by the operating system—to the flash storage portion of the Fusion Drive for faster access while keeping infrequently used files on the hard drive.

In essence, the Fusion Drive provides much of the speed of an SSD along with the capacity of a hard drive. What’s not to like?

There are some caveats. Good as a Fusion Drive is, it will never be as fast as a pure SSD, and you’ll probably notice that most when working with older files. Try editing some photos from last year in Photos and you’ll likely be working entirely on the slow hard drive.

Also, Apple provides the Fusion Drive as an option only for the iMac and Mac mini; there’s no room it in a modern MacBook. But not all Fusion Drives are created equal. They come in 1 TB, 2 TB, and 3 TB sizes, although not all iMac and Mac mini models can accept the larger Fusion Drives.\

Originally, all Fusion Drives had 128 GB of speedy flash storage alongside the hard drive, but in 2015, Apple reduced the amount of flash storage in the iMac’s 1 TB Fusion Drive to a paltry 24 GB (the Mac mini’s 1 TB Fusion Drive still has 128 GB). The company subsequently increased it to 32 GB, but if you’re buying a new iMac and want better performance from a Fusion Drive, go for either 2 TB or 3 TB, both of which have 128 GB of flash storage.

One final note. As of this writing, macOS 10.13 High Sierra will not convert a Fusion Drive to Apple’s new APFS file system. We anticipate that will change at some point in the next year, and APFS might make Fusion Drives even a bit faster.

All that said, if you want the best performance and can afford the cost, get an SSD. If you need more space than an SSD can provide, consider using the SSD internally and adding an external hard drive connected via USB 3 or Thunderbolt 3. Barring that, a Fusion Drive—particularly one with 128 GB of flash storage—remains a good compromise. Honestly, we can’t currently recommend a hard disk drive as the primary storage for a Mac unless low cost is paramount. Hard drive performance just isn’t good enough.


Twitter: Looking for the best compromise between speed and capacity for an iMac or Mac mini? Consider a Fusion Drive.

Facebook: Although there’s no question that an SSD will provide the best performance on an iMac or Mac mini, if you need more space, consider a Fusion Drive.

What’s New in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and Its Main Apps

Although Apple’s eye-catching Desktop image of the High Sierra mountains makes it easy to confirm that your Mac is running High Sierra, the most noteworthy new features are invisible! These changes are aimed at improving your Mac’s performance. But, don’t worry that there’s nothing new in High Sierra to play with—you’ll find plenty to do in Apple’s apps, and we’ll share our favorite features below.

Apple’s invisible, under-the-hood changes modernize the Mac. The new APFS file system significantly improves how data is stored on your disk. It replaces the HFS+ file system, which dates from the previous century. You’ll notice the switch to APFS when you look up the size of a selected folder or duplicate a large file because the operation should run much more quickly. APFS also provides better FileVault encryption and reduces the chance of file corruption.

Also new is HEVC, a new video compression standard that will let videos stream better and take up less space on your drive, and HEIF, an image format that boasts significantly better compression to keep photos from overwhelming your drive. HEVC and HEIF have other advantages too, but they’re so embedded into High Sierra (and iOS 11) that all you’ll notice is more space. When you drag images and videos out of Photos, they’ll come out in familiar formats suitable for sharing.

 

Photos 3

In Photos, it’s now easier to browse your photos from the always-on sidebar on the left side of the window. Photo editing is also more streamlined, with the Edit screen now separated into three tabs: Adjust, Filters, and Crop.

You can now edit Live Photos! Look at the bottom of the Adjust tab for controls for picking any frame as the static “key” frame, trimming the video, and applying special effects. The most interesting effect blurs the Live Photo by turning the 3-second mini-movie into a single long exposure.

Those who are into tweaking photos by hand should check out the new Curves and Selective Color options on the Adjust tab. Or, if you’d prefer that your Mac do the heavy lifting, try the new filters on the Filters tab.

Our favorite new feature is more of a fix—when you train Photos to match faces with names, that training will now sync through iCloud Photo Library to your other Apple devices. About time!

Finally, for serious photographers, Apple has at long last brought back round-trip editing of a photo in an external app, like Pixelmator or Photoshop.

 

Safari 11

A new Websites tab in Safari’s preferences lets you specify Web sites that should always open in Safari’s clutter-reducing Reader View, blocks some ads and auto-play videos, lets you set the zoom level on a per-site basis, and more. We like to tweak these options for the current Web page by choosing Safari > Settings for This Website to open a popover with the necessary controls.

And in the “Thank you, Apple!” category, Safari now offers Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which limits advertisers’ cross-site tracking of where you’ve been online.

 

Notes 4.5

Notes now offers a capable Table feature and a handy File > Pin Note command that puts the selected note at the top of its list rather than listing it by order last edited. Neither feature is earth shattering, but we’re enjoying both already.

 

Mail 11

Behind the scenes, Mail gets a welcome change you probably won’t notice—according to Apple, message storage now takes 35% less space.

More obvious is how Mail revamped its behavior in full-screen view. Instead of the message-composition area overlapping most of the Mail window, the screen splits, and your new message appears at the right. This layout simplifies viewing an older message while drafting a new one.

FaceTime 4

A fun new FaceTime option is taking a Live Photo of your call. It’s a perfect way to record mini-movies of far-away relatives. If the person you’re chatting with allows Live Photos in FaceTime’s preferences, hover over the FaceTime window to see and then click the round Shutter button.

 

Spotlight

Spotlight isn’t exactly an app, but it lets you search for anything on or off your Mac. Click the magnifying glass icon at the right of your menu bar—or press Command-Space bar—to start, and then enter your search terms. New in High Sierra, you can enter an airline flight number to see oodles of flight-related info.

High Sierra won’t radically change how you use your Mac, but we’re in favor of anything that makes our Macs run faster and keeps our drives from filling up so fast. Should you upgrade? Yes. When? That’s another story.


Twitter: Find out what we like about the Mac’s new operating system, macOS 10.13 High Sierra.

Facebook: Find out what’s cool in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and which new features we’re most enjoying in Photos, Notes, Mail, and FaceTime.