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October 25, 2012

Apple's Fusion Drive Puts New Spin on Hybrid Hard Drives

The PC market for the last few years has enjoyed the addition of what are called "hybrid drives" as part of its standard hardware loadout. A mix of solid state and hard drive, hybrid drives provide a "best of both worlds" philosophy in which frequently-accessed files like OS files and boot files are stored in flash memory, accessed with much more speed than a hard drive can muster, but other files not so regularly accessed – video files, document files and the like – are kept in hard drive space.

Apple (News - Alert), meanwhile, recently decided to join in with their new Fusion Drive.

The Fusion Drive, said to be part of a partnership arrangement with Seagate (News - Alert) that comes with certain inherent tools for Mountain Lion, is much the same as a hybrid drive. Based on current reports, it seems almost indistinguishable from a standard hybrid drive, with a mix of solid state storage mixed in with standard hard drive platters to make a combination drive that offers both high-speed on the stuff that's most frequently accessed, and plenty of storage space in a package that would be much more expensive if it were all solid state storage.

Getting Apple users involved in the hybrid drive phenomenon should help make these drives more popular for users, and maybe do a little more to make them available in the OEM market. After all, getting Apple users in the fray increases the total number of potential users, and makes the hybrid drive market a bit more attractive for hardware makers.

When a market is attractive, it draws competitors, lowers prices, improves product offerings and generally makes things better for users.

The biggest impediment to replacing hard drives outright with solid state drives has often come down to two comparative discrepancies between the two: hard drives generally offer more storage than their solid state counterparts, and do so with vastly less expense. Solid state drives, meanwhile, commonly offer much better data security overall – fewer moving parts mean less risk of failure, keeping data intact even through the worst of situations – and much faster loading times for apps and the like.

Solid state drives are, objectively, better overall than hard drives, but the more mature hard drive technology allows for more storage to be offered to users and for much lower cost, making them extremely popular with users.

Hybrid drives help bridge that gap, providing the best parts of both platforms.

It doesn't particularly matter what Apple calls their version of the hybrid drive, especially if by bringing it out in the first place, they can make the hybrid drive more available, more accessible, and better overall for the rest of us.


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