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Apple iMac Fusion Drive SSD

iMac Tastes Sweeter With SSDs

Last October, Apple made the requisite splash with their iPad mini announcement.  That same day they rolled out the latest iMac platform with not as much fanfare since the iPad mini was the star of the day.  Deep into the press release announcing the new iMac was a paragraph touting Apple’s “innovative new storage option called Fusion Drive”.  Fusion Drive….Hmmm, wonder what that is all about?

Not calling an SSD an SSD

The Apple announcement says their Fusion Drive combines “128 GB of flash with a standard 1T hard drive.”  The blogoshere went into hyperdrive after the announcement with speculation and analysis on just what Apple was doing here and in the months since the product introduction, not much detailed information has come out.  I searched high and low to find out exactly what this thing is i.e. who supplied the ‘128 GB of flash’ but was not able to find any reliable data on it.  One thing for sure is it is a self contained device with 128 GB of flash inside.  Looks like an SSD, sounds like an SSD, performs like an SSD but Apple does not seem to want to call it an SSD.

An SSD By Any Other Name

So, we will let the marketing gurus at Apple have their day (after all, they are pretty good at marketing) and not call it an SSD.  The point I want to make here is that Apple is clearly recognizing the importance of SSDs and/or flash in their products and there are many good reasons for this.  The Fusion Drive is an integrated (some might say hybrid, Seagate for example) solution that combines the flash with a standard HDD.  OS X presents the combination as a single drive to the user so there is no user configuration or adjustments to make.  This solution fits perfectly with Apple’s walled garden approach to products – customers have no idea of how their products do what they do and frankly, most don’t care.

What Fusion Drive Brings to The Garden

Why is Apple going hybrid?  Simple – Performance.  Using SSDs in their products enables faster boot times by storing OS and application code in the SSD.  Apple’s iMac website shows this performance graph to illustrate some sample application performance increase provide by using the flash in the Fusion Drive. Using the hybrid approach also enables maximum capacity of the 1T HDD while adding the speed of an SSD. 

Figure 1. iMac Fusion Drive Performance Examples

Source: http://www.apple.com/imac/performance/

Driving Consumer Demand for SSDs

If there is one company that can get complex, new technology into the hands of less tech savvy consumers it is Apple and it appears they are doing that in a big way with SSDs.  Even though the Apple ‘walled garden’ solution may profit Apple the most, the spillover effect into the rest of the consumer space will benefit all SSD suppliers and SSD caching software vendors as the idea becomes more mainstream.  While it may be hard to imagine an average Joe Sixpack walking into Staples and ordering up a 256 GB SSD to put in his 5 year old Dell desktop he has at home, it is easy to see little Joey Sixpack telling dad to include an SSD in the new Alienware gamer box he wants to order.  Consumers buying SSDs from OEMs is a good way to accelerate the adoption of this valuable new technology.

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More Stories By Peter Velikin

Peter Velikin has 12 years of experience creating new markets and commercializing products in multiple high tech industries. Prior to VeloBit, he was VP Marketing at Zmags, a SaaS-based digital content platform for e-commerce and mobile devices, where he managed all aspects of marketing, product management, and business development. Prior to that, Peter was Director of Product and Market Strategy at PTC, responsible for PTC’s publishing, content management, and services solutions. Prior to PTC, Peter was at EMC Corporation, where he held roles in product management, business development, and engineering program management.

Peter has an MS in Electrical Engineering from Boston University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.