Fusion Drive Tech Note: Not too reassuring

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
October 25th, 2012 • 3:51 pm

As someone who has been enjoying the benefits of using an SSD drive as my startup volume for a year now, I am of course intrigued by Apple’s announcement of the new Fusion Drive technology.

However, the fact that Apple has already released a tech note about the new technology with a series of warnings is not particularly reassuring. I find the bottom section titled “Troubleshooting” particularly worrying:

If your system will not start because you see a flashing question mark or another alert:

  1. Press the Power button and hold it down to power off your system.
  2. Press the Power button again. After you hear the startup chime, press and hold Command-Option-R to start up to the Internet version of Mountain Lion Recovery.
  3. A globe should appear with a “Starting Internet Recovery” message. It is now OK to release Command-Option-R.
  4. A progress bar should appear and Internet Recovery should start ask you to select a language.
  5. Once you select a language, click Disk Utility in the window that appears and then click Continue.
  6. If your Fusion Drive can be repaired with Disk Utility, you’ll see a Disk icon with red lettering. Click the disk icon.

In recent times, in my experience as a Mac troubleshooter, the flashing question mark (indicating an unbootable system) has become a fairly rare occurrence, and something that usually indicates a serious hard drive failure. (There are still times when running Disk Utility or a third-party tool such as DiskWarrior to repair the disk’s directory works and solves such a problem, but it’s pretty rare.) These days, if you get a flashing question mark, it’s usually a sign that your hard drive is toast and you need to replace it.

What this tech note appears to suggest is that the flashing question mark problem might occur more frequently with the Fusion Drive than with current drives, but that it’s not indicative of a hardware failure and can actually be fixed. There is a catch, however:

To repair the volume, click Fix. CAUTION: Clicking Fix will erase your Fusion Drive.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe Apple is just being cautious and making sure that the required information is available in the rare cases when such a failure might occur. On the other hand, Apple is a company that tends to remain in denial about problems until reports reach some kind of internal critical mass. So this particular tech note looks rather unusual to me. After all, nobody except Apple people with access to prototypes is using a Fusion Drive right now.

Do potential buyers of the new technology really need to worry about a higher-than-normal failure rate for the new drives and the fact that, while these failures can be fixed with software, the fix involves erasing the drive?

I guess we’ll soon find out. But I personally would leave the experimentation to other early adopters for this particular technology. I am quite pleased with my current setup (256 GB SSD for system and applications and larger conventional hard drives for everything else) and with the fact that I am the one who gets to choose what goes where.

Of course, the ultimate goal of a technology such as the Fusion Drive is to simplify things and make them accessible to “the rest of us” (i.e. people with less technical know-how), and it is laudable. But reading such a tech note makes me feel like there is a risk that this technology might not be quite ready for prime time just yet.

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