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You DON'T need a new MacBook! Reg man fiddles with Fusion, pimps out vintage Pro

Old school Unibody upgrading with Mavericks and storage tricks...

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Partition walls

Personally, I didn’t notice any loss of performance having shifted from an SSD-only system to the SSD-HDD hybrid Fusion drive. In fact, with a clean install to boot, the system seemed much more responsive, which can’t be said for my office mid 2010 3.6GHz Core i5 iMac, which having only 4GB of RAM and relying solely on an HDD is extremely sluggish since the Mavericks upgrade. Alas, even a blast from Alsoft's ever wonderful DiskWarrior 4.4 (that's also fusion drive friendly) from my handy 30GB diagnostics SSD hasn’t helped this iMac as much as I’d hoped.

Fusion drive partitioning

Setting the Fusion drive partition size to 100GB before applying the changes

Last on my list was to be able to partition the Fusion drive to install Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6). Alas, getting this to behave was the only obstacle of all the previous steps. Despite specifying a modest partition size of about 100GB using Disk Utility, the actual process split the drive into two equal halves of around 600GB. I tried various sizes but the same thing kept happening. You can removing the partitioning and it returns to being a fusion drive volume as before.

In its iMac and Mac mini Fusion drive tech note, Apple states only the HDD portion can be partitioned, which would suit me fine for this purpose, if only it worked. Suggestions for achieving a preferred partition size with a Fusion drive using Terminal tricks or other workarounds are welcome in the comments. Indeed, before starting the whole process, I did consider partitioning the HDD first, but wanted to see how this would play out and also presumed the whole HDD would be formatted in the process.

Fusion drive after partitioning

Fusion drive after partitioning: so much for the 100GB second partition, the created volumes are well over 500GB

I'll no doubt give this a go using a smaller pairing of drives with the HDD pre-partitioned to satisfy my curiosity. For now though, the Snow Leopard alternative exists as a bootable external drive and I haven’t used it that often, truth be told. Much like hanging on to an old Mac to run OS 9 (yes, I still have a Power Mac G4 tucked away in a corner) the frequency of running those legacy apps eventually turns into a special occasion to fire up yesteryear’s tech.

That said, all this was done on a Mac that has long since had its day in the sun. For me, using a Sonnet Tempo eSATA ExpressCard34 takes care of a lack of USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt interfacing and having a decent amount of RAM along with its Fusion infusion keeps it performing briskly enough for most tasks. Indeed, its Geekbench 2 64-bit score of 4600 puts it on a par with the ranking of a 2011 MacBook Pro with a 2nd gen Intel 2.3GHz Core i5 CPU.

What I did notice – having been so long without one – was the return of the muted whispering of HDD noise. The MacBook Pro's dual fans are typically softly spoken too, but they soon began roaring away for most of the time, which was a concern. I realised the discrete Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT GPU was active to give better performance. So I switched over to the lower powered GeForce 9400M alternative and things have been calm ever since.

Apple MacBook Pro 17in 2009 fusion upgrade in 2013

Dual drives and Fusion powered too, however, partitioning is a problem

Even so, the GPU cooling never used to be so fierce on the GeForce 9600M GT, but I do recall there was a screen problem with this set-up apparently overheating, which some speculated was due to thermal paste application issues. It turned out that Apple's firmware 'fix' was to simply keep the fans going. So it's probably Mavericks being rather too enthusiastic here, rather than the Fusion drive at play.

Economy drive?

One thing that can’t be overlooked is the cost. Is it worth it? Admittedly, I have to thank Kingston and Seagate for being open to persuasion here by providing the large capacity storage I used for this workthrough, which would have added up to around £400. The cost can be reduced significantly by using a smaller capacity SSD and a modest sized HDD. So, for a around £100 you can get both a 128GB SSD plus a 500GB HDD and, with any luck, another year's computing.

Also, these drives don't have to be SATA III either, so you might find some bargains. Lest we forget, MacBook owners will have to make room for the additional drive and consequently wave bye-bye to the optical unit. If this internal SuperDrive still works, then eBay awaits – it'll probably pay for a caddy... or two.

If you’re inclined to experiment, even using a small SSD in a Fusion combo will surely deliver performance and capacity benefits – which could make significant difference for users of virtual machines. And when you finally retire your old Mac, you can always repurpose the SSD for diagnostic duties as an external boot drive. None of these options are easily achievable on a new MacBook Pro, which is where I came in: I need a new MacBook Pro… or do I? ®

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