I'll dig deeper into the Fusion Drive in my next article, but in brief, Fusion Drive is Apple's answer to the high-price-per-gigabyte problem of solid-state drives. SSDs are fast as all get out, but they have very limited capacity and they cost a lot more than traditional drives. Fusion Drive gives you the best of both worlds by bringing together a separate 120GB SSD and 1TB hard drive and presenting them to both the user and applications as a single drive. (A Fusion Drive is not Apple's special implememtaion of a hybrid drive, which houses a SSD and a hard drive in one mechanism.) Data is written to the SSD first, so the idea is that you get SSD speeds but with the capacity of standard hard drives. As you can see, our benchmark tests bear that out.
The BTO Mac mini's combination of extra RAM, a speedy SSD, and a quad-core Core i7 processor was so good, its performance earned a Speedmark 8 score just below the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pros. That makes sense, seeing how the high-end 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro has the same 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 processor as the BTO Mac mini and uses flash storage instead of standard rotational hard drives.
The scores would've been even higher had Apple offered a discreet graphics upgrade alternative to the capable--if somewhat lackluster--Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. The BTO Mac mini failed to beat the 2011 high-end Mac mini in Portal 2 and Cinebench Open GL tests. And the Mac mini's GPU was totally overwhelmed by the graphics performance of the 15-inch Retina display MacBook Pros and their discreet nVidia GeForce GT 650M graphics with 1GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. Cinebench Open GL tests on the 15-inch 2.6GHz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro with 500GB flash storage and 8GB of RAM were 70% faster than the BTO Mac mini. The Retina MacBook Pro's Portal 2 tests displayed twice as many frames per second.
The BTO Mac mini was actually faster than the Retina MacBook Pro in a few tests, like the iPhoto, iMovie, and Aperture import tests. But file copy and file uncompress tests were a bit faster on the Retina MacBook Pro with its "pure" flash storage than on the Mac mini's Fusion Drive.
We have more Fusion Drive benchmarks and articles in the works. Stay tuned.
2012 BTO Mac mini: Individual application scores