One of my favorite Mac technologies is Firewire. Yes, it’s available for PCs, too, and shows up in many other devices, including audio and video, but it’s an Apple technology that first appeared on Macs.
The way things are going with Firewire, the Macs may be the first to drop Firewire. It’s gone from the iPods already. I’m afraid we’re seeing the last of Firewire as Apple becomes an all Intel shop (the designers of USB).
Check the iPod nano and Apple’s new iPod with video. Neither one will synchronize with your Mac or PC using Firewire. It’s USB 2.0 or no go. Firewire is all but dead in Apple’s hot selling iPods.
Why? What’s wrong with Firewire that Apple’s not telling us? Did Intel demand that Apple drop Firewire support in exchange for a deal on Intel chips?
Is it just too expensive to put Firewire into Apple’s hardware designs? Is Apple miffed because Firewire seems to have topped out at 800Mbps after promising as much as 1,600Mbps, far faster than USB?
One hiccup in Firewire is the requirement to build in a different connector for Firewire 800Mbps vs. 400Mbps. USB 2.0 and 1.1 carry the same connector, making backward compatibility a non-issue.
Today, all Macs come with both USB 2.0 and at least 400Mbps; high end PowerBooks and PowerMacs also sport an extra Firewire connector at 800Mbps.
The latest rumblings from the rumor mills say even Firewire 400Mbps will be dropped in upcoming Intel-based iBooks. Why? What’s wrong with Firewire?
Granted, the differences in average user performance between Firewire and USB 2.0 are nominal, though the technology is quite different, and most techies prefer Firewire.
FireWire is designed for speed, uses a “Peer-to-Peer” architecture in which the external peripherals are intelligent and can negotiate bus conflicts to determine which device can best control a data transfer to the Mac or PC.
That differs substantially with USB 2.0 which uses a less efficient “Master-Slave” architecture. The computer handles all arbitration functions and dictates data flow to, from, and between the attached ezternal peripherals (that uses additional system overhead and which results in slower, less-efficient data flow control)
Though USB 2.0 is rated at 480Mbps vs. Firewire’s 400Mbps, in real world tests, Firewire is usually faster. Sometimes, much faster.
External Firewire hard drives on Macs are bootable, which means you can install (or clone back up) Mac OS X on an external Firewire drive and start up your Mac on that drive. Not so USB.
If Firewire is the performance leader, why did Apple drop it in favor of USB 2.0 for the iPod nano and new iPods with video?
For the average user, there’s probably no notable difference in synchronization speed between iTunes and the iPod. Plus, it’s less expensive to build one USB 2.0 connector in the iPod vs. adding the Firewire connector.
Most Windows PCs come with USB 2.0 these days, and few have Firewire installed. All new Macs have both.
There’s also the space issue. The iPod nano and new iPod with video are incredibly small. Neither has space for the necessary Firewire connection goodies (so say some).
If Firewire is dead on the iPods, is it about to be put to sleep on new Intel-based Macs?
Some rumor sites say the first of the new Macs with Intel’s chips will sport only USB 2.0, and not Firewire. If so, that’s a shame. My preference for external hard drives and cameras is Firewire. Period.
I already feel left out because my PowerBook, not quite three yeas old, only has USB 1.1, so isn’t a candidate for the new iPod with video. Trust me. You don’t want to sync up 30 gigs of music and videos on USB 1.1. You’d be timing the sync with a calendar.
If the latest reports about Firewire disappearing on new Macs are true, then we’ve truly seen the last of a great technology from Apple.
If I thought petitions worked, I start one for Firewire on future Macs. Maybe we’ll hear more about the future of Firewire at Macworld in early January.
Firewire? Or USB? Which do you prefer?
I would be very surprised to see FW disappear from future Macs. That’s a key point of differentiation with Windows PCs, and probably inexpensive to manufacture into motherboards.
Carol Mary Miller
What about video cameras? Aren’t most video cameras from Sony using Firewire with simply a different name (iLink?)?
Most digital cameras for the Mac or PC are USB, with Fireware all but gone, except for a few video cameras. Still, when I buy an external drive, I always get Firewire, not USB.
Tera Jean Patricks
It’ll be a sad day in Macdom if Firewire disappears from the Mac.