Thursday, May 14, 2009

Apple and the demise of Firewire 400

A colleague had her laptop stolen (a Macbook Pro), a machine that had Firewire 400 and 800. I too had mine stolen in November; thankfully mine was while I was sleeping, not at gunpoint.

Thankfully she saw the humour when I told her at least she could upgrade to a newer machine (there is a silver lining, even if its a bit scuffed). Faced with the replacement choice, it was either a Macbook (with no Firewire at all), or a Macbook Pro (which had Firewire 800 only). The Macbook was nicer for me (smaller, perfect specs and price point), but I ended up buying the Pro purely for Firewire 800. What's the big deal about Firewire ?

Firewire 800 (aka IEEE1394b) is cool; 800MBits (not like USB2's 480Mbits in burst mode). Firewire 400 (aka IEEE1394) is less cool (400Mbits), but far more ubiquitous. The basic properties are the same; I can plug a hard drive or peripheral in, and its powered by the bus far more reliably than USB-based power.

No drivers, fast transfer speeds, and the ability to chain and mix/match on the same bus. Oh yes, and the formats are backward compatible. Sounds great. Except that Apple has basically killed Firewire 400 (and replaced with 800) from most of their machines, and removed it completely from the new Macbooks.

Now this is annoying.

  • My camcorder no longer works on my machine without a different cable or an adapter
  • Firewire target disk mode is no longer available on all Mac's (this is a subtle return to the "what machine do you have, because it changes how I approach a problem" behaviour that is common with PC manufacturers)
  • My expensive Firewire 400 drive enclosures and hubs are useless
  • etc, etc, etc

Why Apple, why kill off a good option, and close options for Macbook users who are already paying a premium ? I don't get it.

As an aside, I just bought a Firewire 800 drive enclosure from OWC. Excellent drive, and the performance is brilliant! They're great for memory and drive upgrades too.

Rant: eSATA, what a stupid system. You have to supply your own interface and power. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Maybe USB3 will solve all of these problems and unify these disparate connectors.