FireWire Finally Extinguished? Some Solutions and Work-Arounds for Apple Users
It's always a bit sad when tried-and-true tech or transfer protocols go the way of the Dodo Bird -- to utterly date myself, I can remember thinking Zip Drives were the future -- or maybe frustrating is more the word I'm looking for. According to Mac World, Apple's announcement of 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pros and new iMacs all exhibit what very well could be the setting of a trend in Apple's products -- the absence of FireWire ports. Keep reading for how on earth we're going to deal with this.
Can't say it didn't have a good run. While this is fine for those of us moving forward with better or faster transfer protocols like Thunderbolt (or, better yet, deciding our own damn ports) with our external hard drive and rig choices, it could certainly prove to be a major pain for us who must (or just plain want to) continue using legacy devices. Assuming you are moving forward with Apple, there are a few options to bridge functionality between your legacy FireWire device and your new Mac -- depending on what it is exactly you'll be doing.
Adapt For That
Apple's throwing us a bit of a bone with its own $30 Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter, though this method brings with it a few short-comings. For one thing, it only works in one direction -- you won't be able to convert a Mac FireWire port for use with a Thunderbolt device. For another, keep in mind it's rear end is a FireWire 800 port, so you'll need another adapter to use a different flavor of FireWire device. A more serious issue is the adapter only carries 7 watts of juice for bus powering, compared to the 10 to 20 watts Macs usually deliver, or the up-to-45 supported by FireWire's spec. Furthermore, a successful conversion means the computer sees the device as a Thunderbolt one, which is fine unless, for instance, the device's control software doesn't support Thunderbolt or if you're running Windows via Boot Camp and your device is anything other than a hard disk (there exist no drivers for Thunderbolt devices other than hard disks) -- though in the latter instance, running an emulator like Parallels will apparently work.
New Housings and Daisy-Chainers
In the somewhat-likely scenario (especially limited to that 7 watts) in which you find Apple's adapter to be about as useful to you as a band-aid for a crater, you'll have to get a bit more burly with your solution. Mac World suggests the $100 New Technology MiniStack (pictured left) as a new enclosure for your ole buddy Mr. Spinning Disk, as it supports both USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 (also according to Mac World, these two protocols provide the same transfer rate performance for hard drives). If you find yourself working with a number of legacy devices of drives, some intercessors may become necessary -- Mac World recommends just-a-bunch-of-disk (JBOD) RAID solutions such as the $430 four-bay DS413J ethernet device by Synology. Or you may need a bit more specialization device-to-device -- you may simply find yourself bridging your legacy drive with a DC-powered FireWire device via daisy chaining. Mac World's suggestion in this case is Other World Computing's $160 Mercury Elite-AL Pro 500GB hard drive, which they say could easily link-up and fuel enough juice to bus-dependent devices such as Digidesign's Digi 002 FireWire sound mixer.
Perhaps the solution which most ideally balances simplicity and robustness is Thunderbolt conversion from the ExpressCard standard, which supports connecting to everything from FireWire 800 and USB 2 & 3.0 to Ethernet and SATA devices -- including hard disks and solid state drives. Mac World very perceptively points out that a lot of people probably forget this option, because it certainly didn't occur to me, but they also rightly state it could be the solution a lot of us find benefit in. The only real downside is the overhead. I'll give you the article's suggestion, because these guys are far greater experts than me (I mean, they live on the Mac World, come on):
You can purchase a Thunderbolt-to-ExpressCard external adapter box, such as Sonnet Technology's $199 Echo Pro ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter, and add to that a $50 Thunderbolt cable and generic $50 PCMCIA FireWire 800 adapter; you're good to go for most any non-hard-drive bus-powered FireWire device. The adapter supports full FireWire 800 performance. One downside with this approach is the number of interconnects and the need to carry and manage multiple devices and cables. One loose connection can break the setup, making the solution workable but less than desirable.
Or, You May Just Have to Let FireWire Burn Out
Of course the final option is to just move on with your life -- we surely all will at some point, it's just a matter of when. This is neither a convenient nor totally-surprising move on Apple's part (despite the company itself having developed the protocol in the first place), but again, there are clearly work-arounds for us clever people. Thanks again to Mac World for their superb write up on the matter, link below.
How is Apple's phasing-out of FireWire going to affect you Mac users out there? Does this affect plans you may have had to buy the new Mac Pros, whenever (and, if ever) the heck those will be coming around? Should I be made fun of for my lack of skills in Photoshop?
Link: Mac World
[via Notes On Video]