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FireWire Finally Extinguished? Some Solutions and Work-Arounds for Apple Users

11.6.12 @ 9:21PM Tags : , , , ,

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]


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Description image 33 COMMENTS

  • ‘just got my new Sweetwater catalog in the mail. There are SOOOOO many Firewire audio interfaces. How many Thunderbolt? Less than one, I think. Audio cannot keep up with video trends, obviously. Pro Tools has not yet officially ported to Mountain Lion and skipped AES this year, urging people to stay with …. Lion! Hello, audio companies, are you asleep?

    • Agreed. Apple moves quickly when it comes to making things obsolete.

      The worst part is, audio interfaces don’t really need something as crazy-fast as Thunderbolt. Firewire 400 is fast enough for 99% of audio applications out there. Sad to see Apple phasing out a perfectly good option in Firewire.

      • animal_264 on 11.7.12 @ 1:23AM

        The Tbolt to FW adapter with its downsized flow could choke audio. Maybe the best bet for sound companies is to convert FW interfaces to USB3, and some already offer dual ports (FW, USB). USB has been the only consistent port since the 1990s, and might be with us for a long time. At least USB established itself as a standard with the same connector. Apple probably can’t change that, but who knows, they were slow to adopt USB3, but Redmond won on that front.

  • john jeffreys on 11.7.12 @ 1:07AM

    Firewire is slow as shit. I’m excited for my next macbook pro having usb 3.0 and thunderbolt

    • USB 3 isn’t as fast as 800 firewire, is it? Now I’m sure it beats the hell out of 200, but you can’t be talking about 200. 400 is faster than USB2 and I assume that 3 beats 400 but I didn’t think it was faster than 800

      • Actually USB 2.0 is technically a bit faster than FireWire 400 (480Mbps vs 400Mbps) and USB 3.0 is a lot faster than FireWire 800 (5Gbps vs 3.2 Gbps).

        USB can’t sustain data rates in a particular way required to stream video data, so that’s why FireWire had to be used for capturing from tapes. But for just transferring files, that’s not an issue.

  • A lot of interfaces have switched to USB. It’s really only the ones with high IO requirements (8 or more ports) that are still on FW. Thunderbolt is barely available…seems to cost too much and is really only in the high-end market

  • Sometimes it seems Apple changes things for the sake of change. Are they becoming a slave to having to feed their own super successful marketing machine? This success has reflected extremely well on the value of my Apple stock. However, I’m not sure how a new Thunderbolt connector fits in this equation of “technical progress vs creating inconvenient incompatible products that will accelerate the obsolecence of products that needs to go to the garbage dump sooner rather than later. Why can’t Apple figure out how to make a simple connector that doesn’t turn to junk in a few years?

    • It’s not that it turns to junk, it’s that they chose to make it junk, which forces you to re-buy the stuff you already own. The new ‘lighting’ for iphone 5? They obsolete older macbooks to make it impossible for people to upgrad the old ones which forces them to buy a new machine every few years. More money in their pocket. I personally hate being told what to do with something after I have bought it. It’s mine. Let me use it how I want.

      • My iPhone 4S has perfectly good connectors. It’s weird that the iPhone 5 is now not compatible to the devices in thousands of hotel rooms all over the world! I still prefer Final Cut Pro Studio Suite to FCP X and am now slowly shifting to Adobe CS6 Production Premium, as so many other professional editors have been doing. My Photoshop CS 6 still feels similar to Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator from 10 years ago with vast improvements. They didn’t totally revamp the interface and cause me inconvenience that FCP X would. My “old” Apple Cinema Display has a great MATTE finish and does not reflect too much like my new iMac screen. The old Cinema display also has a firewire 400 port that is used for my perfectly great FA-66 audio capture box that allows professional XLR microphones to connect to the Apple. Apple needs to be much more careful about not causing inconvenience to Apple fans like me who are disappointed with some of their recent mis-steps.

  • I remember a few years ago being in the office when my boss hooked up his then new Mac Pro to find they no longer had Firewire 400 ports. Oh, how we raged! Now no one misses that port, and in time no one will pine for Firewire 800 any more than they do VGA sockets now. Eventually Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 will probably become obsolete; no need to become upset, this is just what technology does.

  • Tech is always changing, things are going obsolete. The problem with this is Apple’s practice of forcing change. Yes it’s good that they put pressure the market, but it’s not some altruistic drive to further the industry. It’s the same every year. They force you to buy new HDD, new components, or at least a $30 dongle that cost us <$1 to make. They are pro's at forcing you to buy more stuff from them, or worse re-buy the same stuff every year because they've chosen to obsolete something again. I much prefer the more open PC market where new tech is adopted early, and old tech is fased out as the majority of people are giving up on it.

  • Technologies come and go, that’s a given. I don’t personally feel that it should be the computer maker’s role to MAKE technologies come and go as far as ports. They should be flexible enough to hook up to whatever devices are out there.

    There are 2 problems here, not having a firewire port and not having an ExpressCard slot. The ExpressCard slot is actually the bigger problem, since that would be an avenue to hooking up to all sorts of ports.

  • With all due respect adapting someone elses article entirely and just putting it on your website is cheap. if your going to touch upon the same topics at least use different images and headlines . Sure yours is on a filmmaking website but nofilmschool should have its own opinion not just mirror another post. if i want general industry topics ill use Scoop it to get info

    Ive liked the additions of new writers and Dave is refreshing to Joe’s arrogance but nofilmschool gets irritating, especially when you hyper link sentences for the sake of sending us to your own article. The start of EVERY post on no filmschool is…ive touched on x here so read y . If your a daily reader i lose count on how many times you hyperlink harddrive space/data storage when talking about BMCC. its like dude. we get it. youve covered it before

    • Dave Kendricken on 11.8.12 @ 2:56AM

      Hi over9000, thanks for the comment. NoFilmSchool attempts to give credit where credit is due, and again, I freely admit that I defer to Mac World’s expertise in the areas covered in this post. As such, I hope I have given sufficient attribution to that site’s original article.

      As for the reasons we enthusiastically back-link, it’s a simple matter — we do not necessarily cater our material to perennial readers, though we do hope to strike a balance — we just don’t always assume that every reader viewing our posts is 100% up-to-date and informed regarding the subjects of our articles, and therefore, we often find it necessary to ensure up-to-date knowledgeability given the matters at hand.

      Our mission is to keep our readers (old, and new) in the present in terms of what our subject matter covers, and at any given moment this could include new readers, to which we also hope to become a resource. Again, if you feel we have not given sufficient credit to the source here, I personally take responsibility. We appreciate that you’ve taken the time to comment, and we hope you keep coming back to read the site in the future.


  • ThunderBolt on 11.7.12 @ 12:49PM

    I gave up on Firewire earlier this year in getting a new 17″ MBPro. I opted to Promise Pegasus 12 TB and increased my performance exponentially. Wicked fast.

  • i edit with i7 hackintosh. i have firewire 400/800 usb3.0 / 2.0 and an esata port. my macbook is for emails. the machine is for work. got a 27 inch monitor with a non reflective screen. 15€ for the mountain lion is enough money to spend to apple. they earn enough with apps:)

  • Oké. FireWire anymore on Macs and the Thunderbold connector only works one direction..
    …anyone an idea how to use our €30.000,- phase one digital backs tethered in the studio in the future?
    Thanks again Apple ( just like the advice at the Amsterdam Apple store to use an iMac like all ‘the other photographers’ . Have you ever tried to calibrate one? Gosh, my high end Eizo screen costs more than two imacs)
    Sorry bit of topic but i get so fustrated how Apple deals with the creatives that supported them for al long time.
    Time to make hackintoshes ;)

  • They seem to be turning their back on the Audio industry in a big way. FireWire is pretty much the standard for a lot of studio audio interfaces. Mac Pro and MacBook Pro have been staples in both recording studios and Mobile recording for years. A lot of very loyal engineers have stayed by Apple for years. Loyalty seems to only go one way lately.
    Agreed that the forcing new technology approach has accelerated over the last few years as well as seemingly walking away from the pro arts in favor of pushing consumer dazzlement. It seems arrogant and self serving to try to force other manufacturers into obsolence. Maybe one day they will turn a corner too fast and find theirselves all alone…..

  • It seems like they’re not really marketing to creators any more. As Apple removes the options that artists have in choosing peripherals many will just move on to other platforms. Some won’t, I know but the ones that don’t want to be dictated to will. It’s sort of like telling a painter that s/he must use a certain canvas/paint/brush combination. Most would tell you to go * yourself and use the tools that are the best fit for them.

  • It is sad to think that Apple , forces users to follow there way of thinking with very or no room to move left or right. Asus many others manufactures did the same to all there PC Motherboards removing the fire wire port from their MB , but they still leave slots available for after market cards, Asus has realized they made a mistake by removing FW400 and have been active on some of the forums asking user if they want FW400 back on the MB, the answer from all have been yes. Apple and even many users of Mac forget that there are still many users of fire wire out there that are used on a daily bases, not just for editing but other applications, due to the stable transfer of data. And yes ,I moved to the Darkside (MS) and which I have not regretted, yes I do miss my Mac, but I have more freedom and options to hardware, software and cost , I do not have one company controlling the software or hardware I use. Apples BIG Brother approach forces us to follow their way of thinking in the end we loose our freedom and choices which effect our creativity., I am not making this a MS vs Apple, Even though Apple and many Mac users think the world revolves around them, I have news for them ,it does not , there is bigger world out there.
    That is my 2cents , Ok, time to kill the blasphemer, now let the flock of sheep trample me to death or the followers stone me.

  • I do a lot of legacy/archival work on the side. So, I still need to capture HDV, DVCAM, BetaSP, 3/4″ UMatic, Hi8, and even VHS.

    My Hard Drives, I’m not too concerned about those, I could easily figure out a way to transfer data. When I purchase new drives I get the multiple interface types so I will be able to connect to different machines. My concern is for my decks/players and AJA IO. I need to be able to communicate with those and capture video. I just hope the drivers and kexts continue to get developed in one form or another.

    At home, I’ve got an i7 / GA-Z77X-UD5H hackintosh and my firewire 400 port on the motherboard won’t work in Mountain Lion but will work in Ubuntu. I could always go to a pci-e card like nofilmschool recommends in their tutorial (I followed the Lion tutorial when it was still up but adapted for ML…THANKS!!). If the drivers/kexts stop getting developed, I will have an issue….I guess I hope that some of my older MacPros and iMacs don’t die on me.

  • Apple is changing OS and hardware configurations so rapidly it is getting hard to keep up. Personally, I don’t really want to spend money on new gear or OS when the old stuff still works perfectly well. The 3 to 6 month upgrade cycle that Apple has instituted will eventually disgust enough people that it will begin to hurt sales. I was a committed FCP user until the FCP X fiasco… I’m switching to Adobe CS6, and might do something I didn’t think was possible, buy a PC…

    • I agree. Apple has become the new Microsoft. New operating systems don’t work with what we use and contain things most of us never even try to use. The new operating systems are retro-escapades not upgrades. The changes only impress Apple. None of the systems have been anything I wanted or needed after OS 9.2 because before that, every program I ever bought worked when I “Upgraded”. OS X is fine but the changes are frustrating me and I reluctantly have switch to adobe and may go to a PC to avoid having programs and hardware go obsolete. I would switch everything (audio, video and graphics) to Adobe but they put out disks with bugs and search your computer all the time. I am tired and angry of junking things I like, I use, and are working fine but for Apple’s arrogance. I am no longer loyal to Apple and they are not longer the best.

  • Daniel Mimura on 11.18.12 @ 6:28AM

    Argh…it’s frustrating—I was just about start looking at another iMac (to replace my less-than-year-old one b/c I need the NVidia card b/c of CUDA instead of ATI—for RED without a Red Rocket card) when I saw this…I have thousands of dollars in hard drives on firewire. Yes, it’s becoming old…yes, thunderbolt is the future…but we’re not there yet! I haven’t bought thunderbolt drives b/c there aren’t enough options yet and they cost too much for what they do. I’d rather have many terabytes more for the same money. Yes it takes a little longer, but having both an imac and a laptop, I just transfer onto whatever I’m not actively using. Or start a transfer/backup/render/whatever when I’m going to bed.

    Mac famously dropped the floppy from the iMac when it first came out, and it was unsettling to some people, but it was really time…but it’s not time yet with thunderbolt. They’ve only now put on USB 3. I get that they weren’t behind it b/c they wanted thunderbolt to take off, but realized they had to, that USB is sort of a standard now, so they put it in. Well, who does that punish? It punishes the mac faithful who’ve been on mac for years and don’t have anything on USB 3, specifically b/c we’ve had firewire and transitioning into thunderbolt. So now I have drives that’ve served as backups that are not obsolete. They’re changing too fast for their own good.

  • What about all the people who currently own firewire cameras,who capture DV via firewire. Also those of us who were waiting for the new i-mac to upgrade. I was seriously thinking of buying a new mac,but now i am not so sure. If the thunderbolt to firewire adapter had been both way the i would place my order today. I am now thinkin about buying another high speck laptop running windows7 , at least i know i can do my video editing.

  • Giles Stogdon on 02.26.13 @ 6:03AM

    Looks like those of us in Windows world will also soon have this problem too. Put a new system together on an Asus P8Z77-M Pro mobo. No Firewire 400 port. Not even a header on the mobo. I tried installing a PCIE to IEEE 1394 card but it causes boot failure. I’m hoping this is just because it’s a dud card, but I need FW400 to use my MBOX2 PRO with Pro Tools….