Re: The FireWire Firestorm

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
As every Mac Observer reader knows by now, Apple has dropped the FireWire port from its latest MacBooks. The result is a lot of angry Mac users, and a controversy over exactly how important it is to have a FireWire port on a Mac. Although much ink has already been spilled on this topic, I wanted to add my own two cents.

Although I would prefer that FireWire remain an option -- for all the commonly cited reasons (such as maintaining the capability to connect FireWire hard drives and FireWire-based camcorders), the complete demise of FireWire now appears inevitable. It absence from Apple's MacBooks is just the harbinger of what's coming down the road. So we might as well start getting used to it.

If a MacBook is your second Mac, and your main Mac still has FireWire, this should be a relatively easy transition. Even if a new MacBook will be your only Mac, odds are that you've never used FireWire and will not even be aware that the port no longer exists.

In other words, this ought not to be a big deal.

Except there is one big deal here and it is a critical one for me: Target Disk Mode. As a troubleshooter, I am loathe to give up on this feature. If your Mac crashes at startup, the ability to use Target Disk Mode to connect it as an external drive to another Mac (assuming you have a second Mac available, of course) is the simplest and fastest way to potentially repair the drive or at least recover data from it. It is also the best way to transfer large amounts of data from one Mac to another.

If Apple could deliver an alternative to FireWire Target Disk Mode (allowing the mode to work via USB or Ethernet, if that's possible), I would not think twice about getting a MacBook sans FireWire. Without such an alternative, I won't be buying one, at least not until I have no other choice.

Otherwise, I note that Apple has flip-flopped on FireWire before (omitting the FireWire 800 port on MacBook Pros and then returning it in the next update). Perhaps Apple will do a similar reversal with FireWire on the new MacBooks. I doubt it. But I can hope.

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apple’s decision to drop firewire is typically and monumentally stupid!

USB2 is just plain horrible - slow & inflexible.

maybe apple has been impressed by the prototypes of USB3 as a replacement for FireWire - but even if this were so, apple should not be leaving customers holding the bag & standing in the dark, uncertain about their future!

if apple was going to take away a FireWire then the least they could have done is add (belatedly!) support for e-sata!!

ps: why would have apple bothered to purchase a FireWire chip company a few years ago, only to turn around and orphan the technology?!

(fortunately this sad waste of a strategic asset was not repeated with another vital acquistion, in tge casecof raycer, the 3D graphics chip company whose intellectual property contributed to the compositing architecture of quartz, the graphics enginevin OSX).


I can’t help but think that the Target Mode complaints are just a red herring. The target mode, enabling user to turn a Mac into an external FW hard drive may be gone, but all examples quoted in these complaints are easy to perform with current USB boot mode, with just a little preparation.

Any Intel (and many PPC) Mac can boot from USB drive (including Flash memory). If you clone your basic system with CarbonCopy Cloner, or similar, onto a USB storage, when your internal disk fails, you can always boot from that USB by holding Option at power-up and choosing the attached drive.

With Snow Leopard, these choices will be much greater; it is expected that it will allow you to boot not only from a full installation on an external USB device, but from a DMG file containing a full install. This DMG disk image can be either on USB or on a shared volume on the network. So, if you hook up your bad Mac to your good Mac via Ethernet, you can boot from any DMG image file on that good mac.

On the matter of FireWire going away across the board, I don’t believe that. In fact, I thing the only reason we lost FW on MB is to motivate more people to buy MBP. If MB had FW, the only difference between the two would be two extra inches of screen real estate, Expresscard slot and $700. I doubt that even those with plenty of money would find it easy to justify extra 50% on top of existing price for just two more inches (since almost nobody uses Expresscard). With FireWire, the number of people becomes greater and MBP gets decent sales numbers.

As soon as Apple manages to redesign MBP to make it significantly better than MB, we’ll see FW in MB again.


  I agree that I don’t expect to see Apple drop firewire either. Especially since they have pushed the 1394-c protocol, that wouldn’t seem very likely.
  To correct you on one of your comments, no PPC Mac can boot from a USB drive.


If you can give me a solid number on the number of Mac users who know how to go into target disk mode and use it then I’ll concede your point. Not everyone is a troubleshooter like you, Mr. Landau. Even though it may hurt you to think that Apple is no longer has love for troubleshooters like you, I’d rather have them cater to a bigger audience than serve the whims of the few vocal minority.


From the maintenance perspective the only Mac that really suffers from losing target disk mode is the MacBook Air.  On the MacBook or MacBook Pro, removing the hard disk is such a trivial feat, as is connecting it to a simple USB to SATA converter cable.  That way, you plug the drive itself into another Mac and go about all of the maintenance and file recovery you did before in TDM.  In a way, this is even better than TDM because if the hardware of the old Mac is broken, you might not even get TDM to work.

My Macs all have FireWire and specifically passed on the new MacBook Pro to buy the old one, but that had very little to do with FireWire (which I do use), and a whole lot more to do with discounted pricing and matte displays.

I have issues about the new models, but FireWire isn’t very high on the list for me.


Predrag seems to have missed one of the main blessings of Target Mode. His reply notes one can boot up from a USB connection. Being “able” to boot up is not the main point of Target Mode. Target Mode permits accessing a drive WITHOUT FULL BOOTUP. True, the machine must be capable of starting/accessing the drive, but a full bootup is not required. The full boot up is done with the 2nd Mac. The troubled one only needs to be able to access it’s drive. This can really make a difference in some cases. I have an older iMac that suffered a video failure which made the monitor (and any 2nd monitor) unusable without a logic board replacement. I used Target Mode to access the machine, pull all data from it and set it up as a dumb terminal/server without having to take the machine apart and transplant the drive. If this could have been done any other way than Target Mode, without pulling the drive, I’m not aware of it.

Loss of Firewire is a deal breaker for me. I had looked forward to getting a new Mac very soon, unfortunately, the budget can’t carry a MacBook Pro and the low end has no Firewire. Looks like Apple has lost a sale for an undetermined length of time…unless Steve wants to drop a few extra bucks my way.

Steven Luscher

I use a previous-generation MacBook as my DVD player; it goes TV out into the display, and Firewire out into my Metric Halo DAC. A new MacBook wouldn’t be able to do this.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be able to do remote tracking (recording) with the Metric Halo and a new MacBook either.


@predrag: I agree. I suspect removing FW was 30% design driven, 30% cost driven, and 40% differentiating MacBook from MacBookPro. There will eventually (Snow Leopard?) be a replacement for FW target mode.


I understood that Apple has patented a version of target disk mode using eSata.  I can only hope this shows up on new models soon.

Regarding the above post, target disk mode lets you do more than access the hard drive of an unbootable mac.  I’ve used it before to reinstall software on a mac that I couldn’t find the original disks for.  (In this case, reviving a PPC macbook using my G4 mac mini - even though I had mac mini only disks).


I found this petition for firewire: over 13000 signatures on the macbook

If only people were so active when it came to really important stuff!

Predrag commenter fails to take into account that it is that “little bit of preparation” that is the killer.

e.g. Trying this line; “just clone your basic system onto USB storage,” on my mum would proably result in no dinner or warm drinks for a week.

Heck, even Time Machine isn’t bootable. If it was, Firewire TDM might be less important that it is.

Now take commercial use, for example. Who is going to clone the drives of 200 users’ laptops? Or should one expect the users to back up their own machines (In a world where lunches are free every day, perhaps).

Also, citing “Snow Leopard” also means that there is a reliance on the OS to perform the function. TDM is most used in the cases when the computer completely fails to boot or at least fails to get to the login/desktop.

No, TDM is a very valid advantage to having a Mac and one of the primary reasons I and many others switched.

Oh yes, that and the now not so useful iMovie.



I’m less concerned about Target Disk Mode, which is used relatively rarely even though it’s remarkable and convenient when needed, than I am about IP over Firewire, which is extremely useful.  Without Firewire (and no express slot either) the networking options are far more limited.  With Firewire it is possible to be part of two completely separate at the same time.  It also means that you can’t get a direct Firewire connection to a cable box for importing video.

I just think it’s a bad idea to eliminate it completely when effective (and cheap) alternatives aren’t available.  USB just isn’t a replacement.

I too will not be purchasing a Macbook until alternatives to the above exist.


very likely there was not a great deal of room left on the new motherboard for an additional port of any size.


Hear, hear.  Lack of TDM is why I will not be buying a MacBook.  I use it far too often for troubleshooting… and the ability to boot from a USB drive is NOT a substitute, since it requires extracting the hard drive from one machine or another to work.  With TDM, no muss, no fuss, just a standard FW cable, and one machine can pull (or push) files to/from the other… even if the one of the machine is not working properly, since TDM happens before the OS boots.


Well, all I can say is that TDM made it completely seamless to transfer my user account from my old G5 tower to my MBP. The last time I bought a new computer, it took me several hours to set up the account, install my software and put everything in place the way I had it on the old machine.

If Apple taketh away, they should supply a user friendly alternative.


The beauty of Firewire is that I knew that any Mac made in the last 10 years was equipped with Firewire. So, if a friend or family member was having a problem with a Mac, one that I usually sold them on over a PC, I felt comfortable knowing I could either 1) easily access the data on the computer, and/or 2) repair the problem. Most non tech savvy computer users were always impressed when you connected two Macs using Firewire. It was one of those cool Mac only things. More importantly I have saved many trouble some situations being able to use a Mac as a hardrive through Target Disk Mode.

You might be able to accomplish the same thing with USB. However, that involves planning. Macs are supposed to about ease of use. Moreover, Firewire 400 is faster then USB 2 in real world tests. If you look at Firewire’s planned roll out the gap really expands between USB’s planned roll out. It is a shame to have to give up a superior technology for a more inferior one.

I still use older Firewire equipped iPods that I have (along with the newer ones). If that was the only thing I would be losing without Firewire, I could live with that. Giving up Target Disk Mode, however, is a deal breaker for me (at least for now). It is too bad because I was waiting for this refresh to update my iBook G3 to a Macbook, which in truth still works well for me. Moreover, my older iBook G3 still will have the superior Firewire port.

Ted Landau
[quote comment=“5001”]So, if you hook up your bad Mac to your good Mac via Ethernet, you can boot from any DMG image file on that good mac.

Maybe I don’t completely follow you here, but I am unclear how you connect to a Mac over Ethernet if you cannot successfully startup the bad Mac.


I’m sad to see Target Disk Mode going. It’s one of those amazing features that could only have come from Apple. I would have thought they’d want to preserve it as a unique platform advantage.

My own experiences with USB based portable hard drives is that they just don’t work reliably. Before you say “some notebook ports don’t always deliver enough power”, I have problems with drives connected to powered hubs and G5 towers. USB simply wasn’t designed to deliver the kind of power needed to spin up a drive. FireWire was.

Apple usually leads the pack when it comes to abandoning technology it deems to be in decline and quick to choose new technology to replace it. Today’s Apple is as fast as ever at dropping the old, but really slow at providing even options on the new. We should have eSATA ports on all Macs by now and at least the option of paying through the nose for BluRay.


One of the things I like about fire wire is the ability to Daisy-chain.  I have 2 back-up drives and a scanner daisy-chained to my IMac.  The drives and scanner are built into my desk so it would be a pain in the a*** to be using USB.

Also on the road I create Approjects from my day’s shooting and back them up to my OWC-on-the-go.  When I get home,  I upload my Approjects from OWC to my iMac using firewire 800.  This is nice and fast.

If Apple is abandoning firewire, let us hope that USB 3 can provide a suitable replacement.



I am thinking USB 3.0 (backwards compatible with 2.0 and transfer rates of 600mb/s) Just a guess.


the macbook pro has an express card slot. There are firewire 400 options available as well as many other connecions like SATA, firewire 800, card readers…
B creative!


i dont buy the target disk mode argument

i would have bought that argument for an iMac, macMini, or a previous iteration of iBook, powerbook, or macbook pro

however, all macbooks have had easily removable HDDs, and thus it becomes more prudent for apple to have the consumer buy a USB->SATA/2.5” PATA rather than support a firewire chipset and port on the macbook

of course, all that said, i paid the extra cash for the firewire port, 2” diagonal of screen and discrete graphics card



...the complete demise of FireWire now appears inevitable…

followed by:

...If Apple could deliver an alternative to FireWire Target Disk Mode (allowing the mode to work via USB or Ethernet, if that?s possible), I would not think twice about getting a MacBook sans FireWire. Without such an alternative, I won?t be buying one

folloowed by:

...I note that Apple has flip-flopped on FireWire before (omitting the FireWire 800 port on MacBook Pros and then returning it in the next update). Perhaps Apple will do a similar reversal with FireWire on the new MacBooks.

I hope your first contention was just journalistic trolling. “Inevitable?” It better not be—FireWire has no replacement currently nor is there an heir apparent. Built-in Firewire is (or, at least, was) a significant advantage for Macs.

WTH was Apple thinking with the new MacBook? Unless Apple knows about some super-secret substitute, FireWire better be on the next revision.


What about us Pro Audio users? - I just bought a great, used Presonus FirePod (FW400). It is fantastic! I WAS planning on buying a new MB, but not now. Deal breaker, Steve. Deal-Breaker.


[quote comment=“5001”]I can’t help but think that the Target Mode complaints are just a red herring…If you clone your basic system with CarbonCopy Cloner, or similar, onto a USB storage, when your internal disk fails, you can always boot from that USB by holding Option at power-up and choosing the attached drive.

Well, that’s the thing—you can’t always boot from USB. It’s not 100% reliable for that function.

Check out this support article—a lot of ‘ifs,’ ‘ands,’ and ‘buts’ there…:


One thing also to note with sadness is that firewire 400 operates and near 400mbits and usb 2.0 even though its touted at 480mbs is actually much less because it has to use cpu cycles to operate hence less expensive. Also you can string fw devices up to 64 on a chain and usb can’t do that without hubs.

Greg Myers

Maybe someday it won’t be a big deal, but not having a firewire port is why I am not buying one for my daughter. Although the camcorder I bought her last year has a USB port as well as firewire, the USB port only works for still photos. The firewire port is the only way to transfer video from the camera. She will just have to be satisfied with the old 12” Powerbook for the foreseeable future.


Even if newer technology such as USB 3 were available, a lot of us paid a premium to have firewire devices because of its superior performance compared to USB 2.  My 1 year old camcorder won’t work without firewire.  It costs so little for them to include firewire, I would have to agree with the post that this is a move to force buyers to more up to a macbook pro.  While I planned to upgrade an old ibook g3 500 MHz (which I was able to use to edit movies with iMovies 2!),  I can’t buy a new macbook at any price and can’t justify a new macbook pro.


to XMattingly:

There is an easy way to transfer user accounts between to Macs today, without using FireWire. Connect the two Macs to a local network (or create one between them by connecting them via Ethernet cable—you don’t even need a cross-over), run Migration Assistant on both machines; one master, other slave. Since Macs have Gigabit Ethernet, the transfer should be faster than FW400.

And to Mr. Landau:

When you power up a Mac with Option, it will look for bootable devices on FireWire (if available), USB, as well as Ethernet. If there is a bootable volume on LAN, it will boot. If I remember well, this was supported since the first iMacs (G3)—power up and hold N looks for a bootable volume and starts up the Mac from it.

Ted Landau

I’ve used Migration Assistant and have never liked it much for most tasks, except setting up a new computer. I much prefer the Finder and the ability to simply drag and drop the folders or files I want to copy.

As to booting over a network, I can only reiterate what I have already said: This is not a substitute for Target Disk Mode if the computer in question has a problem such that it will not boot. In such cases, you can still usually mount the computer as an external drive, using TDM.

Dean Lewis

I like my Firewire ports. I have several Firewire drives and I don’t like the idea of buying USB2 drives (or cases) in order to transfer all my data on my Firewire drives to them via my old computer should I purchase a new one without a Firewire port. If the MacBook (or iMac or Mini should it come to that) had a slot or three so I could add a fireWire card if I wanted, that would be one thing, but they do not. And despite what Apple says, there are a lot of consumer level hobbyists who purchase the consumer level machines to use with Firewire cameras or audio equipment—the purchase cost is spread out then. I cannot afford a pro level machine and the Firewire audio interfaces/synths AND the Final Cut Express or Logic express much less pro software just to feed my hobby—but I could with Firewire ports on the consumer level machines.

Oh well. Guess I can give up my hobbies and get new ones.


I have spoken with Apple Australia about Firewire and was reassured that it was removed from the MacBook because Firewire has not gained much traction in the consumer space. They also said that they know how important Firewire is to professional users who are more likely simply to know what Firewire is, let alone being more likely to use it.

That’s what I was told. By an Apple spokesman. There is no reason to believe they were intentionally misleading me.

Jeff Jay

I’m more inclined to believe that Firewire was dropped from MB to increase sales of MBP. It’s a classic Jobs strategy. I’m probably a good case in point. In the last few years, I’ve bought MacBooks instead of PowerBooks or MacBook Pros. But I really, really like having Firewire, so I’ll probably go back to top-of-the-line laptops. Damn. He picked my pocket again.


[quote comment=“5043”]I’ve used Migration Assistant and have never liked it much for most tasks, except setting up a new computer. I much prefer the Finder…

Totally agree. Finder offers all the flexibility and control one would want when moving files between Macs. Migration Assistant, however, brings immense value on that initial setup. Rather than going through the hassle of installing applications, creating users and copying their data, Migration Assistant does this in such a painless, truly Apple way that even most experienced of us enjoy using it to set up our new Macs.

Out of nine different Macs I have had over past 13 years, six had FW and pretty much all of them have seen Target Disk Mode at some point in their life with me; some more often than others. Even so, I’m sure when my current MB is ready for a refresh, I won’t hesitate to refresh it with the new, FW-free MB. I know I’ll have to think ahead in order to substitute its functionality, but in reality, I have used TDM so rarely, it just doesn’t make sense for me to give up on such a great computer because of a feature I very rarely use and could, with little forethought, work around easily.


My problem is that my pro recording gear is based on firewire. There’s a lot of USB-based stuff out now, but most of them have latency problems and choke with high data throughput (8 or 16 channels @ 196kHz @24 bit ...)


I cloned my 180 gig hard drive to an external drive using USB. It took 2 days and a little over 8 hours. That’s 56 hours to clone. I tried it with my Fire Wire 800 and it took 3 hours and 12 mins.

No fire wire is just plain stupid of Apple. Try editing video footage on an external with USB, especially HDV…..... have you got a spare century or two?


What about the vast number of Audio interfaces that use Firewire while less than a handful use USB2. Even fewer express card interfaces.


Three key needs for firewire:

* ALL camcorders, le Grand Steve is full of merde when he says they all support USB
* SUSTAINED transfer speeds for grown-up needs like live capture - USB just can’t handle it
* the new 3.2 GB firewire standard

I rarely used TDM I’m less concerned about that.


Target disk mode is like insurance.  You may not need it often, but it can be the difference between a half-hour delay and having to take you mac into the shop.


I have an eMac with 2 firewire ports.  I have an external hard drive attached via the firewire port.  I specifically sought the firewire version of the hard drive in order to keep my limited USB ports free for many other USB devices.  I also have a scanner hooked up to the other firewire port.  I’ve been contemplating a MacBook, but without a firewire, that’s not an option, given my setup.  If I really want a laptop with a firewire, I’ll have to go PC, I guess.


Oh, by the way, my eMac is only 4 years old and has OS 10.3.9 with Classic.  It’s been great except for the 40 GB internal drive and the CRT monitor.  Unfortunately, Apple no longer supports a version of Safari that runs on 10.3.9 so I now need to use Firefox.


The most ironic thing these days is that I recently bought a PC laptop to my mom (I lent her my Powerbook, but she didn’t get along well with OS X), and I realized that nearly every PC laptop with a similar price tag to the MacBook now has Firewire as a standard.

In fact, I could even access the contents of my TDM-booted Powerbook through my mom’s Toshiba laptop.

Ted Landau

A final note regarding my comment that “the complete demise of FireWire now appears inevitable”:

In my view, Apple has been backing away from FireWire for several years now, both on MacBooks and MacBook Pros. The current MacBook situation is the latest example. I believe that Apple already views FireWire as expendable for most Mac users (all consumers and maybe even all laptop computer owners). Over the next few years, I expect Apple to continue its decline in support for FireWire. At the same time, I expect the makers of those peripherals that still depend on FireWire to move to other alternatives. At some point. I expect FireWire to simply disappear (much the way SCSI eventually vanished). That’s what I mean by the “complete demise of FireWire.”

However, this is still several years away. In the meantime, FireWire options will remain. For example, even if Apple were to drop the FireWire port from its Mac Pros (which I don’t expect to see happen in the immediate future), you could still install a FireWire card. Similarly, for a laptop without FireWire but with a PC card slot, you could get a FireWire PC card.

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