Dealing Without FireWire in The New MacBooks

Now that the new MacBooks have been released, we can enjoy the onboard Nvidia graphics chips, the buttonless multi-touch glass trackpad, the sweet new backlit displays, the unibody “brick” construction, and the lack of FireWire.

Wait, what was that? No FireWire in the new MacBooks?

That’s right. If you want FireWire (800) you need a MacBook Pro (or an iMac). So, instead of complaining and ranting because we all know Steve Jobs could care less, let’s suck it up and figure out what we can do about it.

The reasons behind the lack of FireWire:

1. FireWire 400 has been standard on Macs for the past 10 or so years. There’s a clue that FW400 is getting a little long in the tooth.

2. All of the latest HD Camcorders are USB 2.0, not FireWire. The industry is moving away from FireWire and towards USB.

3. USB 3.0 is right around the corner and will further dominate the market.

4. Like it or not, the MacBook is a “consumer” laptop. If you’re a “pro”, use the “pro” machine. (This is Apple’s philosophy, not mine.) High end Audio/Video interfaces are considered “pro” hardware.

5. The new MacBook’s design. Perhaps a FireWire port and chipset is just too much to cram into the 13″ unibody construction and still meet the targeted price point. The MacBook Pro is a little larger and can accommodate more on its larger logic board.

6. With the runaway success of the MacBook, Apple wants to further justify demand for a MacBook Pro. Think about it, with Nvidia graphics AND FireWire, why buy a MacBook Pro? A 2″ larger screen and an Express Card slot isn’t very much of a reason for me. I think Apple realized that many Pro’s weren’t buying the MacBook Pro.

Personally, I think this does suck. I understand that FireWire is becoming less mainstream, but I feel it may be a little too early to eliminate FireWire. However, I do see the other side of the coin and like it or not, Apple’s reasoning does make sense.

Ranting about it will not bring FireWire back. Sorry, its gone. Look at when they dropped the floppy drive 10 years ago. Look at the iMovie 08. Remember when they purchased Emagic and harshly dropped PC support for Logic? Apple has a long history of callously yanking the cord on things. You can love Apple all you want but at the end of the day, they are still a corporation just like any other.

How you can live without FireWire:

Let’s look at all the major uses for FireWire 400 and how you can deal without it.

1. Target Disk Mode:

What do you use Target mode for anyways? Quickly mounting the MacBook’s drive as an external drive, right? So how many of you have actually seen how easy it is to remove the drive in the new MacBooks? Take that drive out, either use an external converter, or stick it in a USB enclosure and be done with it.

The only laptop models that need Target Disk Mode to eliminate a serious hassle is the iBooks, PowerBooks and older MacBook Pro’s. Last time I checked, Apple didn’t retroactively remove FireWire ports or Target Mode from them. They even released a new Migration Aid to help you move from an older Mac to the newer MacBook.

Wait, what about repair situations with an older Mac? Ok, so you put the older Mac in Target Mode, then what? Looks like you need an iMac, Mac Pro or MacBook Pro. If you are doing Disk Recovery often or for a living, you fall into the “pro” category.

2. Transferring large files:

FireWire was great for this but with Gigabit Ethernet on the MacBooks, you can actually transfer files even faster. Just connect the two together, Enable file sharing on the source computer, specify which folder to share, and use Leopard’s “Shared” browser to find the source Mac.

3. Using an External Hard drive:

Almost all external hard drives have been USB 2.0 compatible for years now. Just plug it in and use it. If your drive is FireWire only: buy a cheap USB 2.0 enclosure and put your drive inside it.

- Sabrent 2.5-inch IDE/PATA Hard Drive Enclosure
- StarTech 2.5-Inch USB/SATA Hard Drive Enclosure

4. Older SD/HD Video cameras:

Have a FireWire only VideoCamera? While there is no direct solution, just buy the less expensive older design Polycarbonite MacBook. That model still has a FireWire 400 port. Vote with your dollars on this one.

5. Audio Interfaces / Specialized Hardware:

Users of specialized firewire only audio / video gear are in the same boat as users with the older FireWire only video cameras. Either hold off on that upgrade or get the less expensive, older model. As far as Apple is concerned, if you are using any sort of specialized gear, you’re in the “pro” category and should buy the MacBook Pro.

Again, this decision is a particularly nasty one. While FireWire may be on the way out, I think its a bit premature to can it altogether. Whining about it and ranting on forums isn’t going to solve anything.

Perhaps if enough users bought the older model with the FireWire port and snubbed the newer model, Apple would get the point. With the nice new design and the Nvidia chipset though, I don’t think this will happen.

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