Personal Technology

Apple Abandons Firewire?

I was poking around the Apple Store, looking at the new iPod, when I noticed this: "USB 1.1 and 2.0 through integrated USB connector." What? No Firewire? I quickly did a web check — USB v Firewire — to try to refresh my memory as to the differences. Ah, yes, USB 2.0 is supposed to be slightly faster than Firewire (on paper) but often isn’t in reality. Then I found this at MacInTouch:

iPod Video abandons FireWire completely; not only does it ship with a USB cable, there’s no FireWire circuitry present. This means that modern Macs can’t boot from an iPod anymore, and FireWire devices such as the Belkin Media Reader won’t work with it. (We’re not aware of any other FireWire-dependent accessories, though.)

USB 2.0 is fast, but not quite as fast as FireWire. It takes noticeably
longer to load an 18GB music library than on our 2G and 4G 20 GB
FireWire iPods.

USB 2.0, at 480 Mbps, looks faster than FireWire 400 in theory, but not in practice.

USB protocols have more overhead than FireWire, reducing real-world
throughput. [Thanks to MacInTouch reader Eric Hildum for a note about
this.] We’ve also been told that Apple uses cheap USB controllers that
suffer from insufficient buffers, reducing performance below the level
of some Intel USB 2.0 implementations, though we haven’t been able to
verify this….

Though 15" and 17" PowerBooks and all Power Macs have an upgrade path
to USB 2.0, owners of older iBooks, iMacs and 12" PowerBooks predating
USB 2.0 have been abandoned. Without a CardBus or PCI slot for a new
USB 2.0 card, the choice is to spend days waiting for a music library
to transfer, buy a newer Mac, or buy an older 4G iPod while they last.
We’re not happy to see Apple cavalierly abandon owners of Macs just two
years old.

Why Steve? Is this yet another tacit reminder that "PCs rule" in the hardware space? Firewire is an Apple innovation. It won an Emmy in 2001, for goodness sakes! From your own press release:

Apple invented FireWire in the mid-90s and shepherded it to become the
established cross-platform industry standard IEEE 1394. FireWire is a
high-speed serial input/output technology for connecting digital
devices such as digital camcorders and cameras to desktop and portable
computers. Widely adopted by digital peripheral companies such as Sony,
Canon, JVC and Kodak, FireWire has become the established industry
standard for both consumers and professionals.

Back in Feburary, the "firewire hysteria" was that the firewire cable wasn’t being shipped with the unit — but it still did firewire:

Mostly, however, it is a symbolic slight, in that it indicates that
Apple is no longer interested — or at the very least, not as
interested — in making the Mac iPod experience better than the
Windows iPod experience. All current Macs ship with both USB 2.0 and
FireWire ports, but FireWire synching is faster. FireWire is faster
for iPod users with Windows, too, but the simple fact is that on
PCs, USB 2.0 is much more commonplace than FireWire.

It has taken the wind out of my sails. I was seriously thinking of getting the new iPod — I’m a Gen3 owner and hated the click wheel — but with this handicap (when BIG files are the point of the transer) I’ll rethink. Maybe Chris was right and the PS2 is the best unit.

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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