No FireWire over Ethernet; but maybe in Snow Leopard

Summary:Since Apple announced the new MacBook last week sans FireWire, there's been a backlash from the Apple community about the omission.Users love the high-speed data protocol for things like Target Disk Mode (TDM), transferring clips from digital video cameras and for connecting to external hard drives.

Since Apple announced the new MacBook last week sans FireWire, there's been a backlash from the Apple community about the omission.

Users love the high-speed data protocol for things like Target Disk Mode (TDM), transferring clips from digital video cameras and for connecting to external hard drives. Mac techs love FireWire because TDM is one of the best ways to diagnose a damaged hard drive (without having to physically remove it from the computer). In fact, over 60 percent of respondents to my recent poll said that they can't live without FireWire.

Firewire 400 came out in 1995 and has a higher sustained transfer rate than USB 2 which came out in 2000. FireWire (IEEE 1394x) is faster than USB 2 in many repsects because it has a dedicated controller and a Direct Memory Access (DMA) channel. FireWire supplies more power than USB 2 making it better for time-sensitive transfer applications. USB 2, on the other hand, is controllerless and requires CPU overhead to move data and has much higher latency compared to FireWire.

Apple, in its infinite wisdom, decided that MacBooks don't need FireWire, and Steve Jobs claims that most camcorders are all USB, anyway. The problem is that it isn't true. So why did Apple drop FireWire from the MacBook? Most believe that Apple doesn't want to pay the FireWire licensing fees (believed to be around 25 cents a port) but others (like me) believe that it's just another way to upsell you to the more expensive (US$2,000) MacBook Pro.

In a piece written before the new MacBooks were announced some were speculating that Apple could support FireWire over Ethernet if the FireWire port was indeed dropped from the new MacBook. Unfortunately it has come to light that it's currently impossible to run FireWire over Ethernet.

While it has been possible to run IP over Firewire since Mac OS 10.3, FireWire over Ethernet is another matter altogether. FireWire is more like SATA or SCSI than Ethernet, it's just a dumb point-to-point connection.

There is hope though.

IEEE 1394c is an extension to the FireWire standard (IEEE 1394/a/b) that would provide the ability for FireWire to run at 800Mbps over category 5 unshielded twisted pair cables. It's still in development and just passed the first ballot. More on 1394c is available on TechRepublic.

Once the 1394c standard passes, Apple would have to implement it either onboard or via an adapter. It's conceivable that if there's enough backlash and demand for the US$700 port Apple could implement FireWire over Ethernet by the time Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6) is released.

Those carrying pitchforks and torches on their way to Cupertino need to remember that Apple is still selling the white MacBook which still has a native FireWire 400 port.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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