FireWire not dead, but it's on life support

FireWire not dead, but it's on life support

Summary: The prognosis isn't so good for FireWire: first it got removed from the iPod, next is the iBook

firewire-logo.pngI was genuinely surprised when Apple dropped FireWire sync from the iPod nano. So much so that I almost returned mine when I first made the gruesome discovery. I thought for sure that FireWire would live forever in the bigger iPods and that it was just a casualty of the nano's small size. Unfortunately, FireWire's almost dead completely.

I reported back in October, that when Apple launched the video iPod sans FireWire, they also moved their FireWire Web page from a prominent location on the top level of to a sub-page in the bowels of their developer Web site. Coincidence? You tell me.

Now I'm hearing that FireWire is gone completely from the new Intel iBooks that are coming next month, but its loss should come as a surprise to no one, given Apple's moves of late. A little birdy told me that the new Intel PowerBooks will lose FireWire 400 completely and retain only one FireWire 800 port as a concession to video professionals.

What's your take on the death of FireWire? Will you miss it? Is this a part of Apple's deal with the devil (*ahem* Intel)? Sound off in the TalkBack comments below.

Topic: Apple

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  • Long live USB!

    By FireWire
    • USB & FireWire 400 both suck

      FW800 fixes its one problem: weak connectors that can allow reversed connection that blows the port. FW800 on the G5 has very slow write performance to disks for no known reason (see )

      USB will always suck. Ever want to share a USB device between machines without having to have both connected? Give up. Won't happen without causing heartburn on one or the other. Windows gives errors with a switch & OS X Panther (10.3) will kernel panic if you use one and try to sleep the Mac.
  • Sad to see

    Really sad to see a superior technology biting the dust, due to the
    market power of its inferior competition.
    tic swayback
    • How is USB inferior?

      Not being argumentative, just want to know why you think so? I mean it seems to be plenty fast in my use and it's supposed to be even faster in the next version.
      • How isn't USB inferior?

        Ever really used firewire? I use it all the time for things that need low latency. It copies faster, seek times are lower. It uses less resources. It's just a better technology. USB2 is a great technology for the right uses: keyboards, mice, printers, memory cards and the million peripherals that use it. I like my external hard drives to act like internal hard drives, external sound gear to work like it's a part of my machine and with USB that's just not possible. It's sad that they try to sell it as a solution for everything.
        • USB dumbs down to 1.1

          My main beef with USB is that it dumbs down to USB 1.1 speeds if just a single USB 1.1 device is connected to your machine. And let's face it folks, USB 1.1 is S L O W....

          - Jason
          Jason D. O'Grady
          • Common misconception ...

            No, Jason, that's not the case ... only if a USB 1.1 (or USB 2 "full
            speed") hub is in the path back to the computer does this
            happen. All USB 2 "high speed" hubs are supposed to do the
            speed shifts (repacketizing the low speed stuff) ... not to say that
            they all do it right, but that's the idea. BTW, Macs all have a
            built-in USB 2 high speed hub, so plugging a lower speed device
            on any of the ports doesn't slow down the other port very much.

            Now, on the other hand, USB is a terribly SW-intensive protocol,
            so this can make things a bit messy ... plus the first Macs with
            USB 2 had a rather wretched USB 2 host controller from NEC that
            didn't cache its DMA descriptors, which caused a lot of
            unnecessary traffic on the internal PCI ...
      • Speed, etc

        I don't have the numbers in front of me, but when comparing the different version of firewire to the different version of USB, firewire always won on speed. USB 2 was meant to compete with the old firewire and then the newer version came out and blew USB away. Now of course its all relative to what you need, if you don't really need break neck speeds to transfer media to your ipod then you probably don't have to worry about it. However people doing work that require high speeds do need it ala: firewire harddrives, graphical processors, etc.
        Firewire had a niche market with Apple computers (primarily) and since everyone else was using USB ,the majority of the marketplace, I suppose its not surprising that USB won out. It is too bad though, I always seemed to be able to charge things quicker on my firewire port than my usb too...
        • RE: Niche market

          I disagree with your characterization of the FireWire market as a (primarily) Apple thing. While it's true that only Apple has provided FW ports on virtually all it's machines for years, and that the vast majority of "dirt cheap" PC's don't get FW, the adoption of FW across the board in "creative" systems (supporting video, audio, etc.) makes it much more than an Apple niche. The nature of the data and multi-disk requirements of these systems make FW all but mandatory. I personally know hundreds (thousands?) of video editors on both PC and Mac, but only dozens without FireWire.

          Also significant here is the notion that just because my sector (trying to stay away from "niche" here... ) has a relatively small system population, it means we aren't big buyers of storage. The idea of having several terabytes of storage is far from novel in my sector.

          It bothers me that the sheer numbers of low-end machines have manufacturers catering to the "trinket trade" at the expense of products for serious users.
      • Sustained speed

        As others have pointed out, USB is slower even at peak speeds.
        And Firewire has a higher throughput rate (it approaches peak
        speeds more often than USB does). Not to mention the power and
        resource issues.

        It's losing out because Intel doesn't want to pay Apple 25 cents per
        tic swayback
      • USB and Firewire/IEEE1394 have different goals.

        USB uses a master/slave relationship between peripherals and host. Firewire/IEEE1394 uses a peering relationship between devices. The 2 serial interfaces were meant for different to meet different objectives.

        In the case of USB, it requires a central host for power (for the most part) and all the intelligence is at the central host. It is good for printers, keyboards, mice, etc. The protocol supports up to 127 devices, though I am not sure that anyone has bothered to verify this.

        In the case of Firewire/IEEE1394, it does not require a cental host and is designed for AV applications (attaching a DV camera to a recording device, could just be a Firewire drive or some other AV device). Firewire does not require a central host, it peers. Firewire is limited to about 63 devices and has either a 2 or 3 pair cable consisting of either 2 twisted pair or 2 twisted pair and power.

        As to speed, USB2 is about 480MBs while Firewire is about 800MBs, though the Firewire Spec has gone as high as 3200 on paper. Having both is better if you are doing things like video production (say shooting something like the green screen stuff for the 3rd installment of the first half or the Star Wars series, or some smaller productions. The green screen is just something that allows for a nothing background so thatyou can have actors do stuff and place a CG environment in later (rather than building an expensive single seen set).

        The choice of USB v. Firewire all depends on the application and need, as in what are you trying to do. If you are have no interest in digital video, digital film production or Fierwire drives, then there is no major reason to use it. USB, as it is designed for inexpensive computer peripherals, works great for connecting devices as you need them and may suit ones needs just as well.
        • I guess...

          But I do a fair amount o f video work and I've not had issues with USB being too slow. Now I say that and admit I have not done it with Firewire so I can't compare them side by side. But when it takes say 2 minutes to move a large video file does cutting that down to a minute and a half really matter that much?
          • Depends on the number and size of your files

            Good enough is fine, but it's sad that good enough is killing off
            much better.
            tic swayback
          • Wouldn't be the 1st time...

            [b]Good enough is fine, but it's sad that good enough is killing off much better.[/b]

            Seems like a case of deja vu - sounds like a rehash of the old VHS vs Beta wars of the 80's. Beta had the better picture quality but VHS won due to having a longer tape. People judged the quality to be "good enough..."
          • USB is fine for amateur work, Firewire is high end

            If you are shooting something on a minor budget (have no money), USB is fine. This is far from where Firewire is targeted (as it is a DV interface), meaning that if you are producing DV content (MPEG-2 or better) for DTV or HDTV that you will use something that is designed for it. If all you are doing for video production is a cam attached to your PC (what USB is designed for), you aren't the type who will need Firewire.

            If you are doing something that will be seen by others, say on a HDTV screen, you would not use something that is limited to NTSC/PAL/SECAM video. FireWire is an interface for doing the high end stuff. This is one of the advantages that Firewire has over USB (besides not needing a PC). One can always use tape for video production but it is faster to have your video go directly to disk for later editing. The caveat being that for Fierwire and production grade tools, you will have to spend somewhere in the range of $2000+ for the camera. DV professionals don't use USB, and the issues are more than just speed.

            [i]But I do a fair amount o f video work and I've not had issues with USB being too slow.[/i]

            What equipment were you using? What resolution/screen were you targetting (NTSC/PAL/SECAM/HDTV/?)? What was the produstion budget for this (and why didn't you use professional gear)?

            [i]But when it takes say 2 minutes to move a large video file does cutting that down to a minute and a half really matter that much?[/i]

            What are you talking about? If you have Firewire, you are doing DV production! DV is digital video, as in MPEG (stuff that you broadcast on DirectTV or digtal cable). Are you doing a direct connect between the storage device (a drive) and the camera or does this involve sitting somewhere away from the production and working with the content or are you shooting with a webcam/low end device?
          • Kid's birthday party


            Is probably editing his kid's birthday party. I love the amateurs that think when they edit their home videos they're on par with Goerge Lucus.
          • Kid's birthday party

            Absolutely. Get rid of Firewire, and stop the rot of picture standards. Wait until something better can be used by non-professionals. The formats transferred by Firewire have been shown wanting.

            Our professional organisation made the mistake of playing with it, but instead we have expanded in SDI-based systems. DV and DVCAM just don't cut it at standard definition (720x480i or 720x576i). Poor color bandwidth and appalling block compression, particularly in darker areas of the picture, make it useless for professional work. Even holiday videos look awful because saturated colors bleed over. Quite frankly, we don't take on board editors or engineers who seem to accept as broadcastable the fall in standards that Firewire-transferred formats bring. The BBC have specified DV and DVCAM now for factual and documentary programming filming. They will regret it. DigiBeta (over SDI, of course) is still the standard for delivery.
        • I think that Intel made 'em do it!

          My conspiracy theory is that Intel said that they would much rather Apple support USB than this pesky FireWire thing that we know nothing about. And Intel, after all, holds all the chips ;)

          Jason D. O'Grady
        • FW and video editing

          I agree with your analysis of the differences between FireWire and USB, and the advantages of FW in video production (which is what I do.)

          However I feel compelled to comment on your example of how FW supports video production. I shoot green screen from time to time, and nothing in the process requires the use of FW drives. What video DOES require is a huge amount of storage, generally the faster, the better. FireWire is supremely well suited for a project storage in smaller shops like mine. We employ hot-swap systems the allow us to move the entire project from one editing system to another, and to store the data offline when that is desirable. The big shops have massive, expensive NAS systems - we accomplish much the same end with a few terabytes of FW drives.

          It is also fair to note that FireWire isn't going to play a central role in High Definition video except at the low end and as inexpensive storage. Even FW800 is too slow for many (most?) HD formats. That said, it still has great value.
      • Firewire goodness

        Put simply, Firewire is USB designed right, or, USB is a
        cheapskate rip-off of firewire. Important firewire advantages:
        1. peer-to-peer: cables go either way round; only one type of
        cable required for standard firewire (instead of A-A, A-B etc for
        USB). there is no "host", so all devices are hot pluggable, and of
        course we get target disk mode
        2. speed: does not have a slow mode where a slow device can
        consume all bandwidth
        3. power: proper firewire delivers significant power for devices
        like cameras and disk drives. (You'll notice the PC laptops with
        firewire leave this out; they want you to carry more power bricks
        around so they can save a couple of dollars on the laptop)
        4. devices can be multiport without any intelligent
        "hub" (because it's a peer-to-peer shared bus) so you can
        connect up christmas tree style without needing to buy hubs or
        extra cables or think about what connects where. voodoo. Remember SCSI voodoo? Well USB has voodoo too
        with fast and slow USB cables, and obscure "won't work through
        a hub" problems. FIrewire doesn't have slow, or need hubs.
        Apple engineers are well aware of the advantages of their
        technology. I don't believe Firewire will be left off powerbooks,
        but it may well be left off ibooks. My view is that Apple will be
        looking to undercut Dell on low end notebooks (no MS tax to
        pay is what makes this possible), and firewire obviously has to
        go; delivering the required power to peripherals must put a
        couple of dollars on the cost of the machine, and the powerbook
        differentiators (like monitor spanning) will be more difficult to
        sustain in open competition with Dell.

        Hopefully, it is just one part of the new world where you'll be
        able to sleepwalk across from Windows to Mac with the walls
        around the MS monopoly suddenly dissolved.