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MacBooks and Firewire

October 21, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Apple

Hope for FireWire on the MacBook?

A ZDNet Blog casts some hope on the future of FireWire on the MacBook now that Apple has removed it from the new MacBooks. The theory is that because there are plans afoot to implement FireWire over a standard Cat5 ethernet cable (codenamed 1394c) that Apple may build in support for FireWire to the ethernet ports on future Macs. You can see the a summary of the draft specification as a PDF on the 1394c Working Group’s website. The idea is that a standard ethernet port could be 1394c enabled and auto-negotiate whether to use 10/100/1000Mbs ethernet or 400/800Mbs FireWire depending on what is connected at the other end, or as it says in the afore mentioned summary:

“For the end user, the objective is to have a
single RJ-45 socket that is labeled “network”,
and works for any kind of connection.”

I’m not sure Apple will introduce 1394c whenever it is ready. First of all, DV Cameras and other consumer peripherals that led the charge for needing FireWire seem to be mostly switching to a USB connection. Secondly, whilst the real-world throughput of Gigabit ethernet is lower than it’s theoretical maximum throughput of 1000Mbs, it’s still higher than Firewire 400* and probably 800 too considering that collisions are what slows ethernet down at higher speeds and wouldn’t be such an issue in an attached peripheral situation as is likely with FireWire. Add to this the fact that Apple have already implemented their Migration Assistant that previously only ran over FireWire (until the release of the MacBook Air) to run over ethernet and even wireless, and the need for Firewire seems even more diluted, when Gigabit Ethernet could step into it’s shoes.

I see no reason why Apple could not release a Mac firmware that enabled target disk mode over ethernet, and not need that pesky Firewire port cluttering up their laptops, or adding more components internally to enable FireWire using the ethernet port, and waiting for the specification to be ratified of course (not that they’ve waited for official blessings before!). Ethernet also provide the additional benefit of being able to be used over cables of up to 100m instead of the 10m maximum of FireWire (although the 1394c specification does provide for up to 100m cables too).

Well, ok, I see a possible pot hole on the road to ethernet replacing FireWire. Firewire provides power, and although ethernet does, using Power over Ethernet (PoE), it might not be practical for laptops as it is designed to power wireless access points and other networking devices which need more of a power draw than laptops are going to want to provide.

The other (horrible) alternative is that target disk mode is dead and buried, never to return!

* From a company trying to sell Firewire 400 peripherals, so presumably these results are skewed towards FireWire if anything.
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  1. October 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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