Blog Post

Firewire Over Ethernet? Maybe If We Ask Loudly Enough

Clearly, Apple’s decision to leave out FireWire ports on the MacBook line has ruffled some feathers. For their part, Apple claims to have left it out to save the $0.25 per port licensing fee attached to including the hardware, which, when considered on the scale of a massive production run, does amount to significant savings. Of course, they recoup some of that amount as royalties, since they are a FireWire patent holder, and therefore a member of the 1394 Trade Association. Which has led some to claim that the decision to axe FireWire was not a cost-saving measure, but instead a profit-boosting one, by forcing consumers who need FW to scale up to a MacBook Pro.

Since Macs support internet and disk sharing over FireWire, it’s only natural to consider the possibility of running FireWire in a similar manner over Ethernet, allowing users to to perhaps plug their video cameras or audio peripherals into older Macs to perform large transfers if they have one, or into specially designed FireWire-to-Ethernet cables or adapters.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to run FireWire over Ethernet using current standards (IEEE 1394/a/b). According to ZDNet, FireWire has more in common with SATA or SCSI which is “dumb” (point-to-point), than Ethernet, which is “smart” (co-ax cable was its “dumb” predecessor).

A new standard in the process of being developed, IEEE 1394c, would allow FireWire to run over cat5 twisted pair cables (Ethernet), at speeds of up to 800Mbps. Implementing IEEE 1394c would require support from Apple via an adapter or changes onboard. Since it’s ultimately still in Apple’s hands, demand from irate consumers will have to outweigh any financial benefit they stand to lose from giving users a cheaper option than upgrading to the Macbook Pro. If the IEEE 1394c standard is passed in time, the speculation is that Apple could include FireWire over Ethernet support with Snow Leopard.

Would this move restore your faith in Cupertino, FireWire faithful, or is it too little, too late?

16 Responses to “Firewire Over Ethernet? Maybe If We Ask Loudly Enough”

  1. I seem to have stumbled on this conversation a year too late, but…

    (1) Firewire is anything but dumb. In fact it’s an extremely powerful, flexible technology.

    (2) To get an idea of how powerful it is, picture a tree and turn it upside down. Any leaf on that tree is like a firewire node. Now imagine them communicating with each other — directly into each other’s memory space with little to no overhead. Now imagine being able to choose between sending a message as fast as possible or gauranteeing that it will be sent according to a pre-arranged timing (isochronous) necessary for realtime video and audio.

    (3) Imagine that tree having up to 1024 branches, each branch having up to 63 leaves and each leaf having up to 2^48 of memory accessible to each other.

    (4) Firewire vs Gig Ethernet is a silly argument. Firewire and Gig Ethernet can be combined using the IEEE 1394c spec. In fact 1394c Firewire over Ethernet twisted copper was designed to be cross-compatible with current gigE so that gigE equipment that wasn’t aware of 1394c traffic would *at the very least* ignore it, but definitely not break. 1394c would be incredible because you could have up to 100m of 800MBit/S realtime firewire.

    (5) Maybe Apple will get smart and integrate 1394c capabilities into their ethernet ports and sell FW400/800 to 1394c adapters cheap.

  2. “Would this move restore your faith in Cupertino, FireWire faithful, or is it too little, too late?”

    First iMovie 08, now no FireWire port. Not a good sign that Apple is thinking about the users. The reception on my son’s iPhone is bad too.

  3. Wy does Apple not uses the iSCSI-Standard, which is already supported by many facturers? Nowbody waits for Firewire, still only 800 MBit. We need an alternative solution in small EV-Environments, so it must be cheaper than FibreChannel and much faster than Firewire800. The hardware for iSCSI is available, so what’s up, Apple?

  4. Please change old junk to new HD camera and forget about FireWire 400 – this is an old, dead standard. If you can afford a new MacBook, you can afford a new camera. If not, buy a cheap PC.

  5. @ Borden re: “USB connection sucks especially when you dealing with hundreds and hundreds of large size RAW files.”

    I would suggest going to an Apple Store and download the files onto a new Macbook. Better to know then to assume.

  6. Firewire came it didnt really wow the world apart from camcorders and now its been replaced by USB.

    Why get rid of it, ok its a little premature, they should have waited a tad because USB3 is just around the corner and it will superceed firewire anyway.

    Once that happens, who will want firewire? A few.

    Its called progress and I am not that surprised but they are a tad ahead of themselves, should have transitioned over to USB3 and it would have seemed more sensible to the majority.

    But it was going to happen, its really a matter of months is it not?

  7. Apple wants more people to buy the more expensive pro model by taking the Firewire out of the Macbooks.

    That sucks.. I am a photographer myself, and I really like to keep my laptops small for traveling and packing reasons. the firewire port provides much faster transfer rate when it comes to downloading photo from CF card.

    USB connection sucks especially when you dealing with hundreds and hundreds of large size RAW files.

    Macbook does everything that I need, but now if I wish to get a new macbook, I have to spend more in order to get the firewire port back again..

    That is 100% business trick………….. Apple knows it all..

  8. Firewire is not a “dumb” connection. In fact it is the opposite. 1394 was created well after Ethernet and is a much more capable then Ethernet. All of the IP traffic carried by Ethernet can easily be carried by 1394. What 1394 brings to the table over Ethernet is much higher performance and intelligence. It was also designed from the ground up for moving video with guaranteed quality of service (QoS). This is why 1394 is always used by professionals for moving video.

    High Performance, Low Latency, Guaranteed QoS, and very low processor overhead. What’s not to love?

  9. What part of “Firewire over Ethernet is impossible” do you not understand?

    Firewire over CAT5 is NOT the same as “firewire over Ethernet.” You can NOT shoehorn Firewire into an existing Gigabit Ethernet port. This article displays a complete lack of understanding of how these interfaces work (wrt: “dumb” Ethernet). Anybody who buys a MacBook without Firewire is SOL when it comes to FireWire *FOREVER*.

    Now, if the only contention over FireWire is the ability to turn the computer into an expensive portable disk drive, it’s possible to do this in EFI via USB or have it show up as some kind of NAS device via Ethernet.

  10. Hey, can’t you always just buy a PC Card FireWire adapter, and plug THAT into the laptop’s PC card slot?


    Okay, what about a FireWire PCI Express card Surely a modern laptop costing over $1,000 will have one of THOSE?


    Those wacky Apple engineers!

    (Yes, you can smell the sarcasm from here. Like “David” in the comment that precedes this one, I was all set to buy a new MacBook, but in this case, the “Apple Tax” is very, very real. Sorry, guys. You lost me.

  11. @Andrew

    Just buy a MacBook Pro huh? Are YOU going to pony up the $700+ price difference? And what if I prefer a smaller and lighter machine? I don’t need the bigger and costlier and less-portable Pro model, I need a small Mac with Firewire. I was going to replace my first-gen MacBook this winter but by removing FW, Apple has lost a sale. That simple.

  12. @Mr Hoffman: You clearly know way more about cable tech than I do. I bow to you in this regard.
    I also didn’t mean to imply that the older, FireWire sporting MacBook would merely be a disk, rather than its FireWire port might be used by the newer computer as a remote port, though maybe this isn’t plausible. Thanks for the information, regardless!

  13. Mr Hoffman

    It’s been feasible to provide flexible remote disk access over Ethernet as far back as the 1980s; there have been and are network-based disk services that far back. MacBook Air has had its own (limited) version of that for a while now. If your goal is disk services, that can be done without bringing FireWire into the equation — and far more flexibly than what FireWire provides, too.

    nb: That co-ax is referred to as “dumb” doesn’t help the argument.

    nb: That SCSI is referred to as point-to-point doesn’t help the argument, either. (SAS and SATA are, but not classic SCSI.)

    Both SCSI and USB are fairly complex and involved protocols; what are often referred to as “smart.” SCSI can do multi-host and multi-initiator, which means multiple computers can share access to disks on the same SCSI bus.

    USB is the SCSI protocols over a serial bus.

    ATA was instantiated because of the complexity of implementing SCSI.

    Classic fat-wire co-ax and thin-wire co-ax and twisted-pair are all, well, Ethernet. And there’s rather more to communicating over SCSI than over Ethernet; using the local vernacular, all Ethernet would more typically be considered “dumb”.

    And as for multi-initiator disk services and network disk protocols, those are available; remote disk can be implemented over Ethernet, given console-level support. EFI (the console on various platforms including Intel Mac) can perform IP client operations and ftp client transfers on specific EFI platforms. Entirely at the console. Without host operating system involvement.