Blog Post

FireWire-to-USB: MacBook Redeemer?

Apple’s decision to axe FireWire from the MacBook line is not sitting well with many users, to say the least. For high-quality audio and video transfers, FireWire is the standard for professionals and hobbyists alike. Though USB is technically capable of faster transfer speeds than FireWire 400 (480 Mb/s vs. 400), FireWire has greater effective speed and power distribution because it doesn’t depend on a computer host port.

So what can be done about, short of severe DIY case-cracking, mother-board soldering changes that could result in death and/or dismemberment? One option shows potential. According to, Pixela offers a FireWire to USB DV transfer cable, designed specifically with digital video transfer in mind.

Don’t go ordering one just yet, though. Currently, the cable only officially supports Windows XP (no Vista, either). So unless you’re running Boot Camp, or virtualization software, you’re out of luck. That said, given the sheer volume of dismayed MacBook owners (and those unwilling to upgrade until they find a solution), it’s likely that OS X support is on the way. Whether that comes in the form of a third-party driver, or (don’t hold your breath) official support and/or hardware from Apple, remains to be seen. When we contacted Pixela, a representative told us that OS X support has been discussed by their planning committee, but no firm decisions to go forward have yet been made.

There are a few problems with this type of workaround. For one, you give up on the fast transfer speeds and power distribution capability of FireWire. Pixela’s cable apparently uses “micro chip” technology to ensure the quality and integrity of the DV transfer are maintained, but this probably doesn’t entirely make up for FireWire’s high sustained transfer rates. And it looks like Pixela might require you to use their proprietary software to perform any transfers, no desktop mounting or destination application selection. There’s also price, since the cable costs $119 before tax. High price to pay for Apple’s omission.

Still, it’s less clunky than analog-to-digital video converters, and prices could drop if demand is high enough and other companies start making similar devices. Apple may also be less than cooperative if the decision to kill FireWire on the MacBook was meant to force people up to the MacBook Pro. We can only hope that, as with the microphone support finally included in the new iPod Touch, Apple eventually sees that hamstringing lower-end devices isn’t the only way to get people to upgrade.

Would you buy a Mac version of this cable, or will it take more than another peripheral to fix this problem?

71 Responses to “FireWire-to-USB: MacBook Redeemer?”

  1. I finally got to see the new laptops today and think they’re fantastic. But here are my conclusions.

    The 15″ Macbook Pro is much too big. I want a laptop that I will carry everywhere and this is definitely not it.

    The 13.3″ Macbook is just small enough that I would carry it everywhere in a sleeve. But without firewire, there is no way for me to connect my Digidesign interface and approved recording drive when I want to use it for field recording. The USB-to-FW convertor unfortunately is not a workable option for technical reasons.

    There is no valid comparison between old and new Macbooks. I would not buy the old model just for firewire as the new machine is so much better across the board.

    Conclusion: I might buy the new Macbook for non-recording uses like email, web, presentations, remote photo and website editing. It’s too bad about the glaring omission of firewire though.

    Fyi, I was surprised to see that glare is no big deal with the Macbook, given that the iMac sitting right next to it was unacceptable. Also, the new buttonless track pad works very well in my opinion, and even the base model felt snappy too me.

  2. So Apple’s charging $100 for a mini display adapter to dvi, and now new macbook owners may be forced to pay more than that for an additional cable just to make their new computers work almost as good as the previous models? This is crazy. I’ve organized a website to gather comments regarding firewire, sign the petition if you want apple to bring back firewire..

  3. shdwsclan

    Your data is wrong.

    USB isnt capable of sustained transfers of 480. At best, its capable 320, 80 mbps less than minimum required for a firewire transfer.

    This adapter will not work with synchronous and sustained transfers. You are going to get dropped frames.

  4. mark3009


    I absolutely take your point, however I am not a PC hater, indeed I make a living out of using Windows. My key point, which may not have come across, is that I believe that Apple have crippled this new MB for a significant number of users who have invested in audio / video firewire peripherals. What it comes down to is I want to buy this new more powerful MacBook to use as I do now with the older machine that it replaces. If I did not need Firewire, I would have bought it already. As I say, I think this is a short sighted move on Apple’s part.


  5. “FireWire-to-USB: MacBook Redeemer?”

    Not for my digital audio recording application. The adapter is fine for asynchronus file transfers, but for realtime recording and playback all bets are off.

    Apple can resolve this debate simply by releasing a smaller Macbook Pro for perhaps $300 more than the Macbook. This is just the Macbook with Firewire and Cardbus ports added. Some media people want better portability than the 15″ MBP without having to sacrifice key features and performance.

  6. Wow. I think it’s a bad move to omit the FW port on these machines, but honestly Apple can do whatever they want as a business. You as a consumer have a choice. As a web and media designer, I use macs and pcs. They all do the job and I like both for different reasons. Right now I know I will not be using a MacBook as a video editing machine. Choice made; no hard feelings. Apple wasn’t expecting me to be a customer this way. See, Apple isn’t your buddy who’s doing you wrong, they are a company offering a product. Just because you hate pcs doesn’t mean Apple is bad for not meeting your every need in all of their product lines. It amazes me the Apple fans expect such loyalty from a corporation just because they are loyal to the products. Apple will step all over your loyalty every time if it means they will make more money. Hint: that’s what companies do. They make money; they aren’t there to give you a shoulder to cry on or hold your hand through every product launch.

  7. mark3009

    No, I would not buy this cable. It can never fully replicate a true firewire port. I’m also fed up with some people who suggest that the whining stops and just get a MB Pro. That’s all very well if you can afford to stump up the extra $500 over the MB price. And I don’t want to be told to go and buy a new camera. Personally, and I guess many others, my core use for the Mac and Firewire is the connectivity to my audio hardware interfacing with the software I choose to use. And I choose to use it because it works well. As is well documented, USB cannot maintain the bi-directional data throughput like Firewire does, which is exactly why most multi-channel audio interfaces use Firewire. So not only will I not buy this cable for the reasons stated, nor will I buy a new MacBook until Apple realises the mistake they have made and put it back the next version.

    By the way, Just received this from Apple Support RSS – Mac OS X 10.5: “Blue screen” appears after installing Leopard and restarting – Updated October 30 2008 – Full article here;

    And the suggestion starts off;

    “Option A: Use another Mac to remove application enhancement software

    If you have a second Mac that has a FireWire port (even if it’s not running Leopard), and a FireWire cable that you can connect to both computers, use this solution:

    Start your original, affected computer in Target Disk Mode by holding the T key, and connect it to your second computer. Your affected computer’s hard disk volume(s) should appear on the desktop of the second computer.”

    So that won’t work on new MacBook!

  8. Weird. It used to be that the only way to get a IEEE 1394 port was to buy Apple hardware. Nowadays it’s pretty common to find them on non-Apple hardware as well. My two laptops made in the last 3 years have IEEE 1394, and I don’t own any Apple hardware. I guess there’s no point in buying Apple hardware at all anymore.

    Oh, I use E-SATA for my backup hard drive. As far as I’m aware, no Apples support that either.

  9. Its a shame there is no firewire in the 13.3 inch Macbook. The new models are actually really nice upgrades with the led screens, 9400m GPU, Montevina Centrino 2 platform, along with the unibody 4.5lb construction. The addition of 1 lousy firewire port could have gotten alot more people to upgrade and not have to worry about making their peripherals obsolete.

  10. Please get your facts right.

    “Though USB is technically capable of faster transfer speeds than FireWire 400 (480 Mb/s vs. 400), FireWire has greater effective speed and power distribution because it doesn’t depend on a computer host port.”

    USB is NOT technically capable of faster transfer speeds because the number 480 is larger than the number 400. USB is capable of 480 in ONE direction at a time. Firewire is capable of 400 both ways, and both ways simultaneously. Which means that USB 2.0 is effectively half as fast as Firewire for any heavy bi-directional data transfer, such as audio, video, etc. Just copying a file though, USB MAY be faster on paper. It’s only MAY because in truth, all transfers are two way. Data goes one direction, is validated, the “ok” is sent back, and the next packet goes. Which means that for USB, it sends data one way, has to stop for the validation to come back before it can send. Firewire keeps the data flowing and uses the second channel for the validation communication.

    In actual tests, it ends up depending on lots of subtle factors (like speed of memory, hard disk cache, etc.) for just copying files one direction, but for bi-directional data transfer, Firewire is FAR ahead in speed (throughput).

    Additionally, Firewire has the added benefits (beyond providing power) of including it’s own hub in the architecture, which means you can “daisy chain” lots of devices together while only using a single port on your laptop with little noticeable depreciation in speed. USB on the other hand, you have to have a port, and typically a powered port for the highspeed USB devices. Which means if you are travelling, and need more than a few USB peripherals hooked to your laptop, you may be stuck without. Firewire also has one other significant benefit over USB.

    1. It can be used in Target Disk Mode (other computer shows up as a hard disk)

  11. John Scott

    Apple hypes up Firewire and then just drops it. So much for supporting a technology you created Apple. Get Mac fans onboard then drop it. Why Apple user’s put up with this crap is beyond me. They are very forgiving.
    I personally just invested in a Firewire backup drive for my iMac. Luckily I opted for one with a option of going USB. I guess I will need it. Sorry to say this has caused me to buy a PC laptop again because of the Firewire elimination. I am simply tired of Apple dropping features and raising the price. I could get by without Firewire, but increasingly I am using SD memory cards and again Apple has failed to support this popular format.
    When are Mac Fans going to demand more from these expensive products instead of blindly accepting what Apple and Steve Jobs thinks you need.

  12. Actually regarding the speed thing, eventhough USB (at 480 Mb/s) has more bandwidth than plain Firewire (400 Mb/s), benchmarks show that Firewire is almost always faster while using less cpu…

  13. Its’ the whiners who give Mac users a bad wrap. FireWire 800 isn’t that much faster than USB2, sure the numbers tell you it is capable of being faster, but when you use it you end up going Meh. Besides aren’t most FireWire ports 400 speed and not the 800 anyway?

  14. I don’t care. Really. I honestly don’t.

    I have a MacBook with firewire currently. The lack of firewire on the new MacBook does not suddenly invalidate my old machine. I’ll continue to use it and everything will be just peachy.

    When it comes time to upgrade, I’ll probably buy the MacBook sans firewire. Why? Because it does everything else that I want it to and it’s *just a fucking computer* after all. It’s not worth getting this worked up about people.

  15. This really annoys me. I was infact planning to drop $1599 to get the new Macbook(of course I thought the high end model would stay at $1499, thanks Apple) until just a few days before I saw the case and saw firewire omitted. That put a pause on everything. I have two cameras that I use that I need to have firewire ports for, AND Apple, not everyone has the money to go out and buy a new camera(or two). I would just love to have a Pro, but its too expensive for me. And early reviews point to battery life as a problem. I take my black macbook with me everywhere, and I will continue to do so until Apple puts firewire in their macbook or improves the battery life of the pro. Really not happy with Apple at the current moment. I’m going to have to wait for at least two years to afford two new cameras AND a new laptop.

  16. For those saying to get a Macbook Pro if Firewire is that important dont realize that the major benefit of the Macbook is the 13.3 inch 4.5 pound factor. The Macbook is a strong machine, and there isnt a whole lot of differences in processing power between the Pro and the regular Macbook. Only major difference is the 9400m vs 9600m gt GPUs, and the 9400m is more than capable for almost everyones needs besides the hardcore gamers. 9400m can do some pretty decent gaming, such as run COD4 at 1280×800 and get over 40fps constantly. I dont want to spend $500 more to get a port for a port that should be in every computer, and having to lug around a much bigger 15.4 laptop.

  17. Geez, something to get worked up about… Just:

    1) don’t buy a new Macbook. It’s not like it affects your current device.
    2) get a macbook pro
    3) use another solution like an add-on card to connect your stuff

  18. For all those who are pissed at Apple for omitting the Firewire port, the answer is simple.


    If a firewire port is so damn important to you, pony up the cash and buy the MacBook Pro or an iMac.

    I kept asking myself why Apple would do this and the answer is simple. Apple marketing has been trying to differentiate the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines for a long time. Taking out the firewire port do exactly what they wanted.

    And I bet the overall cost reduction for removing the firewire was hardly anything. Yes, the firewire conenctors are cheap, but the firewire chip takes up motherboard space. And that is a premium on laptops.

  19. @Joefromthefuture:

    …Since it is NOT just a cable. It is a USB device that is acting as a bridge between firewire and USB; therefore in NO WAY is it just a data cable.

    However; it also isn’t enough. I am pretty disappointed at apples decision to axe FW on the “consumer” models. I have been keeping my boot system and audio video files on an external FW harddrive for the last few years; and that lets me boot up to and use MY SYSTEM; on whatever Mac that I am using. This decision from apple is going to put an end to that. And it is my understanding that even with this bridge we still wouldnt be able to boot off of FW; or use FW target disk mode, etc.

  20. I have actually used the cable mentioned in this article. It’s actually “not just a cable” but a converter unit built into a cable. So it’s not just a cable linking a firewire port to a usb port. Anyone who knows the tech side of these interfaces knows that they don’t easily line up in terms of how data/power,etc go across them, so the converter built into the cable is actually doing work during transfer–work that the driver you install needs to direct it to do.

    And unfortunately it only really does the one job of transferring data from a camera. It (the version I had at least) doesn’t work with live video in or hard drives or any other device. It’s literally designed to simply be a connector for getting video out of a firewire cam into Windows XP.

    I would guess that they could “easily” add new features to it through a new driver version, but will they? Who knows.