Blog Post

USB 3.0 Almost Here, but Apple Jumped the Gun

There’s pretty universal consensus in the Mac portable community that Apple jumped the gun in dropping FireWire support from the new unibody MacBooks, with nothing adequate to replace its full functionality. Sure, you can transfer and backup files reasonably efficiently over a USB 2.0 connection, but you can’t boot your Mac (at least conveniently and dependably) from an OS X install on a USB drive, and USB has nothing at all to replace FireWire Target Disk Mode.

For a concrete example of what a huge deficiency that is, over several days last week I booted and ran my G4 PowerBook from a clone of my hard drive and system on an external FireWire drive while I dealt with a stubborn issue afflicting the OS X Leopard install on its internal hard drive. If a similar issue cropped up with one of the new, FireWire-less Macbooks, dealing with this problem would have been far more difficult, inconvenient, time-consuming, not to mention disruptive of my be ability to continue using the machine for production work in the meantime.

I would like to think that Apple has listened to the howls of dismay over their misbegotten decision, and will restore a FireWire port on the Revision B unibody MacBooks. After all, the original Clamshell iBook was initially released without FireWire support, but it was added with the final revision of that model. However, that was in 2000; this is now, and I’m not inclined to be holding my breath waiting for Apple to blink on this.

One reason is that USB 3.0 is coming. Now I hasten to emphasize that there is no indication I’m aware of that USB 3.0 will support any analog of FireWire Target Disk mode, but there is probable cause to imagine that Apple may be working on making it conveniently bootable. The MacBook Air, for example, can boot from its optional proprietary external USB optical drive.

A company called Symwave Inc.¬†demonstrated what it claims to be the world’s first consumer application of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 at the Computer Electronics Show at Las Vegas last week.

USB 3.0 will reportedly be about 10 times faster than USB 2.0 with a maximum throughput of 4.8 Gbit/s, which should make it faster than even FireWire 800, which is still supported (plus FireWire 400 through an optional adapter) by the unibody MacBook Pro.

Symwave says it is collaborating with leading test, cable, components and hard drive manufacturers to demonstrate the transfer speeds of USB 3.0 and will showcase streaming data to and from external storage devices at speeds previously unattainable, predicting that SuperSpeed USB 3.0 is poised to become the most pervasive high-speed connectivity technology over the coming years, and it is backwards port compatible with the more than 10 billion USB devices shipped to date.

Presumably, Apple will be getting on board with USB 3.0, and it should be an exciting technological advance in some ways, but they still were too quick pulling the plug on FireWire with the MacBook.

22 Responses to “USB 3.0 Almost Here, but Apple Jumped the Gun”

  1. I don’t see why Apple should integrate usb 3.0 or sata 3 yet.
    Most of the devices that are out now doesn’t even take advantage of the full power usb 2.0 and sata 2 has to offer.
    Sata 2,is more than fast enough than the fastest SSD that exists today,and cost more than 1.000$
    And it’s just too soon for usb 3 too.
    More than 90% of today’s usb devices doesn’t even fully utilize the full potential of usb 2.0
    There are some external HDDS who come out now that have a usb 3.0 connection,but for someone who wants faster speeds there are also firewire and ethernet HDDS too,which are way more faster than usb 3.0
    I believe that the time it will take for usb 3.0 and sata 3.0 to become mainstream will be longer than the time it takes to Apple to renew their whole product line.
    So I believe that by the time there are actual devices that will really need and make use of those new features,Apple will already have those ports integrated at their products.

  2. Non-AppleFanboy

    I’m a Windows user, I purchase Mac hardware and install Windows on it. I realize Apple is over charging me… but I’m more than willing to spend another two days of my salary for a really nice looking, solid feeling computer.

  3. spacerunner

    Oh, about the i7 based pc I have. I forgot to add that most macs are core2duo based, 3 year old technology. So for a solid year, since November of 2008, I have had this i7 based system and macs had core2duos. Only now, in very late 2009 are they bringing out i7’s and again acting like they are innovative. But a year late to the game, they raise their price to $1999. Come on mac people, look at reality here. apple is over charging and you know it! Again, my i7 based pc system was $830.

  4. spacerunner

    You’d have to be a brainwashed idiot not to realize macs are over rated. Nice computer as is a good pc with windows 7, but still over rated by far. There’s only a small handful of reasons people say they get macs, and they love to over exaggerate the truth in order to feel like they made the right decision. One reason, the best reason has to do with malware which is weak at best. I will give it that, but beyond that one point, there are very few reasons to get one unless you are brainwashed into it. And they all pretend to be idiots that can’t do anything for themselves and that macs never get any malware. Yet once on a mac, they are backing up, using firewire to boot, running osx security patches (automatically) and more importantly booting into windows. And windows 7 is great. Of course a hater is so blind they can’t see that there is more you can do in windows than on a mac. And once they’ve spent their money, they don’t want to admit it, or realize they got suckered. The only people I could think of that would be ok, would be 100% idiots, with lots of spare cash, who want an expensive web browser.

    Then there are the media retards that tune into youtube and think the only way to make a good video is to use a mac and run imovie or fcp, Or to make music to use garage band. All parrots copying each other, when in fact there are better programs on pc, and some of the programs like adobe cs4 etc run on pc. Even worse, they think their macs are faster. Most mac users have an imac or a macbook as they say this stupid b.s.. I have had an i7 based pc @3.8ghz for a year, with a 1.5TBHD, that is more than double the speed of a $1600 imac at rendering video. In fact it’s faster than a $2500 mac pro, TESTED!. And it cost $830. I showed a friend with a mac how fast it was. Then for fun hackitoshed in leopard and showed him a mac twice as fast as his. He was sick, lol. Pretty much every mac user I run into has deep flaws in their thinking yet can’t accept it. They are so convinced it must be a mac because they heard it word of mouth. I met this one idiot who does video, and wastes hours processing video, and all because he believes osx is great and heard “windoze” is a horrible piece of dung that crashes all day long. Yet he knows nothing about computers. But he does listen to commercials.

    It comes down to two things. The OS and if it’s stable enough. and then if your applications, apps crash or not! I’ve been on macs and watched safari crash miserably. The same with chess, and also seen final cut pro crash several times. If I’m going to pay double for a computer 1/2 as fast, I WANT IT TO BE PERFECT or close! But instead they are not. In fact IE8 on windows 7 has not crashed ONCE playing videos on youtube or anything else yet. I’m sure it will, but so far in 4 months, no. Firefox is different though. But point is they all crash. So who gives a shit?

    Then there is the sickness where most apple users have no information whats so ever and seem to think apple invented everything, and did it first. That’s called marketing! Steve Jobs himself, along with marketing push this notion of ingenuity, purity, and my God WHITENESS. Yes, shininess and ultrua white, pure, macs against a white back ground. Stupid ImAMac ads that LIE to you and mislead you to get your money. Ask them what they think and you get, “It just works”. Or they toss around think different slogans. Mac doesn’t have to be the be considered the leader in media and video. That’s just stupid and one of those things that are just the way it is. Doesn’t mean it makes sense though….

    • It’s not that we think Macs are so untouchably great- it’s that we hate Windows. My 3.06 GHz iMac cost me a whole $1200 (I’m a good shopper); but it came with a nice 24″ monitor and a built-in DL-DVD drive. Looks cool too!

      Believe me, there’s a lot to be said for buying hardware from the manufacturer of the OS. Windows apps better than Mac apps? Don’t make me laugh. If you think that you have never used a Mac.

      The truth is that people favor PCs because they think they’re saving money. All my PC friends eventually say the same thing to me: “Why can’t I do that with my computer?”

  5. There are already dvi to usb cables on the market. Hard drives aren’t really a problem since most that have firewire, also have usb. Looking at all the other converters on the market, there will probably be plenty of usb 3.0 to fw400 or 800 cables. What’s the problem?
    Remember, technology isn’t really an investment. The longest it tends to last is 6 years. Most people upgrade at about 3 years. By the end of 6 years, the tech is so agonizingly slow, I’m not sure its worth keeping it that long unless its only for email. Engineered obsolesce is an ugly thing; the only way not to play that game is to not believe that you have to be at the cutting edge: keep it till it breaks, and buy it a year old.

  6. One more advantage of the FW is you can create an external superdrive by combining a Pioneer DVD drive in a FW housing. And yes you can boot up from it with any bootable software CDs. The only problem is loading the CD initailly.

  7. Jason O'Grady

    It’s the lack of respect for the investment in peripherals that hurts and not just for individuals … Schools have audio interfaces, drives, and cameras that all use Firewire – MacBooks fit their budget – MacBook Pros don’t.

  8. just to amend my previous comment – one of the OTHER major consumer uses for FW was in digital video, and i agree that the loss there definitely hurts more than the loss of some of the other ‘prosumer’ features that FW afforded the macbook.

  9. they’ve beaten me to it, but yes – any intel mac can boot from a usb drive conveniently and reliably.

    loss of fw is a little annoying, but to be honest, one of the main consumer uses was fwtdm, which I’d be willing to bet the majority of entry level consumers don’t know about. I work in apple retail, and most people aren’t aware of the feature at all, and the cases where we’d use it in house (data transfers) work just fine over Ethernet. and should we need to get at the contents of a drive when re computer itself isn’t booting, we usually pull the drive and stick it in a sled anyway.

    not saying it’s not a useful feature (it is!) but I’m not so sure it’s absence from their entry level books is that huge a deal. the streamlining of the product line means that this is the sort of feature distinction were likely going to see.

    as for seeing a usb alternative for fwtdm, I doing it, as the USB architecture doesn’t really allow for it. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

  10. Charles Moore


    Delighted to hear of the success booting via USB 2.0 on Intel Macs. I’m hoping to have an Intel Mac in the not too distant future, and look forward to experimenting.

    May have to reformat my external drives with Intel-friendly drivers.

    I haven’t given up hope that there will eventually be a USB Target Disk Mode, which is one of the great Mac OS FireWire features.

    I think you’re over-trivializing the removal of FireWire from the MacBook, which is the highest-volume Apple laptop and used by many high-end “professional” users who covet its campactness (ie: the crowd who loved the 12″ PowerBook). But for that matter, an awful lot of “consumer” users have FW gear. It’s also not trivial (IMHO) that Apple has dumped FireWire 400 from the MacBook Pro. My principal FireWire interest is FW 400 — all my FireWire peripherals are 400 — and the necessity of havong another extra cost dongle is a pain. It also cuts FW ports by 50 percent, and I think it’s reasonable to suspect that when USB 3.0 is in place FW 800 will be gone as well.


  11. Gazoobee

    Good article on USB 3.0, but you are confusing things by going on about FireWire and disk mode and Apple which all have relatively nothing to do with your topic.

    Why talk about USB 3.0 replacing FireWire, when you have to admit lower down that there won’t be any disk mode in USB 3.0?

    Why re-hash the myth that Apple is discontinuing Firewire support when in fact all it did was remove it from one computer (it’s lowest end portable)?

    Why use a comparison between your old PowerBook (a Pro product) and a MacBook (a consumer level product)?

    As both commenters above me have noted, the lack of disk mode is somewhat alleviated by the fact that a MacBook can boot from a USB drive. Migration assistant (the main use of disk mode) can also still be used over Ethernet or WiFi.

  12. I’ve not had any issues when booting off external USB devices. I have had good results booting a full system from an external USB HD, as well as with bootable DVD image (for iDefrag) that was copied to a 2GB USB stick.

    What’s the actual issue that you are discussing?