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.

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