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Missing from the New MacBooks: FireWire 400

When Apple announced its new lines of notebook computers last week, not much was said about something that the new machines lacked: FireWire 400 ports.
When Apple announced its new lines of notebook computers last week, not much was said about something that the new machines lacked: FireWire 400 ports.FireWire is a high-speed interface for connecting peripherals to computers. Also known by the more techie-sounding name of IEEE 1394 (which is the name of the standard from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers), FireWire is used to connect everything from external hard drives to video cameras to computers.

FireWire is much faster than the original version of the USB (Universal Serial Bus) that is used to hook up keyboards and mice to PCs. FireWire's specs are similar to that of USB 2.0, which comes on most desktop and notebook PCs these days. However, many people, including myself, believe that FireWire is better than USB 2.0 for connecting external hard drives.

Be that as it may: The signs have been on the wall for a while that Apple is moving away from FireWire  even though Apple was one of the early proponents of the spec. For example, early iPods could be synced with computers using either FireWire or USB 2.0. More recently, they've been USB 2.0-only.

The MacBook Air was the first modern Apple computer to ship without a FireWire port. Now, it's been removed from the new 13.3-inch aluminum MacBooks, though you can still order it on the left-over 2.1GHz MacBook, which has a white polycarbonate plastic case.

There are two common speeds of the FireWire port  FireWire 400 (which can transmit data at 400 megabits per second) and FireWire 800 (800 Mbps). While the FireWire 800 port is backwards compatible electronically with FireWire 800, it uses a different connector. (By way of comparison, USB 2.0 is rated at 480 Mbps, but real-world benchmarks are slower than that of FireWire 400).

Most FireWire devices are FireWire 400 devices, and that's the speed of the port that used to be on the MacBook.

What about the 15-inch redesigned MacBook Pro? Since its launch, the MacBook Pro included both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports. The new versions introduced last week lost FireWire 400, but still have the FireWire 800 port.

Most Mac users won't notice the lack of the FireWire 400 ports on the MacBook and MacBook Pro - unless, of course, they have a peripheral device, like a disk or camera, that only has FireWire 400 connectors. I doubt that affects many of you  or any of you, with one exception: Target Disk Mode.

Best as I can tell, the only way to turn a Mac temporarily into an external hard drive (great for doing backups or for migrating to a new computer) is to connect two Macs together via FireWire, and reboot one of them while holding down the letter "T" on its keyboard. Since the new MacBooks don't have FireWire, they presumably lose Target Disk Mode capability. Bummer.

Prediction time: Expect the new generation of iMacs and Mac Pro desktops to drop FireWire 400. That seems a safe bet.

Do you have any FireWire 400 devices that you can't live without? Leave a comment, I'd like to hear about it.