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Transformative FireWire is on the verge of burning out

Christopher Phin | June 3, 2015
Christopher Phin still uses FireWire drives every single day, but only for as long as his current generation of computers sticks around—and its days are numbered.

Regardless, though--or perhaps because of this--I still feel like a cheerleader for FireWire. It was just better than smelly old USB, and I confess to a deeply unattractive pity for those poor PC folks who had to endure it. Although 400Mbps seems paltry today, in the late nineties it was staggeringly quick; you felt like Jafar in Aladdin when he's granted unlimited power. Or at least, I did. (My street cred is taking something of a beating in this week's column.)

It felt truly modern, too. Remember that we'd been futzing about with serial connections and with chunky, unwieldy SCSI interconnects and terminators. Look at this SCSI port on the back of one of my Macintosh Classic IIs, with its big pin holes and its anchoring screws; to modern eyes it looks almost literally antiquated, even like a film prop. Compare it to the tiny, smart FireWire connections on the iMac G4 at the top of this page, itself a vintage Mac.

I still use FireWire 800 to connect my Drobo up to my media server, a 2010 Mac mini, and I have a LaCie 2big Quadra RAID drive also connected with FireWire 800 to my 2008 MacBook Pro as a Time Machine target and to offload big Final Cut Pro projects to. And I keep this little 40GB FireWire drive around, since it's a handy bridge (with a FireWire 400 to 800 cable) between my modern Macs and my more recent vintage Macs for moving around hefty chunks of data or installing new operating systems.

Of course, I have to resign myself to the knowing that this kind of job is pretty much all I'll use FireWire for in the next few years, before it falls completely into disuse. I have to face up to the fact that these days, FireWire 800 is actually pretty slow--25 times slower than Thunderbolt 2. My 2008 MacBook Pro--my main Mac--is really due an upgrade, not least because, for all my waxing lyrical about FireWire, I am not enough of an schmuck not to long for the thicker bandwidth and extra capabilities of Thunderbolt.

When I do retire my MacBook Pro, the Thunderbolt that its successor will have will perfectly replace the role not just that FireWire currently plays in connecting my peripherals, but also that it plays in my heart: a blisteringly fast, crazily expensive, Apple-championed technical marvel that is better than anything else in the industry but that, as might be hinted by the new MacBook, will perhaps even before long be supplanted by something far more pedestrian.


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