A peek inside the new Apple Thunderbolt cable

The new Apple Thunderbolt cable costs $49, which is a bit pricey. iFixit took a peek inside one of the new cables and came up with a good reason why Thunderbolt isn’t cheap. Even if costs don’t drop, though, this tech has legs.

FireWire vs. USB: Which Is Faster?

Most modern Macs (s aapl), except for the MacBook Air and some MacBook models (such as my late 2008 unibody, alas), offer both FireWire and USB connections, so when shopping for an external hard drive you have plenty of options for something that will work with your Mac, notes Macworld’s James Galbraith. And these days, he adds, USB hard drives are more common and less expensive than FireWire or even FireWire/USB combo drives.

True, but even though USB 2.0 has a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 480 Mbps, vs. a nominal 400 Mbps for FireWire 400, via real-world experience I can attest that USB 2.0 lags well behind FireWire 400 — to say nothing of the FireWire 800 used on all Macs still sold today with FireWire support. And adding insult to injury, USB 2.0 doesn’t support incredibly useful Target Disk Mode. I’ve also found that while booting a Mac from a USB 2.0 drive is possible, it’s not nearly as satisfactory and low-hassle (or speedy) as booting from FireWire drives. Read More about FireWire vs. USB: Which Is Faster?

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.
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Targus High-Speed Cable a Solution for FireWire-less File Transfer

Apple’s decision to not equip the new unibody MacBook with a FireWire port has been as popular as the proverbial skunk at a garden party, at least with seasoned Mac users. Aside from the MacBook Air, which suffers from manifold deficiencies in the I/O department, the last Apple portable that shipped without FireWire was the Revision B clamshell iBook in 2000. We’ve kinda gotten used to having it.

So, are you, like many, taken with the new MacBook (and there are plenty of reasons to be), but wondering how you could get along without FireWire? A new product from Targus could be your solution.

That is if your main concern about going FireWire-less is how to handle fast, computer-to-computer file transfers. The Targus USB 2.0 High-Speed File Transfer Cable for Mac can’t help you with connecting to your FireWire video camera or scanner, but it’s a surprisingly slick and satisfactory substitute for the file transfer aspect of FireWire Target Disk Mode, in some respects even more convenient.
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Best Kept Secrets: Hardware Growler

My enthusiastic use and promotion of Growl should come as no surprise to regular readers of The Apple Blog. While some dismiss it as an annoyance reminiscent of the Windows notification popups, others — like myself – view it as a way be informed without stopping what I am currently doing (and that is definitely not the case with its Windows pseudo-counterpart).

Even though many of the applications and utilities that help me with my daily workflows have embedded Growl support in some fashion, there is one use of Growl that may help convert even the most stalwart Growl skeptic: Hardware Growler.
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The 13″ MacBook Pro That Could Have Been

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Apple had it so close…
That was the first thought I had when Apple unveiled the new aluminum MacBook and MacBook Pro on October 14.
Many Mac owners out there are still longing for a successor to the PowerBook G4 12″. I am one of them. Someone needs the features and performance of Apple’s Pro notebooks in a 12″ or 13″ form factor that, to me, is just right. In the days leading up to the unveiling, I had hoped that the new MacBook, already rumored to sport blazing fast graphics performance, would essentially be a MacBook Pro. As it turns out, the new aluminum MacBook is really The 13″ MacBook Pro That Could Have Been.

Size vs. Features

As part of my daily work, I often have to use devices ranging from HDV camcorders to RAID arrays that connect by FireWire 400, 800 or eSATA (via ExpressCard). For this, my Mid 2007 MacBook Pro 15″ is the perfect workhorse. But having lugged the five-pound MacBook Pro around almost daily for over a year, I am yearning so badly for something lighter to relieve these aching shoulders of mine.
My first notebook, a Sony VAIO ultraportable, had everything I could ask for in a small, lightweight package and was a pleasure to use. This ultraportable has had me convinced that the size of a notebook does not have to be inversely proportionate to the richness of its features.
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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 ZDNet.com, 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.
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ExpressCard Gadgets for MacBook Pro

One of the ports included with all the new (and previous generation of) MacBook Pros is an ExpressCard slot. Having never had this type of expansion before, I’ve decided to have a look around and see what uses it can serve. This article will give a brief overview of some of the most popular ExpressCard gadgets available.

Transcend Solid State Device

Without any doubt, this is the ExpressCard device which caught my eye first. It consists of a high capacity, solid state device which inserts into your laptop, giving you an easy way to add some SSD storage. Initially the price of these was prohibitively high, but SSD is becoming evermore appealing as the costs are pushed lower. It comes in three different varieties:

  • 32GB SSD $126.21
  • 16GB SSD $44.68
  • 8GB SSD $28.68

The major use heralded for the card is to enable Vista ReadyBoost — something obviously not appropriate for a MacBook Pro user. However, other tasks which benefit from high speed storage (a Photoshop scratch disk for instance) could see the benefit of the card. Whether it provides a huge advantage over a high capacity USB thumb drive is debatable though, and the ExpressCard price still carries a slight premium.
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Firewire Over Ethernet? Maybe If We Ask Loudly Enough

Clearly, Apple’s decision to leave out FireWire ports on the MacBook line has ruffled some feathers. For their part, Apple claims to have left it out to save the $0.25 per port licensing fee attached to including the hardware, which, when considered on the scale of a massive production run, does amount to significant savings. Of course, they recoup some of that amount as royalties, since they are a FireWire patent holder, and therefore a member of the 1394 Trade Association. Which has led some to claim that the decision to axe FireWire was not a cost-saving measure, but instead a profit-boosting one, by forcing consumers who need FW to scale up to a MacBook Pro.
Since Macs support internet and disk sharing over FireWire, it’s only natural to consider the possibility of running FireWire in a similar manner over Ethernet, allowing users to to perhaps plug their video cameras or audio peripherals into older Macs to perform large transfers if they have one, or into specially designed FireWire-to-Ethernet cables or adapters.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to run FireWire over Ethernet using current standards (IEEE 1394/a/b). According to ZDNet, FireWire has more in common with SATA or SCSI which is “dumb” (point-to-point), than Ethernet, which is “smart” (co-ax cable was its “dumb” predecessor).
A new standard in the process of being developed, IEEE 1394c, would allow FireWire to run over cat5 twisted pair cables (Ethernet), at speeds of up to 800Mbps. Implementing IEEE 1394c would require support from Apple via an adapter or changes onboard. Since it’s ultimately still in Apple’s hands, demand from irate consumers will have to outweigh any financial benefit they stand to lose from giving users a cheaper option than upgrading to the Macbook Pro. If the IEEE 1394c standard is passed in time, the speculation is that Apple could include FireWire over Ethernet support with Snow Leopard.
Would this move restore your faith in Cupertino, FireWire faithful, or is it too little, too late?

Camcorders and USB: Is Steve Jobs Right?

Much is being made of the lack of FireWire in the new MacBooks. Seems like everyone’s weighed in on this topic, myself included.
Even more recently, an email response to one irate customer set off more controversy. In this email, Steve Jobs himself is alleged to have responded

Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.

So, is that true? Perhaps the best way to find out is to look at Amazon.com and see what’s selling, then check what interface they use. 
I hit the bestsellers list from Amazon for camcorders, and the first thing I noticed is that the Flip series occupies five of the top 10 slots (as of this writing). The Flip supports USB 2.0, so it qualifies, but in case some people would like to have a little more camera representation than that, I decided to include the top 20 (which includes two more Flips).
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