Why do I need Firewire and what is it?

Version 2
Last Modified: Aug 3, 2013 5:11 PM

Some Mac models don't come with Firewire, while others do not. Be careful to read the specs of the Mac you are to buy. Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 are both easy to interface with each other using a Firewire 400 to Firewire 800 adapter.  For Macs of these two port types, they require a 6 pin and 9 pin Firewire connector respectively.   Firewire allows the following advantages which you won't find via other interfaces for the Mac:


1. Target Disk Mode. This allows a Mac to be treated as an external hard drive to another Mac. It makes it easier to recover data from a Mac that becomes unbootable, if you don't have access to another drive, but do have access to another Mac with Firewire from a store, friend, or usergroup.


2. Uncompressed video capture. While USB camcorders exist, they all compress their video capture to go through USB.


3. Faster data transfer to third party peripherals and drives. In spite of USB 2's rated 480 Mbps (60 MBps), the speed of USB on most machines never exceeds 150 Mbps. Firewire in its original 1394a standard is still a full 400 Mbps.  USB 3 is faster, but so is Thunderbolt.   Thunderbolt firewire adapters

exist, and so do Thunderbolt USB 3 connectors.


4. No networking configuration is needed for sharing data between Macs using Firewire in target disc mode.


5. PowerPC Macs in Mac OS X could only boot externally off Firewire drives. This is not a limitation of Intel Macs.


6. Firewire IP allows networking over Firewire at full Firewire speeds. This technique is faster than all networking except Gigabit ethernet and fiberoptic methods available by expanding the Mac tower and server configurations. It is documented in the Mac OS X 10.4 help documents, and available
to all versions of Mac OS X.


On the other hand, USB does offer these advantages:


1. Up to 127 items can be daisy chained, instead of 63 for Firewire.


2. Many more peripherals are compatible with USB than Firewire, and are typically cheaper than the Firewire peripherals offering the same functions.


As of the writing of this tip, the following Macs do not have Firewire:


1. The October 20, 2009 MacBook.
2. The October 14, 2008 Aluminum Unibody MacBook. Note: the MacBook White
available simultaneously with the Aluminum Unibody MacBook does have Firewire.
All MacBook Pros have Firewire.
3. All MacBook Airs.
4. iMacs 350 Mhz Indigo from July 19th 2000 to February 22nd
5. iMacs pre October 5, 1999 that were not DV.
6. Powerbook G3 Bronze keyboard (a.k.a. Lombard), discontinued February 16, 2000
7. PowerMac G3 Beige. The PowerMac G3 Blue and White, and G4 PCI had Firewire, but lacked Target Disk Mode support, or Mac OS X booting support via Firewire. All AGP PowerMac G4s and newer had support for this. To differentiate the G4 models, see this article:


8. The only color iBooks that had Firewire are easily identifiable by this port configuration in this image .


Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 8.04.57 PM.png

Note the second port from the right is a Firewire port. All white iBooks have Firewire.



Older Macs do not have Firewire built-in.