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New MacBook design presents FireWire challenges

updated 10:25 pm EDT, Wed October 29, 2008

MacBook FireWire issues

The "unibody" aluminum housing on the new MacBooks might have been a contributing factor to the designers' decision to not include a FireWire port, according to Rainier Brockerhoff's analysis. The new internal layout of components aligns each peace to eliminate any overlap, except for the keyboard. This contributes to the strength of the design and the compact form-factor. The motherboard remains on one side, while the SuperDrive sits on the other.

In previous MacBook models, ports were offered on both sides, but only because the motherboard spanned across the whole device. With the smaller motherboard on the new aluminum models, the designers would have been forced to spread the board across the whole device or connect a separate component group using ribbon cables.

Aside from the space allotted for the necessary DisplayPort and audio in/out, only enough room is left for three ports, argues Brockerhoff. Apple decided to integrate two USB ports and an Ethernet connection. Stacking the USB ports might have been impossible to fit within the case limits. He also notes that a Firewire connector requires the possible allocation of seven watts of energy, compared to 2.5 watts for the first USB port and just a half watt for the second.

Despite the outrage from users that require Firewire to run audio and video devices or troubleshoot with the target disk mode, the inclusion of just one USB port could have had the same effect. It is difficult to gauge the true reasons behind the decision to leave out Firewire, although the public reaction could have an impact on future designs.

by MacNN Staff





  1. dimmer

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "aligns each peace"


  1. Haywire

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "In previous MacBook models, ports were offered on both sides, but only because the motherboard spanned across the whole device."

    No they weren't. The ports on the plastic MacBooks are on the left side only.

    However, if you look at the teardown pictures, you'll see that there is not enough room for any more connectors on the left side of the circuit board. There is a big cutaway toward the front left side of the board that takes away room for more connectors.

  1. jpellino

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I'd ditch one USB to gain the firewire if that would do it.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple's on the board

    Apple chairs the board of directors for the firewire group, how could they let this die?

  1. dimmer

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Apple doesn't want to sell you down a technology dead end. FireWire is going away: it's hard to contemplate that anyone disputes this. Yes, it has a historical role in video/audio, but not a future role.

    Arguing for FireWire makes as much sense (actually maybe much less) as arguing for Apple Desktop Bus.

  1. mmurray

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not comarable to ADB

    FW legacy devices like HD's and cameras will be around for quite a long time. That was not the case for ADB as mostly you got a new keyboard with each new mac.


    PS: What is the point of an article like this by someone who does't seem to know the location of the macbooks ports !

  1. badtz

    Joined: Dec 1969



    They could've figured out a way if they designed for it. Firewire is very important, and is long from being a 'dead end' technology. Why else would so many people complain about it? And if it's 'dead end' why keep it on the MacBook Pro? It's an obvious up-sell tactic on their part.

  1. revco

    Joined: Dec 1969


    FW alive and well

    Seagate, WD, LaCie have all just released new external drives with FW400/800. If anything, I'd say FireWire is now being recognised as a superior technology. Apple just made a dumb call this time.

  1. Copprhead

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No big deal

    The lack of Firewire is no big deal for me. The performance of the USB 2.0 ports on the new MacBook is better than either Firewire or USB 2.0 on the previous model. See my review and benchmark results on my blog:

  1. wessew

    Joined: Dec 1969


    FW Better Than USB

    First, independent tests confirm firewire 400 drives are 30% to 50% faster than USB 2 in backing up data. A rare instance in which the older technology outperforms the new. Second, numerous legacy devices exist which use firewire, some of which excusively. Third, new DV HD cameras still being sold use firewire only. It is clear Apple made a big mistake with the deletion of firewire 400. However, this could have been remedied if an express card slot were included. Neither is available which, taken together, seriously cripples the new MacBook

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