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Troubleshooting the iSight: FireWire conflicts

Troubleshooting the iSight: FireWire conflicts

Yesterday we noted a number of reports of iSight cameras contributing to problems with other FireWire devices. (We also noted that this was a problem we have covered in the past.) Since yesterday's coverage, we have received a large number of replies providing further confirmation of these issues. These reports aren't limited to just the iPod, or just FireWire hard drives. In fact, we've received reports of issues with iPods, hard drives, and even optical drives.

iPod issues iPod users have reported a number of different symptoms that appear when an iSight and iPod are connected at the same time, all of which appear to go away when the iSight is disconnected. Reader Brian Mackey notes, "When the iSight and iPod are both plugged in the file transfer rate stops to a crawl. Unplug the iSight and everything is back to normal. (10gig 1st generation iPod on a Quicksilver G4 running 10.3.2)"

Steve Smith writes that the iSight causes iTunes to freeze when transferring files to his iPod: "I recently reset my iPod to factory settings and tried to reload about 4000 songs to it through my FireWire hub. Each attempt resulted in the same problem: only 5-20 songs were transferred before iTunes froze and needed to be Force Quit at least twice... I unplugged the iSight camera from my FireWire hub, and voila! Rapid reloading of all 4000 songs in a matter of minutes."

Edgar Rothermich finds that the iSight causes problems for him related to using the iPod as a FireWire hard drive: "Last couple of weeks really strange iPod behavior. I couldn't use the 'Use as disk' feature. The checkbox in the iPod options window disappeared after I reopened the window. The window itself took about 1-2 minutes to close. I couldn't figure it out. Then after Christmas I lost a FW drive with a week of data on it after it unmounted itself during a copy process. Disk Warrior couldn't repair it, the directory was too severely damaged. I tried the copy procedure after reformating and could confirm the strange unmount incident with the corruption of the drive. After trying all different scenarios, I finally unplugged the iSight camera and it was fine. Re-connnecting iSight and the trouble re-appeared."

James Jepson echoes this report, writing, "When the iSight is connected (off or on), my iPod dismounts or behaves erratically (while giving a message that I disconnected a drive without unmounting first)."

FireWire hard drive issues Other reports describe issues with external FireWire hard drives when an iSight is connected, ranging from "disappearing" drives to slow performance.

Reader Dan Hughes notes the vanishing drive problem: "With iSight plugged into front FireWire port on a G5 [running 10.3.2] and a FireWire drive plugged into the back, the drive simply disappears from the desktop. I spent days trying to track down the source of the problem."

Bill McMullen is able to see and use his external hard drive, but performance is significantly affected:

"I too experienced some strange behavior from my LaCie external FireWire 400 drive and iSight camera. No file corruption but rather only extreme (very extreme) slowdown in performance. I had installed a video conference software the day before (Marratech) and hooked up my iSight for the first time since I had connected the drive. Simply opening the drive in the finder would result in spinning a beach ball, delays, and occasional hangs. I tried copying approximately 2 gigs of files (should have take a few minutes) and was told by the finder it would take 3 hours. I didn't really put the two factors together until a few minutes later, and upon disconnecting the iSight, (a few minutes into the '3 hour' transfer) and the files immediately copied in under a minute. So the iSight remains disconnected while I work off of the drive now."

More significantly, a number of readers have actually reported drive damage. J.P. Kang has seems problems with FireWire hard drives and the iSight, noting that DiskWarrior was necessary to repair directory damage. George Menkart actually experienced data loss:

"I am unable to use my external LaCie FW drive when iSight and the external drive are both connected. Before I identified the source of the problem my 120GB 7200RPM 400mbs drive was corrupted, data was lost and drive had to be formatted at the factory... I now avoid connecting the external FW drive when iSight is connected."

Optical drive issues Reports also include problems using external optical (CD or DVD) FireWire drives with an iSight connected. Reader Todd Parkin notes

"In my case, it is a Pioneer DVR-105 burner in a separately-powered FireWire enclosure. With the iSight plugged in (whether being actively used by iChat or not) I have been able to burn one DVD successfully out of 12 tries. When it finally occurred to me what the problem was, I removed the iSight and have had no problems since."

Likewise, Scott Rose notes that "Not only was my external FireWire hard drive unexpectedly unmounting from my computer, but also my FireWire CD-RW drive was unexpectedly unmounting as well as soon as you inserted a CD! Unplugging the iSight from the FireWire port solved the problems immediately."

Solutions? Yesterday we noted that we suspect many of these issues are power-related, and provided two possible solutions that had been suggested previously: installing a PCI FireWire card that allows you to further isolate the iSight and other FireWire devices on their own, separately powered, FireWire buses; and connecting devices to a powered FireWire hub. Several readers have reported success with such solutions. For example, Donald Larson notes, "When I installed a $25 FW card in my G4 933 Mhz tower, the problems disappeared." And Tony Padgett reports:

"I originally tried connecting my iSight to the port of a Firewire drive ('daisychaining'), and [the] iSight didn't work at all. But when I connected it to its own Firewire port on the back of my G4 desktop Mac, I had no problems."

Ian Parkinson similarly notes "I have not had any more problems since I bought a Powered Belkin 6 port Firewire Hub. I now have my external drive, 2 iPods (30Gb and 5Gb) and my iSight connected with no issues at all."

Reader Annard Brouwer points another finger at power issues: "The last device in my FireWire chain before the iSight has a big power unit and since then I haven't had data loss problems anymore. I filed a bug report with Apple, it would be nice if you see a low power warning as with USB."

A thread on Apple's Discussions forums echoes these suggestions. (Although we should note that a number of reports include problems with devices that provide their own power via a separate AC adapter.)

iSight/FireWire issues of your own? Solutions? Email us at

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