Apple's new unibody MacBook adds a lot of new features, but loses one that's been a longtime standby: FireWire.
Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.
Apple's announcement Tuesday of a thinner and lighter $999 MacBook, one with unibody construction and a glass trackpad, was bittersweet. It should be, for any longtime user of Macs, or digital video equipment, or older hard drives. In updating the MacBook to a much more similar look and feel to its recent MacBook Pro line, Apple used the opportunity to quietly dump one of the most distinctive and useful ports over the last 10 years: FireWire. While just a year ago the alumni 13-inch MacBooks found themselves without FireWire while the white MacBooks still had it, now the tables have turned: all aluminum MacBook Pros now have FireWire 800 ports, while the lowest-end MacBook has had its FireWire stripped out, a casualty of thinner size, engineering, or profit margins.
FireWire, or IEEE 1394, was a format jointly pushed by companies including Apple and Sony, a high-speed standard to transfer data that was a far better alternative to USB 1.0. DV cameras, hard drives, and even the original iPod all used FireWire. Having FireWire was the most important consideration when buying a new Mac. Back in 2003, FireWire was the standard across consumer electronics, especially with the rise of digital video cameras that could upload their footage to PCs for nonlinear editing.
Oh, how times have changed. USB 2.0 is pretty much the universal standard for all data transfer, and it's hard to find any peripheral that doesn't use it--modern peripherals, that is. But that's the conundrum: if you're buying the most budget-friendly Mac laptop out there, there's a good chance you own some equipment that's not quite as up-to-date, or you're simply not willing to give up yet. Losing FireWire means losing access to those peripherals.
When we reviewed Apple's lowest-priced MacBook this past summer, we actually found two of its "legacy" features--a removable battery and FireWire--to be much-appreciated options for those who still liked to carry an extra charged battery around, or for those who still owned and used FireWire equipment. Many videographers still rely on FireWire, as do IT employees. We noticed quite a few commenters from Tuesday's post who were upset about the loss of FireWire, and we sympathize. Apple started this bandwagon, and it always frustrates us when ports are adopted and later abandoned. It's not an Apple issue, it's a legacy CE issue. We were similarly upset about how the PSP Go isn't compatible with the old PSP's cables and equipment.
While introducing a great new MacBook with better battery life, a stronger chassis, and a higher-quality screen, Apple stealth-removed the FireWire port and replaced it with...nothing. USB ports are all that remain. As a MacBook and Apple user, I don't have many FireWire devices anymore, but last year I did have to abandon a FireWire hard drive that wasn't compatible with my 2008 aluminum MacBook. I thought these problems were solved as of this summer, but it's a shame to see that we're back there again.
Or maybe you're fine without FireWire? Does this bother you at all, or would you simply spend the extra $200 for a MacBook Pro? Do you budget-conscious Apple owners feel short-changed, or do you like the new additions to the white MacBook? Was losing FireWire worth it?