This past summer Apple announced its 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with a surprising omission: no FireWire port. In its place is Apple's latest peripheral connector, USB 3.0, which provides equivalent performance and is widely used in recent Windows PCs. Then in October, Apple revealed a 13-inch MacBook Pro and new iMacs, all with the same limitation. If two points comprise a line, then the line made by these announcements indicates the end of FireWire on future Macs.
Alas, FireWire is widely used in the Mac world to attach external hard drives, cameras and camcorders, and music processing gear. USB 2.0 is too slow for these purposes; USB 3.0 is too new to have been supported by still useful (and expensive) legacy gear; and the Thunderbolt technology introduced 18 months ago in almost all new Mac models is still too rare and expensive. (At 10Gbps, Thunderbolt it is more than 10 times faster than the fastest 800Mbps FireWire and about seven times as fast as USB 3.0.) So what can the many users with significant investments in FireWire devices do when upgrading to new Macs? There are solutions, but all have drawbacks, which you must carefully weigh before buying.
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There's an adapter for that
The seemingly obvious solution to a FireWire ouster is the one Apple released this fall: its $29 Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter. This one-way adapter (you can't use it to convert a Mac FireWire interface to Thunderbolt) supports a FireWire 800 attachment; you can then use a FireWire 800-to-FireWire 400 conversion cable to attach FireWire 400 devices.
The adapter works well when it works, providing full FireWire 800 performance. But users of the adapter have encountered a frustrating limitation: Only 7W of bus power is supplied to an attached device. The FireWire standard supports up to 45W, although most computers, including Macs, deliver 10W to 20W. Some bus-powered FireWire devices have an optional DC power port, even if they don't include an AC power adapter. If you can externally power your device, you can bypass the 7W limitation. Otherwise you'll need to explore other solutions.
Even if you can run within the 7W budget or bypass it, another limitation may stop you. Apple's adapter still looks like Thunderbolt to the Mac, so if your application won't work with Thunderbolt, the adapter may be useless to you.
One documented failure mode is running Microsoft Windows under Boot Camp interfacing to non-hard-disk FireWire devices. Windows works fine under Boot Camp with external FireWire disk attached via Apple's adapter, but it does not have Thunderbolt drivers compatible with Apple's adapter for non-hard-disk FireWire devices. A workaround is to run your Windows application in a Mac OS X-resident hypervisor, such as Parallels or VMware Fusion, both of which work with Apple's adapter.