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Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

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Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby PeasantPunch » Wed Jun 08, 2011 5:40 pm

I'm looking at getting one of the latest Macbook Pros. Great specs all round, but some of the more recent ones don't have firewire ports.

What are the specific advantages of the firewire? Faster soundcards? Better all round DAW performance?

I have a focusrite usb saffire external soundcard and i'm getting some seemingly unresolvable latency problems when recording through it, despite tinkering in every possible way with the buffers on logic and the saffire itself.

Am i right in thinking this wouldn't be an issue with a firewire soundcard?

Also, is using external firewire hard drive storage to save DAW audio files better than simply using a massive internal hard drive? I like to move around with my laptop and would really prefer to do the latter so long as i'm not making a massive memory performance oversight..

Would appreciate any advice!
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby desmond » Wed Jun 08, 2011 5:42 pm

What recent Macbook Pro's don't have firewire?

FW is better than USB 2.0 largely because it has it's own chip, thus requires no processor hit to process (unlike USB) and it's also designed to handle larger data transfers (like audio) unlike USB which splits everything into small packets. In practice, for audio use, it's basically faster, particularly FW800.

You can use the internal drive and/or an external drive, doesn't really matter unless you start running massive projects.

BTW Please post your Mac-related questions in the Mac forum, not the general Music Technology forum - the Mac forum is the appropriate place for these questions - thanks!
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Aftertouch » Wed Jun 08, 2011 6:32 pm

No advantage according to Apogee:

why Apogee Choose USB over FireWire for Duet 2

The old issues with USB are not so valid in 2011.

Personally, I wouldn't by a FireWire audio interface today if I had a viable USB alternative.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby 4TrackMadman » Wed Jun 08, 2011 7:42 pm

All usb audio interfaces I've dealt with have had latency issues of great nature than fw.

FW seems to be handling audio with less hiccups due to it being a separate dedicated bus.

That's regardless of the platform - Win or Mac.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Jun 08, 2011 8:32 pm

And in my experience PCI/PCIe audio interfaces have often outperfomed both USB and Firewire ones at lower latencies - it’s so much more direct :beamup:


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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby desmond » Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:06 pm

Martin Walker wrote:And in my experience PCI/PCIe audio interfaces have often outperfomed both USB and Firewire ones at lower latencies - it’s so much more direct :beamup:

Sure, but that's not what we're talking about here.

Time will tell whether thunderbolt will give us laptop users back that kind of performance, but for now, FW is where it's at... imo
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Dave B » Wed Jun 08, 2011 10:17 pm

Aftertouch wrote:No advantage according to Apogee:

why Apogee Choose USB over FireWire for Duet 2

The old issues with USB are not so valid in 2011.

Personally, I wouldn't by a FireWire audio interface today if I had a viable USB alternative.

Interesting post, but both sets of response times are far better than the average midi latency!! ;)

I don't think anything has changed per se, and I don't think that the Duet is the be-all and end-all of interfaces, so I'm not sure how relevant those stats are. From a geek point of view, a proper bus mastering _bus_ is preferable when shunting lots of data around and, as Desmond pointed out, this true streaming will out perform the data bursts that you get on USB. Plus features like being able to reserve bandwidth means that you can see in advance if you are going to run out of capacity. The irony really is that FW looks like being phased out right about the point that it has matured....

I suppose that I'm biased though - I've had nothing but good behaviour from it on two PCs and three Macs over the years.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby hugol » Wed Jun 08, 2011 10:27 pm

PeasantPunch wrote:I'm looking at getting one of the latest Macbook Pros. Great specs all round, but some of the more recent ones don't have firewire ports.

What are the specific advantages of the firewire? Faster soundcards? Better all round DAW performance?

I have a focusrite usb saffire external soundcard and i'm getting some seemingly unresolvable latency problems when recording through it, despite tinkering in every possible way with the buffers on logic and the saffire itself.

Am i right in thinking this wouldn't be an issue with a firewire soundcard?

Also, is using external firewire hard drive storage to save DAW audio files better than simply using a massive internal hard drive? I like to move around with my laptop and would really prefer to do the latter so long as i'm not making a massive memory performance oversight..

Would appreciate any advice!

From personal experience it's never clear cut and down to the specific interaction between your computer (both software and hardware) and your specific choice of audio interface. (And obviously the specific internal hardware revisions of both peices of equipment).

Although at least with Apple there are more limited hardware variations compared to a PC - so in theory it's easier to hear about a combination that works.

So the Saffire USB doesn't work for you - but equally a particular Firewire interface might work perfectly for someone, but not for someone else.

In short you can only generalise so much. I have a Mac Pro with an MR816X. It used to glitch fairly frequently when connected to my TI based FW 400 PCIe card. With a FW800 to 400 cable plugged directly into my Mac's built in FW it works much better.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby PeasantPunch » Wed Jun 08, 2011 11:34 pm

hugol wrote:

From personal experience it's never clear cut and down to the specific interaction between your computer (both software and hardware) and your specific choice of audio interface. (And obviously the specific internal hardware revisions of both peices of equipment).

Although at least with Apple there are more limited hardware variations compared to a PC - so in theory it's easier to hear about a combination that works.

So the Saffire USB doesn't work for you - but equally a particular Firewire interface might work perfectly for someone, but not for someone else.

In short you can only generalise so much. I have a Mac Pro with an MR816X. It used to glitch fairly frequently when connected to my TI based FW 400 PCIe card. With a FW800 to 400 cable plugged directly into my Mac's built in FW it works much better.

In this light perhaps its simply the outmoded logic 5.5 that im currently using on a pc laptop thats causing such bad latency with the usb saffire. Might fair better with logic 9 on the mac pro
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby PeasantPunch » Wed Jun 08, 2011 11:47 pm

desmond wrote:What recent Macbook Pro's don't have firewire?

FW is better than USB 2.0 largely because it has it's own chip, thus requires no processor hit to process (unlike USB) and it's also designed to handle larger data transfers (like audio) unlike USB which splits everything into small packets. In practice, for audio use, it's basically faster, particularly FW800.

You can use the internal drive and/or an external drive, doesn't really matter unless you start running massive projects.

BTW Please post your Mac-related questions in the Mac forum, not the general Music Technology forum - the Mac forum is the appropriate place for these questions - thanks!

Sure, didn't realise there was a special mac forum.

May i ask what you mean when you say you can use an internal and/or external drive. As far as i was aware any computer DAW requires some sort of pre-amp (in my case an external sound card/pre amp) in order input xlr and jack signals..

Do you mean to say people cut out the sound card and record straight into the laptop?

I feel as if i may have made a stinker here, but if you don't ask then...
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby hugol » Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:01 am

PeasantPunch wrote:
In this light perhaps its simply the outmoded logic 5.5 that im currently using on a pc laptop thats causing such bad latency with the usb saffire. Might fair better with logic 9 on the mac pro

Generally it's the drivers/hardware combination that make the difference rather than the DAW. If you're on a PC - especially a laptop - it's worth doing a search for DPC on the PC forum (Deferred Procedure Calls).

I can't comment if the Saffire will work better on the Mac.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Aftertouch » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:46 am

Dave B wrote:The irony really is that FW looks like being phased out right about the point that it has matured....

Agreed! Which is exactly the reason I made this point:

Aftertouch wrote:Personally, I wouldn't by a FireWire audio interface today if I had a viable USB alternative.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby desmond » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:52 am

It's not really being phased out - we look to be having a great alternative which beats FW significantly in many areas.

But lightpeak will also support FW travelling along it's bus, so it should still be possible to use and support FW devices while FW devices are still around (ie, a while yet).

In the case of an audio interface, very few are maxing out an FW800 bus, you'd need a lot of simultaneous I/O (hundreds of channels) to do that, so with lightpeak the main advantage for audio interfaces is not speed as such, but more convenience and (possibly) lower latency.

But FW is not dead yet, and it's early days for lightpeak.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Jeraldo » Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:30 pm

desmond wrote:

But lightpeak will also support FW travelling along it's bus, so it should still be possible to use and support FW devices while FW devices are still around (ie, a while yet).

I didn't know that-thanks.

desmond wrote:In the case of an audio interface, very few are maxing out an FW800 bus, you'd need a lot of simultaneous I/O (hundreds of channels) to do that, so with lightpeak the main advantage for audio interfaces is not speed as such, but more convenience and (possibly) lower latency.


My impression is that FW800 in practical use offers speeds more like "FW650," but that doesn't negate your point at all. And perhaps I'm mistaken.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby John Willett » Sat Jun 11, 2011 8:10 pm

PeasantPunch wrote:I'm looking at getting one of the latest Macbook Pros. Great specs all round, but some of the more recent ones don't have firewire ports.

What are the specific advantages of the firewire? Faster soundcards? Better all round DAW performance?

I have a focusrite usb saffire external soundcard and i'm getting some seemingly unresolvable latency problems when recording through it, despite tinkering in every possible way with the buffers on logic and the saffire itself.

Am i right in thinking this wouldn't be an issue with a firewire soundcard?

Also, is using external firewire hard drive storage to save DAW audio files better than simply using a massive internal hard drive? I like to move around with my laptop and would really prefer to do the latter so long as i'm not making a massive memory performance oversight..

Would appreciate any advice!

My latest version MacBook Pro (one month old) does have Firewire 800 - it also has the new blisteringly fast Thunderbolt socket.

Seagate will be doing a Thunderbolt cable for their GoFlex range this Autumn.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Jeraldo » Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:41 pm

John Willett wrote:

My latest version MacBook Pro (one month old) does have Firewire 800 - it also has the new blisteringly fast Thunderbolt socket.

Seagate will be doing a Thunderbolt cable for their GoFlex range this Autumn.

John or anyone-so, on these MBPs is there two of these ports (1 for external display, 1 for anything else) are do you have to bring your own hub/daisy chain, etc.? Sorry, I haven't thought to look closely at one of these yet.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby John Willett » Mon Jun 13, 2011 8:03 am

Jeraldo wrote:
John Willett wrote:

My latest version MacBook Pro (one month old) does have Firewire 800 - it also has the new blisteringly fast Thunderbolt socket.

Seagate will be doing a Thunderbolt cable for their GoFlex range this Autumn.

John or anyone-so, on these MBPs is there two of these ports (1 for external display, 1 for anything else) are do you have to bring your own hub/daisy chain, etc.? Sorry, I haven't thought to look closely at one of these yet.

There is one Thunderbolt port on my 13" MacBook Pro.

But it is capable of two channels at 10Gbps (Firewire 800 is a single channel at 800Mbps).

No doubt Thunderbolt hubs will become available.
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby Jeraldo » Mon Jun 13, 2011 4:07 pm

Is that used as the external display port as well?
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Re: Firewire on a Mac: What are the advantages?

Postby desmond » Mon Jun 13, 2011 4:46 pm

Jeraldo wrote:Is that used as the external display port as well?

Yep. Thunderbold carries both display data and data data simultaneously. In other words, the displayport passes across the same port as the rest of the data.
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