Taking the Pro Out of the MacBook Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article first ran on my blog, posted Oct. 21, 2009.
Updated with info from my newsletter. ]

This morning Apple announced a plethora of new hardware, some of which looks pretty interesting — as long as you aren’t interested in editing video.

You see, Apple removed the FireWire port from the MacBook – again. A few iterations ago, FireWire was in. Then, they took it out. Hue and cry ensued. They put it back. Now, it’s gone again.

The only interfaces that remain for moving data between the computer and an external drive is USB2, Airport, or Ethernet .

The problem with USB2 is that it is too slow – roughly half the speed of FireWire 400.

The problem with Airport is that it is slower than USB2.

The problem with Ethernet is that there is no way to connect a FireWire device via the Ethernet port. And that’s assuming you are willing to give up a high-speed connection to your server, in order to attach a separate hard drive.

Yes, you can use your Ethernet port to connect an iSCSI device – provided you have a device that supports it. However, you can’t convert between FireWire and iSCSI. Or eSATA. Or PCIe. In other words, your data is trapped on your hard disks and can’t get off. Not on these MacBooks.

If Apple had replaced FireWire with some new high-performance port that we could connect peripherals to, I could understand. But to remove a critical high-performance port and replace it with nothing is just STUPID!

Note: I realize that FireWire is not the fastest interface out there. eSATA, PCIe, iSCSI, and FibreChannel are all faster. However, the MacBook has never had an ExpressCard/34 slot, so that rules out eSATA, PCIe, and FibreChannel. And I know of only one iSCSI storage device currently shipping – the DroboPro. A great unit, but hardly as affordable as a stand-alone hard drive.

Granted, the vast Macintosh public may not need to connect external devices. (I’m sure no one really needs to back up their data to anything but a slow hard drive.) But media professionals do – whether working with audio or video. Media remains a core part of the Macintosh market.

According to Apple’s financial report, earlier this week, for every desktop Apple sells, they sell three laptops. However, what bothers me about today’s announcement is that increasingly, it is becoming very, very difficult to use any of Apple’s laptops to do what Macintosh systems do best – easily work with massive media files.

We had this conversation earlier this year, when the MacBook Pros were updated – and FireWire disappeared. Now, it’s disappeared from the MacBooks. At this rate, it will disappear in the next iteration of iMacs! Not all of us want to wait while our media backs up to a Time Capsule. Nor do we want to attempt to edit HD video while connected to a USB2 drive.

Apple can do better – without jeopardizing form factor or profits.

They just need to care.


P.S. You can send feedback to Apple on this issue at:


Complaining won’t fix anything in the current releases – but, perhaps, they will give this consideration in the future.

UPDATE – Sept., 2009

David Morgan sent me this as a follow-up:

I also find myself wondering about the missing firewire (second port) and Xpress 34 slot on the newest Apple products. I currently use a MB Pro (earlier model with 2 firewire and the xpress 34) and I own a Mac Pro tower. As I see it, the “Pro” can be removed from this product line. Apple will then just have a MacBook. Basically, combine the best of both laptop models into one. Alarming as it is, Apple just saved a boat load of money by eliminating the extra hardware and all the complication that goes with it. The MB Pro is now a high end “fun” computer just like the new Dell XPS Studio laptop I use at work. The Dell machine even has more variety in I/O than the Mac. It sports an HDMI port, the SD card slot, FW 400 (4 pin), e-sata/USB combination port, Display port, VGA, USB, Express 34 slot, and a few more.


So what’s up with Apple? How does one person like myself communicate to this corporation that they just cut me off at the knees? Maybe they’ve been studying the market research too carefully and decided that video editors who use laptops don’t constitute enough of a user base to justify the expense of the added hardware. “Let em’ buy a Mac Pro if they want to edit video”. Apple can make and maybe sell the laptop cheaper to compete with other companies.


However, here’s a thought that occurred to me and it points to one more nail in the tape based acquisition coffin. Is this a sign that compact flash card technology and the like (sony s x s) is where the Apple product line is heading? Probably so. You don’t need more than one firewire port on a laptop if your shooting to cards.


Apple led the way when they dropped the floppy disc drive and introduced USB to their systems. Let’s see what they do with the next generation of laptops. They dropped the firewire 800 port for one series of laptops only to re-introduce it on the next. For us tape based editors, I certainly hope to see at least an additional FW port in the lineup.

Larry replies: Thanks, David, for sending this in.


In my September newsletter, I took Apple to task for removing both eSATA and FireWire 400 ports on their latest MacBook Pro laptops.

Jim Reilly, from Scotland, however, sent me a differing opinion:

Going against the grain slightly regarding your latest Apple peeve. I think Apple have looked at their laptop range and decided if you are going to edit video on one of our laptops, why would you do it on anything else other than a MacBook Pro? (And on its biggest and best screen).


Let’s face it if you found yourself out in the field without an external video monitor and you wanted a fighting chance of getting a piece finished and looking half way decent they would be absolutely right.


But Apple isn’t off the hook just quite yet because this brings me onto my Apple peeve. Why, when they brought out their new LED 24″ Cinema Display did Apple make no effort whatsoever to produce a reasonably priced DVI to Mini Display Port adaptor? In one fell swoop thousands of customers who purchased a 17″ MacBook Pro as late as December 2008 or a Mac Pro as late as Feb 2009 were excluded from acquiring this new display device!


Even the new MacBook with it’s inadequate choice of Ports has a Mini Display Port which makes the situation even more nuts.


What an own goal, a decision that’s a major revenue killer. Alternatives? Well one third party has produced an adaptor but it costs nearly $200! and believe it or not there are other display devices out there that are not only better but cost about the same, so, as we say over here in Scotland “Hell mend them!”

Larry adds: Yup. The lack of an adaptor on two of my G-5 towers prevented me from buying more of these monitors. The monitor looks great, but its quite limited in terms of the computers it can connect to.

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