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  1. #1
    MacHeadCase
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    FireWire 400 vs. FireWire 800
    Ok as some of you might know this already, a friend of mine is making the switch from Windoze to Mac. She is mostly likely going to pick up a 17" iMac with SuperDrive this coming weekend. (This household is jumpin' for joy! Whooh!)

    She wanted to know if she could upgrade her FW400 port to FW800 later on and I told her that no, iMacs are all-in-one and that, apart from the RAM and maybe, if you're fearless, the hard drive, there isn't much you can upgrade in it.

    We started talking about why FW800 would be important and, me thinks that, other than professionals doing plenty of video editing, the FW800's higher bandwidth isn't required for what she wants to do: she's a part-time musician and wants to use her iMac for putting together music, she also wants to use her iMac for streaming music via AirPort. I told her it would be best for her to get a 500GB external hard drive to store backups and all her music on it, instead of getting a big internal BTO 500GB in the iMac. To me, it looks safer to rely on two HDs instead of only one that holds all her stuff. If ever her HD fails, all her stuff is gone.

    So I just wanted to bounce this off of you knowledgeable folks. Am I wrong about this? Is FW800 better for her external HD than FW400? Or will FW400 stream the audio just fine? What are the practical uses for FW800 apart from professionals in the video business?

    Thanks for your input!

  2. #2


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    Firewire 800 transfers at 100 megabytes/second. Unless your friend is encoding her audio at 100000 kbps she will see no benefit from FW800 for what she is doing. Even FW400 at 50 megabytes/second is overkill for basic audio.

    FireWire 800 is great if you have to transfer huge files, video and the like but for the most part general consumers don't do anything that really would benefit from FW800.

    I will be getting a FW800 card reader from Lexar when it comes out because transferring 8gb worth of photos can be time consuming, but other than that I would have no use
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  3. #3
    MacHeadCase
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    Thanks for the reply, trpnmonkey41! I am trying to check all the options so this can be a happy experience for her. As long as she only has a new OS to learn and everything else runs smooth, that'll be extra cool.

    Transferring 8gb worth of photos? Egads! That's a lot of photos!

  4. #4

    dtravis7's Avatar
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    trpnmonkey41 is very correct. FW400 will be just fine for what your friend wants to do. 800 is better if you are constantly transferring really large files back and forth, but 400 is fine for everything else. Now if you were asking USB 2.0, I would cringe a bit as on paper it looks fast, but try a sustained file transfer and it falls on it's face. FW400 is just fine.

    Have a close friend who at the time had a Dual 2.0Ghz G5 tower with LaCie Triple interface external. He zipped up his entire music collection. The Zip was a few gigs. We did a file transfer from the Internal SATA to the External. With USB 2.0 it took 10 Minutes Plus, with FW400 is was 5 minutes and with FW800 it was around 3 minutes. I think with the FW800 we were also running into the speed (RPM) of the Hard Drive getting in the way.

    I also came home and repeated the test with at the time my Mac Mini G4. No FW800 of course but I got the same times as I did at my friends place.

  5. #5
    MacHeadCase
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    Wow! That's amazing! The speed diff is huge. I know I sent her last night some benchmark links to articles from Bare Feats testing HD read/write speeds, FW800 vs. FW400 vs. USB 2.0.

    Theoretically USB 2.0 is supposed to be a little bit faster than FW400 (when I saw that, I was a bit worried I hadn't given her the right info!) but the tests proved wrong.

    [Off Topic]
    I might post in another thread about making an external HD the source for her iTunes music, how to do it, etc. I know that iTunes first looks in your user's Music folder for the music but she'll want to store them on an external, that I know. I might suggest she partitions her external (if she gets one like mine, a 500GB) in two partitions, one that would hold her music, one for her backups. But this is off topic for now and will keep these questions for another thread. [/Off Topic]

    I will give her the link to this thread (and the one I will post later on) so she can have a look. Thanks all!

  6. #6

    andrebnu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacHeadCase View Post
    Wow! That's amazing! The speed diff is huge. I know I sent her last night some benchmark links to articles from Bare Feats testing HD read/write speeds, FW800 vs. FW400 vs. USB 2.0.
    MHC, could you please PM me with this link??

    Thanks!!

  7. #7

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    Right now all my knowledge related to external drives comes from spending about 100 hours reading everything I could find over the past couple of months. But from what I have learned, think they are both correct in that FW400 will be just fine for streaming music. Pretty much all the good reviewers recommend FW800 if you intend to stream video (especialy HD) or you're transferring a lot of large files.

    If you check OWC - Firewire externals -they have some tables showing transfer speeds on a few of them (have to hunt around a little, didn't have time before work) - they are typical of all the ones I found.
    Probably won't have it up by this weekend, but have one of the OWC quad inteface cases and a WD, 3 platter, 500GB drive hopefully arriving today. Am planning on doing some testing across USB, FW400/800 and posting the results.

    On the iMac - you would not be able to upgrade to FW800. This is something that is hardwired into the board and they have no expresscard slot (that would be nice for Apple to add to the iMac's). She would have to go all the way up to the 24" to get FW800 built in. However, if you look at the Windows PC manufacturers, you will have a hard time finding anything under $3k that has FW800. So this is a common dilemma, not just Apple.

    Check with baggss, he does all the video stuff and has a lot of external space set up already. From the prices he mentioned, think he must be using USB or FW400.
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  8. #8

    bobtomay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacHeadCase View Post
    Wow! That's amazing! The speed diff is huge. I know I sent her last night some benchmark links to articles from Bare Feats testing HD read/write speeds, FW800 vs. FW400 vs. USB 2.0.

    Theoretically USB 2.0 is supposed to be a little bit faster than FW400 (when I saw that, I was a bit worried I hadn't given her the right info!) but the tests proved wrong.

    [Off Topic]
    I might post in another thread about making an external HD the source for her iTunes music, how to do it, etc. I know that iTunes first looks in your user's Music folder for the music but she'll want to store them on an external, that I know. I might suggest she partitions her external (if she gets one like mine, a 500GB) in two partitions, one that would hold her music, one for her backups. But this is off topic for now and will keep these questions for another thread. [/Off Topic]

    I will give her the link to this thread (and the one I will post later on) so she can have a look. Thanks all!
    Actual usage tests I have seen, time and again show the throughput of FW400 to be superior to USB, though not by much.

    2 parititions is what I plan for mine, 1 for backup and 1 for video.
    I cannot be held responsible for the things that come out of my mouth.
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  9. #9
    MacHeadCase
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    Quote Originally Posted by andrebnu View Post
    MHC, could you please PM me with this link??

    Thanks!!
    Thought everyone might like seeing the article so posting it here if it's ok.

    Here ya go: USB 2.0 versus FireWire.

    And thanks Bob for the info!

  10. #10

    Zoolook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by trpnmonkey41 View Post
    Firewire 800 transfers at 100 megabytes/second. Unless your friend is encoding her audio at 100000 kbps she will see no benefit from FW800 for what she is doing. Even FW400 at 50 megabytes/second is overkill for basic audio.
    I agree with that, more or less, give or take. Firewire 400 can transfer about 40-45MB a second realistically which is about 4 minutes worth of uncompressed stereo 16-bit CD quality audio per second.

    However... most musicians nowadays, even bedroom musos like me, end up using far more bandwidth than that. Even Logic Express (the baby version of Logic) allows 8 track, 24-bit mastering at 96khz. Cubase and Logic Pro, this extends to 64-channels, 24-bit at 192khz, which if you actually ever used, would be far more than a firewire 400 port could handle.

    Having said that, I have many multi-track recordings using 24-bit resolution and my MacBook has never missed a beat, I use an external 7200rpm Firewire 400 drive - the trick is having plenty of RAM and being sensible about mix-downs. The real bandwidth issues start happening when your samples are multi-track audio and is being streamed, whilst you're recording a mix-down or new track or multiple tracks.

    Now 90MB/Sec or so for Firewire 800 would be pretty hard to use up...
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  11. #11

    andrebnu's Avatar
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    I must say I'm a little frustrated with my external FW 800 HDD.

    I've never experienced transfer rates faster than 35 MB/sec.

    It's looking much more a FW400 transfer speed, than FW800.

    I always test the speed with Mbbench. But I'm not sure what should I expect....this is the first FW device I have, so I have nothing to compare.

  12. #12

    dtravis7's Avatar
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    I stream 1080p HD from my FW400 External over my Gig-E network and never a dropped frame.

  13. #13

    Zoolook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dtravis7 View Post
    I stream 1080p HD from my FW400 External over my Gig-E network and never a dropped frame.
    What codec were you using? 1080p needs about 2100Mbps, uncompressed, 8-bit broadcast colour. Obviously if this is compressed, this can be significantly reduced.
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  14. #14

    dtravis7's Avatar
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    The videos are from Apple. iMac G5's will not even play those videos without dropping frame after frame and complete loss of video. The only system here that plays them is the Intel Mac Mini.

    The timing tests comparing USB 2.0 Vs Firewire I posted above are dead on unless a Stopwatch is wrong. I have done the same tests over and over and the results are always the same.

  15. #15

    andrebnu's Avatar
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    hey man, how do you download 1080p videos from apple trailers?

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