Considering MBA: Have question about options since there's no Firewire

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Miss Terri, Jan 28, 2011.

  1. macrumors 6502

    Nov 11, 2010
    US East Coast
    I have been thinking about getting a 13" MBA. Years ago I had a Duo, and it has always been my favrorite Mac :cool: I've gone on to an iBook, Macbook, and now Macbook Pro, but..... I still miss that Duo :D Now the Air is reminding me of the ol' Duo (minus the trackball ;) )

    So.... the main reason I went MBP this time around was because Apple had removed Firewire from the latest plastic MB. I don't really need the fast transfer speed since I really only use it for backups (could use USB), and I understand that you can now boot from a USB backup as well (haven't done that though, yet, as I have Firewire drives).

    But that still leaves Target Disc Mode. I just love knowing that I have that if I need it -- say if my Mac goes haywire or something. Now I've been reading where people say "Well, just pop the hard drive out of the ailing computer, put it in an external drive case, and away you go. Okay, I think that could work.

    But okay, back to the Air. I know there is no Firewire, so no Target Disc Mode. But.... can you "pop out" the hard drive and put it in an external case like you can with a regular hard drive?

    I guess what this question boils down to is: If I get an MBA, and something goes terribly wrong, what are my options? Would I be really sorry I no longer had Firewire/Target Disc Mode? Or is there some new way and I'm worrying needlessly and should just buy the Air already? ;) (Like, for example, somehow until recently I had missed that you could have a "bootable" USB drive... I guess because I didn't need to know.)

    Thank you!

    Miss Terri
  2. macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    Nothing beats having a good backup plan. Time machine is a good place to start if you haven't already. You can also use Carbon Copy Cloner (free) or SuperDuper! (free & paid) to create a "bootable clone" of your internal memory. With SuperDuper!, you can even keep Time Machine and the bootable clone side by side on the same drive. In my mind, both of these together obviate the need for Target Disk Mode.

    No, you still won't be able to pop the drive out and read it in another machine, but Apple/AppleCare will take care of the hardware, and your backup scheme will take care of your data.

    Stop over thinking and get the Air. :)
  3. macrumors 68000

    Dec 17, 2009
    Folsom, CA
    The MBA's do not use a hard disk, their storage is flash storage so you can't "pop it out" easily. I use SuperDuper on an external USB drive to create a bootable clone, it boots fine. The boot is slower than the flash storage but after that seems to perform pretty well. I also have it connected to a second external HD that I use for Time Machine. My preference is using redundant backups.

    I sold a late 2009 MBP to get the MBA, one of the reasons I got the MBP initially was for the FW800 port however I have say I'm not missing that port.
  4. macrumors 601

    Anonymous Freak

    Dec 12, 2002
    Correct, there is no way (short of dismantling your Air and putting its SSD into ANOTHER Air,) to get data off a dead Air.

    No Target Disk Mode (I wish they'd enable this over USB,) no common form-factor hard drive. The SSD is technically SATA, but over a new connector that is *FAR* from standard. There is one company that released a line of replacement SSDs for the Air that included a 256 GB model that would fit in the 11" Air (Apple's 256 GB model is physically too big for the 11" model,) and also came with a USB case to put your old SSD in; but Apple had them stop shipping it. I don't see that the USB adapter is available separately anywhere.
  5. macrumors 68000


    Jun 18, 2009
    FEMA Region VIII
    I've been using a combination of Time Machine and Carbonite on my iMac and am planning on doing the same thing on my new MBA.

    I'm a big fan of FW800, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the USB on my new MBA performed when I was installing software last night. Of course that's the first time I've ever connected my LaCie FW800 drive via USB instead of Firewire, so maybe it is more the drive than the USB port on the MBA.
  6. thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 11, 2010
    US East Coast
    Okay, so it sounds like you really *can* make a bootable USB backup. I had read this but have never tried it, since I have Firewire.

    Thanks for the info on the SSD, regarding removing (doesn't sound practical at the moment).

    So, it sounds like the best/only way to go is to keep very current with Time Machine and SD (or CCC) bootable backups. I already do both of those backups, but since it's a laptop I don't keep the TM hooked up and backing up constantly. Now I back up every couple of weeks or anytime I've done something really important (downloaded a new batch of vacation photos or what have you). I guess I would want to step that up with the MBA.

    So let's say I have my bootable SD backup on an external USB drive and my machine goes kaput. And let's say I can't get a new/repaired one from Apple for a week, so I borrow a computer and decide to run off of my bootable USB drive. Will this be workable? I mean for the basics of e-mail, web use, maybe limited iPhoto use (other things could wait a week).

    Oh, and if --- because the Air's hard drive is smaller -- I kept my music or some photos on an external USB hard drive (probably traditional not SSD), could I work from those without it being to crazy/slow? Again presuming "consumer" use?

    If that would work, I guess I don't see any reason I couldn't go with the Air, although I just hate to give up Firewire in principle, darnit! Still, I might choose to give it up once I'm sure I understand my options.

    Oh, and just for my edification, what IS Firewire indispensible for (besides what we're talking about). When you need to work off a fast external drive all the time? Maybe for pro photographers or video editors? Or..??

    Thanks a bunch :)
    Miss Terri
  7. macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    Yep. Even better, if it's only the SSD that's bad and you still have the machine, you can boot the air from your external backup and keep on rockin. You should backup regardless of what computer you're using. If you have some extra funds, look into an online backup service too. I use Carbonite and it's around $55/year. Other services are similar.

    Sure. If the SD/CCC backup is one one drive and your media is on another, you could hook one up to each usb port. File access wouldn't be much slower than on a computer with a traditional hard drive. Boot times and program launch times will be slower because you're reading and writing from an external drive, which is slower than the built-in SSD, but it will work just fine.

    Audio/Video/Photography will better use a firewire port. Over large data transfers, FW would be much faster than USB because of latency issues.

    You're welcome a bunch.
  8. thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 11, 2010
    US East Coast
    Okay, this is great info!

    One last question, which I worded confusingly in my last post.

    Let's say I have the Air, and everything is running fine, but simply because the hard drive is smaller (than my MBP), I choose to keep my music on an external USB regular type spinning hard drive. If I were running the Air and using that drive to access/work with my music, would it be painfully slow? Slow at all? I've always been able to just keep a much larger hard drive than I need, so I have never worked off of an external drive (and if I had it would have been Firewire).

    [Edited to add: I don't really do much with my music. I keep it all on my computer hard drive in iTunes, but usually listen to it from my Nano. Occasionally I will listen to music from the computer. Oh, what about if I make an iPhoto slide show with some of my music from iTunes... would that mess it up if my music were on an external drive and I wanted to play that slide show? Or does it "save" in iPhoto somehow? What about the same for iMovie?]

    How about the same situation but with some older photos; say I move part of my iPhoto library to an external USB drive? Workable?

    Right now I have about 115gigs of space used on my 250g hard drive. But I've never even tried to "clean it up" or use an external drive (other than for backups) becaues it's always been easier/cheaper to put in a larger hard drive, and/or it was time for a new computer anyway. So that's why I have these probably silly sounding questions :)

    I don't absolutely NEED the portability of the Air. The MBP 13" is still reasonably portable (I do need the 12volt/poratability of at least a laptop of some kind). But I like the lightness, and I really like the less sharp front edge. I would miss my newly acquired backlit keyboard, but since I've never had it before the MBP, I could probably live with that.

    I occasionally use Ethernet, but again something I could probably live without.

    An external optical drive could accompany the external speakers I always hook up for watching movies anyway, which is not that often.

    I have a feeling the lightness of the Air would grow on me :D

    Miss Terri

    Currently: MBP 13" 2.4ghz, plus old G3 iBook for a spare.
  9. macrumors regular


    May 9, 2010
    Los Angeles
    I ran a similar set up with my music on a portable USB with the original MBP. The only thing that is slow is when the drive has had a chance to spin down and is in rest mode. Then it takes about 5 seconds of beachball from the time you push play to actually hearing music, if you are actively working with the drive, then small files like music and pictures load up pretty instantly. Get the air, I'm jealous.
  10. macrumors 6502a

    Dec 7, 2007
    Los Angeles / Boston
    USB is very far from "painfully slow."

    in fact, it is pretty damn fast. I managed to edit for a 48 hour film fest with 720p ProRes LT footage(converted on my Mac Pro) stored on a USB external on my 11".

    Firewire is really great for video work and heavy stuff, but USB is not as slow as people make it out to be. Especially for music and stuff, you won't notice the slowdown except maybe when transferring huge amounts of data back and forth.
  11. thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 11, 2010
    US East Coast
    This is really useful information. I'm by NO means a power user, but since I've always had the power (within reason, MacBook, MacBook Pro), I wasn't sure what I might be missing with the Air. Like I say when I'm used car shopping: I don't mind problems, but I hate surprises :) Especially if the problems don't apply to my needs or have a workaround.

    ShiftClick: Don't be too jealous - I just bought a Macbook Pro, so I would probably be taking a $$ hit in reselling it. But... I'm thinking about it since it is still brand new. And here I *finally* had my backlit keyboard I have wanted for years ;)

    Still not sure if I will change, as the MBP is pretty awesome. But now I have a better idea of how I could handle certain things.

    Miss Terri
  12. macrumors 6502a


    Nov 17, 2009
    Don't buy it.
    Buy a used Mac with FireWire.
  13. macrumors member

    Nov 3, 2010
  14. macrumors 6502a

    Aug 11, 2009
    I love FireWire, too, but I can live without it on my MacBook Air.
  15. macrumors 65816


    Mar 6, 2007
    If you are used to Firewire, USB will be painful to use.
  16. macrumors 68000


    Jan 21, 2008
    Melbourne, FL
    I use both and can't really tell any difference--guess I'm not much of a power user. :(
  17. macrumors 6502

    Nov 25, 2007
    Bellevue, WA
    Target Disk Mode is cute but it's unnecessary if you have a bootable backup. Firewire has a modest benefit in real-world speed, but my testing of FW400 vs. USB2.0 shows it's in the 10% range. Besides which, most inexpensive disks don't have transfer rates that will saturate USB or Firewire.

    I think the real issue here is whether you'll have enough disk space for your needs. The MBA is a great machine, but its disk space is much smaller than any other Mac. If you've got a lot of multimedia files and you plan to get a MBA, you'll have to work with them on external drives, which adds a significant nuisance factor.

    In my case, I have both a Mac Pro and an MBA. The MBA doesn't need to store all my files because I've got them on my Mac Pro. But if the MBA is going to be your only computer, you need to figure out whether you want to go through the hassles of swapping files. Some will be willing to do this, others will find it not worth the hassle. Only you can decide whether it works for you.
  18. macrumors regular

    Dec 2, 2010
    Chicago, Illinois
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPod; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8C148 Safari/6533.18.5)

    I don't think backups are as important in Airs because SSD has no moving parts compared to HDD, so your data is much less likely to disappear. But backups are also a good habit, nonetheless.
  19. macrumors 6502

    Nov 25, 2007
    Bellevue, WA
    This is conventional wisdom, but I've also read that the failure rate for SSDs is much higher than originally forecast. Plus, a computer that travels with you is more likely to get broken, lost or stolen. Better to be safe and make a habit of regular backups.

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