FireWire *and* USB 3.0 in new Mac Pro -- is it possible?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by MaskAndWig, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. MaskAndWig macrumors member

    Mar 11, 2009
    Short question: What are the chances a new Mac Pro would have FireWire, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt? I don't know enough about the chip requirements of these three ports to know how well they might coexist in the same machine.

    Long explanation: I'm in the market for a new Mac Pro (it will be my first). I've been with Apple since the late 1980s. I currently have an iMac that has served me well, but it's time to upgrade, and the new iMac is not an option. The lack of native FireWire ports kills it for me. I do professional audio work, and I have a lot of high-quality, expensive peripherals that run exclusively on bus-powered FireWire. Existing Thunderbolt/Firewire adapters are not suitable. I have a limited budget, and I don't like the idea of having to replace all my peripherals (costing more than the computer itself) just because Apple decides to yank FW from its iMac. What are the chances Apple will recognize that its pro and "prosumer" customers still have a very real need for FW? (I know, I know: since when did Apple give a d@mn about what its customers need?) Furthermore, from a technical point of view, how likely is it that the same machine could support FW, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt?

    Honestly, I don't care one way or the other about TB. USB 3.0 would be very nice to have, but FW for me is a must. I realize I could go buy a Mac Pro now and be guaranteed at least FW, but I don't relish the thought of paying a premium price for a 3-year-old computer with a refresh potentially just around the corner -- especially if that refresh comes with USB 3.0.

    On another note, I'm hoping Apple won't kill off the optical drive in the MacPro. As an audio guy, I have many, many occasions to use the CD/DVD drive. Mine still gets a daily workout reading and burning discs. I don't want the clutter of an external drive, and in my experience, external USB or FW drives don't seem to be as reliable as internals. (I've had more disc read and burn errors with externals.)

    Had Apple kept FW and an optical drive in the iMac, I would have perfectly happy going that route. I'm just hoping they won't render the next MacPro similarly useless for my purposes.

    Thanks for your thoughts.
  2. K6-III macrumors newbie

    Dec 11, 2010
    Toronto, Canada
    Even if the next MacPro lacks firewire, it shouldn't be a problem to add a PCI-E firewire card that will work as well as native.
  3. deconstruct60, Apr 1, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013

    deconstruct60 macrumors 604

    Mar 10, 2009

    It is quite doable. There are some possible bottlenecks but one straightforward way of doing it is just attaching to the eight PCI-e v2.0 lanes of a C602 I/O Hub chip for the current Xeon E5 class CPU packages:

    TB controller x4
    Ethernet (1 port) x1
    FireWire controller x1
    USB 3.0 controller x1
    PCI-e 4 way switch x1

    the 4 way switch is hooked up the following way

    input from hub x1
    2nd Ethernet x1
    Wifi/bluetooth x1
    (audio ? or SMC? ) x1

    It would kind of suck if tasked as being a router, but at $2500 I doubt there are many sane folks who want to use it as a high speed router. As long as only using either 2nd Ethernet , Wifi, or alternative there is no blockage.

    This is all pretty much a reference set up. Here is an Intel board for desktop processor.


    Throwing in PCI-e switches is pretty much par for the course in mainstream motherboard designs these days. The only significant difference is that the TB controller would need to hook to an embedded GPU for the Display Port input streams. The other one is that would need a discrete USB 3.0 controller since C602 doesn't have one so it soaks up a x1 lane.

    Dropping/Moving the TB controller just means dropping the switch. There are some minor power distribution issues ( USB 3.0 , Firewire, and TB are all power distributors so need to route all of that. )

    Alternatively, there they could throttle one of the x4 slots back to v2.0 and have it share bandwidth with TB controller. [ The current Mac Pro shares x4 bandwidth across both x4 slots so that too isn't really a 'new' tradeoff. ]

    Even if Apple doesn't drop FW completely you probably won't be happy. If FW remains there will probably only be just two ports left ( I suspect on the front. but not on front and back. )

    Something like

    2 USB 2.0 ( maybe 3 to match number of back from chipset's USB 2.0 controller.)
    2 FW
    1 analog audio in/out (like other Macs )

    3 USB 3.0 (maybe 4 . from discrete USB 3.0 controller )
    Digital input + Digital output
    2 Thunderbolt
    2 Ethernet

    Probably drop both FW and analog audio from the back ( essentially redundant). If you are looking for the Mac Pro to be some kind of large power distribution hub for high number of concurrent FW devices it probably won't fly. Given FW and analog audio are being dropped from other Macs it isn't likely that they will keep two sets on a Mac Pro.

    ( or vice versa on back/front for 3.0/2.0 ports. Placement away from the bluetooth antenna and the other RF coming off the adjacent ports might flip that. I suspect bluetooth will go out of the left side panel through the logo though to distance from both front and back. )

    That actually isn't necessary. If need a power hub, then buy one. In Mac Pro context, if not using very many PCI-e cards you can essentially buy one in card form.

    The core "problem" is FW power hub since have stripped power supplies out of the FW devices. Buying one will solve the root cause issue.

    If don't want to do higher end 3D the embedded GPU that TB is likely going to push into a new Mac Pro could up lowering costs if there is a BTO configuration offered where just use that GPU and leave all 4 slots empty.

    Again, redundant OODs, are very unlikely. At least one is probably gone.

    What is funny about all the is talk is that if an CD/DVD drive is so extremely valuable what is wrong with buying it? There is nothing about a Mac Pro that stops the use of a CD/DVD drive.

    It is far more the case of whether want to make everyone, who needs it or not, pay for it. That really doesn't have much motivation.

  4. MaskAndWig thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 11, 2009
    Thanks, deconstruct60, for the very thoughtful and informative reply. I'll admit some of it went over my head, but some of what you said makes a lot of sense. Fortunately, I don't need to use a lot of FW peripherals at once -- I get by with an iMac now. I wouldn't need to use more than one or two power-hungry FW devices at a time. Since some of these devices deliver phantom power to studio microphones, and currently, they use FireWire bus power to do it. None of the adapters I'm familiar with would be suitable, but perhaps there are new ones on the market (or will be) that would fix the problem? Still, I'm wary of putting an adapter in the path.

    Thank you again for taking the time to write such a detailed response.
  5. chrfr macrumors 604

    Jul 11, 2009
    The existing non-retina Macbook Pros and Minis already have all 3. There's no issue with combining them in one machine.
  6. deconstruct60 macrumors 604

    Mar 10, 2009
    That's why it wouldn't make alot so sense to drop all four connectors. Two is likely going to cover the usage pattern for more than a few users.

    If roughly the same size space, isn't a huge issue so why not? Especially, if they are throwing built-in analog audio overboard. Folks are likely using external audio input and/or output devices so Firewire makes sense to leave behind as there is a very broad collection of legacy ones around and still in use.

    Thunderbolt adapters aren't going to work because Thunderbolt itself and the Firewire controller suck down power. Inside the adapter below in brackets

    ----------- [ signal transceiver --> TB controller --> FW controller ]

    There are three significant chips to power and some secondary ones (the other end of the adapter has another signal transceiver . All of those soak up some power. By the time they are through there is not as much to pump out through the FW connector.

    You'd want a hub similar to those in the following discussions.

    If look for "firewire hub repeater" then typically find stuff that handles delivering power downstream better than any "unpowered" or FW400 short hop hubs.

    That said there are some FW devices that are just power hogs. I think some folks stretched the boundaries of unpowered FW devices a big far (like soak of 75+% of possible power). That is one reason Apple might want to dump FW completely because those devices tend to blow out ports which just means more drama.

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