This week I bought the Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter from the Apple Store to add an extra Firewire 800 port to my iMac. I had been planning on getting one since they were announced along with the Retina Macbooks in the summer. At $29, is it just another overpriced white plastic Apple accessory?
I wouldn’t say it’s overpriced. At this time it’s the cheapest thunderbolt accessory and the only way to add additional firewire ports to an iMac or MacBook Pro.
In case you’re not familiar with the port options on the current iMacs, there are 4 x USB2 ports, 1 x firewire 800, and 2 x thunderbolt ports. I ran out of USB ports a long time ago. The firewire peripherals I use daily are a LaCie D2 Quadra hard drive (Firewire 400 or 800) and an M-Audio Profire 2626 recording interface. The configuration only works one way. Firewire 800 to 400 cable to Profire, firewire 400 cable to LaCie hard drive. Both devices run at firewire 400 speed. It’s very stable this way. You can’t have one running at 800 and another at 400, that just doesn’t work. Until now.
This adapter is not just another firewire jack. It’s actually a connection to a separate bus on the motherboard. Adding the Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter I’m finally able to run my hard drive at full Firewire 800 speed. Also, my drive is now safer. A wild toddler pushing buttons on my interface won’t kill the firewire connection anymore which has happened several times this year!
Keep in mind, this adapter doesn’t automatically make your devices faster, you probably won’t get lower latency or anything like that. Unless you’ve got a bunch of devices that are struggling to stay connected, in that case it will help for sure. Another thing, it only works in one direction, so don’t expect a thunderbolt device to work on a Firewire 800 connection to the computer.
Edit 10/12/12 – I didn’t notice it at first but since moving the external drive to the thunderbolt adapter Finder is much more responsive. There is less delay opening folders or searching. That difference between FW400 and FW800 is evident even there.
Do I recommend it? Yeah I do. I think a lot of home studio guys are in a similar situation to me, they have an audio interface and one or more hard drives to connect. We all want the best performance from our gear. I think $29 is the perfect price for this. For the guys with the new Retina MacBooks, it’s a no-brainer and the ONLY way to get FireWire devices working.