Apple's peripheral merry-go-round: FireWire is back, ExpressCard is wack
By Tim Hanlon
June 11, 2009
As someone who had a lot to say about the missing FireWire 400 ports from the last generation of MacBooks, I'm glad to see the return of the FireWire port to the new 13" MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, it seems like a case of one step forward, one step back for the MacBook Pro range, with only the 17" model being equipped with the ExpressCard/34 slot that many users have come to rely on.
To put this in perspective, my ancient 15" PowerBook G4 managed to make room for a FireWire 400 port, a FireWire 800 port, and a CardBus slot, which is bigger than the ExpressCard/34 slot. Years later (while I type this article on a 10" netbook with an ExpressCard/34 slot), the latest and greatest 15" MacBook Pro is down to a single FireWire 800 port.
And what was the ExpressCard/34 slot replaced with? An SD card slot, which can be added to any machine with a USB port, with a card reader that costs less than USD$10.
Todd Benjamin, director of portables at Apple, recently told PCMag that the company dropped the ExpressCard slot because of the success of USB, claiming that "most if not all" devices that "used" ExpressCard now use USB. How wrong he is. While I can see that 3G modems are available in ExpressCard and USB flavors, there are several "pro" applications I know of for ExpressCard.
The first is the range of adapters that add USB 2.0, eSATA or FireWire 400/800 ports to a machine - which is important enough for many users, even before you consider that the ExpressCard runs on a seperate bus, allowing a finicky, bandwidth-hogging FireWire device to do its thing on the dedicated FireWire 800 port without interruption from additional peripherals.
There's professional audio equipment like Apogee's Symphony Mobile and Universal Audio's UAD-Xpander, both of which require bandwidth and latency that just isn't available from another peripheral bus.
Then there's the ExpressCard-based SxS cards for Sony's XDCAM EX professional video cameras. And you can bet there's likely to be other professional applications in the same boat, too.
The up-shot is that all of the professionals who have come to rely on these pro applications are now required to bite the bullet and buy "the big one" – Apple's top-end 17" laptop – during a time when ultraportables are the new black - and let's not forget that global financial crisis keeping a tight rein on purse strings.
What do you think?
Is the lack of ExpressCard a deal-breaker for you? Do you still miss that second FireWire port? Are you concerned that the Macintosh is becoming a platform that can be relied on for as long as your current machine lasts?
Or perhaps I'm overreacting? Is this just a representation of how fast the industry is moving? Should I just buy the big one and get over it?
Let us know what you think in the comments section.