A Partial Cure for the No-MacBook-FireWire Blues

By  |  Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:24 am

I’m thinking this is my final post on the lack of FireWire on Apple’s new MacBook, but it might help some of the folks who are in mourning. If what you’re sad about losing is Apple’s FireWire Target Disk Mode–which lets you copy files back and forth between two Macs via a FireWire cable–you can get a rough USB approximation in Targus’s Targus for Mac File Transfer Cable.

It’s a $50 cable that lets you connect two Macs–or a Mac and a Windows PC, or two Windows PCs–and shuttle files between them. One end of the cable has a lump (see above), and the lump contains Mac and Windows software that shows the folders on both computers and allows you to drag and drop folders and files:

Since the software’s in the cable, there’s no need to install anything (you just launch it directly from the cable). And unlike Target Disk Mode, you don’t need to reboot one computer and put it in a mode that doesn’t let you do anything else. If you’ve been using computers as long as I have, the whole experience will remind you of using Laplink.

I haven’t done any speed comparisons between this cable and Target Disk Mode–lemme know if you’re curious, and if there’s enough demand, I’ll try to do some.

Not everybody needs this cable–if your computers are both on a network, you can move files between them without any additional cost–but it does what it does nicely, and might be worth the investment–especially if you’ve got multiple Macs and Windows PCs.

I do think that Apple will eventually make Target Disk Mode work with USB connections; I make no predictions about when that may happen, though…


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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Mark Says:

    From what you post, this is no solution to the loss of target disk mode. In addition, you can shuttle files between two Macs or a Mac and a machine using Windows through Airport. This has been available for at least 5 years and costs nothing!

  2. deister Says:

    The main reason target disk mode was so powerful is that you could use it even if the OS was trashed. If OSX was corrupted in some way you could get the files off without having to crack the case and put the drive in an encolosure.

  3. Tim Robertson Says:

    The two above posters are correct. Target Mode was used to fix a problem on a Mac, not to transfer files. It worked REALLY well with, say, Disk Warrior, or even Disc Utilities to repair a drive. You can’t do that if you boot from the drive you want to repair, and while the DVD that came with the computer is another solution, it is not the best one.

    Taking FW out of the new MacBooks was not smart without giving us the ability to do the same thing via USB 2.0. (Which they could do via a software update, but I am not holding my breath.)

    And a USB to Firewire cable won’t help at all. Can Target Disk via USB. If Apple just released an OS patch to allow USB Target Mode, all would be well.

    Great site, Harry.

  4. Harry McCracken Says:

    Good points, all. For the record, I’ve used Target Disk Mode quite frequently to do simple file transfers; if I owned a new MacBook, I’d find value in the Targus cable as an alternative even though it’s by no means a full substitute.


  5. Brett Says:

    delster wrote:
    “The main reason target disk mode was so powerful is that you could use it even if the OS was trashed. If OSX was corrupted in some way you could get the files off without having to crack the case and put the drive in an encolosure.”

    Yeah , I’ll miss target disk mode. It’s good thing that the new unibody chassis design makes it trivial to pull the hard disk 🙂

  6. NtroP Says:

    The reason USB cannot be used for target disk mode is that target disk mode uses a part of the FireWire spec that is not available in the USB spec. Apple can’t fix this with a software update – there is a hardware component.

  7. Randall Says:

    Still, you can’t use any friggin video cams. I had to go up to the MBP just to keep going with vid projects.

    $400 for firewire. *shudder.*

  8. thehumanyawn Says:


    Who’s to say Apple couldn’t make some changes in the EFI to allow TDM over USB? All they would have to do is write some extra code into it that allows it to become a USB HD.

  9. Lee Collier Says:

    OR we could all ‘factor in’ a 99p/cent ethernet cable and just link them together and turn on file sharing. Macs have auto-sensing ports so no need for a crossover cable.

  10. thehumanyawn Says:

    @Lee Collier

    That’s a good option too, and it’s faster at 125MB/sec vs. FW400’s 50MB/sec.

  11. A Mac Tech Says:

    I am coming at this issue from a different perspective. The loss of FireWire target disk mode is huge for any of us in an enterprise-style organization. We image via FireWire for deployment, backup/recover via FireWire, migrate via FireWire. It has become the standard, cradle to grave.

    USB2 is two to three times slower than FireWire 400, especially when moving chunks of data. Ethernet is fine for some functions, but unless you have spent the money for gigabit infrastructure it’s not a replacement for FireWire. Target disk mode is a great point to point technology that has no equal in the PC world.

    I am sure Apple sees some financial advantage in doing this, that they have some reasons that make sense for them. The problem is that they rarely ask for outside input of any kind and can change thing at the drop of a hat. That makes them an unreliable partner and leads IT to distrust and avoid them. This applies equally to business, K-12 and Higher Ed.

    Apple has removed a key technology that provides a competitive advantage. It has done so with no advance notice and no replacement in terms of consistency or ease of use. Bad move, Apple.

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