No FireWire on the MacBook Air unfortunately means no Target Disc mode
I was reading an interesting post over at Apple Matters detailing Gregory Ng‘s recent trouble diagnosing a hardware issue he was having on his new MacBook Air. The main problems he was having revolved around the Air’s lack of multiple USB ports, and Ng paints a funny picture of his dealings with an Apple support rep.
But Ng’s USB problem got me to thinking of another potential trouble-shooting roadblock that the MacBook Air’s lack of ports might cause â€“ namely a lack of Target Disk Mode. For some reason when the MacBook Air’s “frugal” amount of expansion ports was revealed, I only really thought about the implications for connecting peripherals. However, out of the 7 Macs I have owned since OS X made its debut, I have used the FireWire-based Target Disc Mode to fix/restore/migrate/get files from a damaged system on each and every one of them.
USB does not support Target Disc Mode, and odds are it never will â€“ even the “single high-powered” USB port of the MacBook Air can’t handle it. In theory the MacBook Air can use the Migration Assistant over WiFi, although there have been mixed reports of success. For an extra $29 you can buy a USB-to-ethernet adapter to hard-wire your MBA to another Mac if you are having trouble, but if you have a truly unresponsive Mac, Target Disc mode is often the fastest and most consistently successful way of getting at your files in a hurry. (It’s also one of the easiest ways to steal someone else’s “home” folder, providing one of the bigger security risks to OS X IMHO).
But Target Disc Mode’s legitimate uses are too important to just let it go down without a fight. Just last week I rescued a friend of mine’s iMac using Target Disc Mode. He had selected all the photos in his iPhoto library and was dragging them to a folder on his desktop when he accidentally let go a moment too soon. Suddenly all his photos appeared on his desktop, and their icons began “piling up” on top of his main hard drive icon, and wouldn’t let him click on anything when the system booted. Using Target Disc Mode via FireWire, I was able to boot his system as an external hard drive, navigate to his user folder (no passwords needed, btw) and open his “Desktop” folder. I could then select all the pictures, and drag them to the appropriate folder. A quick reboot of the iMac and he was back in business, all in about 4 minutes. How long would that take to do if he’d been running the the Macbook Air?
Apple may be killing off FireWire in its consumer gear, with the MacBook Air, iPods and the iPhone being USB-only devices, but here’s hoping Apple does the seldom seen “about face” and admits it was wrong in stripping the MBA’s ports so drastically, and adds at least an extra FireWire port on the MacBook Air v2. And here’s extra-double-super-secret hoping Apple doesn’t kill FireWire off on the new MacBooks next week.