No FireWire on the MacBook Air unfortunately means no Target Disc mode - Macenstein

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 – 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 – 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.

4 Responses to “No FireWire on the MacBook Air unfortunately means no Target Disc mode”
  1. Warbrain says:

    It’s important to note that the iPod and the iPhone are FireWire-less for a reason: size. The controller is large when compared to that of USB which is most likely the reason why they didn’t put it in the Air. Was it a bad oversight? Most likely. Target Disk Mode is the best thing to ever happen for a Mac. I have saved my own iBook, repartitioned the HDD without losing data, and saved a friend’s girlfriend’s MacBook by using it much like you said you used it on every Mac you owned.

    If the HDD was much more accessible on the Air it might not be a problem but it’s not. There needs to be a way to get to the data without booting up the computer and the Air doesn’t appear to have such a way. I know I won’t be buying one.

    And don’t worry about them dropping FireWire off the other Macs – it’s too valuable to most people still. Almost all camcorders use FireWire to connect and will continue to for a while because USB cannot handle the strain. FireWire isn’t dead, Apple just knows that it’s definitely taken a backseat to USB.

  2. Gerald says:

    The Air is the perfect “second machine”. Perfect for what I do on-the-go (or on-the-sofa) 98% of the time. For the other 1%, $150 in work-arounds are available – but I’d probably just use my “main machine” for those times. Life is full of compromises. Losing 1% productivity is worth it to slim it down to 3lbs and still have a full-sized backlit keyboard and 13.3″ screen.

    Not everyone only owns ONE computer. For those who can afford it, the Air (like every other new Apple product) is just far away from perfect for people to complain… and that’s close enough for me.

  3. brad says:

    OK – research is over – we’ll give it a go.

    The one rule however, is taking Apple at it’s word. If the Air is a response to Steve’s hatred of cables, then there will be no cables. And no external drives. We’ll see if the Air actually works or not. If we *have* to buy any cables, it’s a failure.

    Having said that, the lack of Target Disk Mode makes me nervous and I’m going to get the USB > Ethernet adaptor for the IT person. It’s only for IT and it’s only for emergencies.

  4. Rex says:

    The display on my iMac G4 (flat screen) suddenly died today. Kind of like a faithful dog, passing away…. I’m sad.

    Yet I’m also screwed; I have no backup of the files on the disk (which sounds like it is still running). I know, I know… stupid! Yet there is nothing CRUCIAL, but nonetheless important; lots of photos, music and assorted documents.

    So here I am considering how to run Migration Assistant on my Macbook Air, and transfer files from the disk in the G4. As this post points out, NO fire wire port. WTF?!

    This post does mention however, that one can hard wire it via an optional ethernet cable adapter, which I did purchase. I have the cable connected between both computers, but when initializing Migration Assistant, the Air just keeps looking and looking for another computer. I did not have the G4 set up for wireless; it’s always been plugged in to an ethernet cable. Not sure now what to do….

    Any suggestions (other than religiously backing up files)???



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