Use the ExpressCard slot to add FireWire 800 to Apple’s new MacBook Pro

By SteveJack

Heard the complaints about Apple’s new MacBook Pro’s lack of a FireWire 800 port? Well, such complaints are largely moot.

Apple’s new MacBook Pro features an ExpressCard/34 slot. This slot can be used for hot-pluggable I/O expansion cards that the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) plans as the replacement for CardBus as the preferred solution for personal computers. Uses for that ExpressCar/34 slot can (or will soon) include such solutons as: TV tuners, hot pluggable FireWire 800 adapters, extra FireWire 400 port(s), Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity products, CompactFlash adapters, Flash memory cards, Gigabit Ethernet networking cards, External SATA (eSATA), which claims peak interface speeds up to 3 times faster than FireWire 800, and more.

ExpressCard Bandwidth support:
• USB 2.0: 480 Mb/s
• PCI Express: 2.5Gb/s

There are two sizes of ExpressCards. The smaller one is 34mm wide (ExpressCard/34) and the other is 54mm (ExpressCard/54). Apple new MacBook Pro features an ExpressCard/34 slot. Both modules are 75mm long and 5mm high. Note that the ExpressCard/34 has the advantage because it will also work in the slot designed for the ExpressCard/54 slots, but not vice versa. Note also for the sake of total clarity and my desire to state the painfully obvious: ExpressCard/54 modules will not fit into MacBook Pro’s ExpressCard/34 slot.

Various manufacturers have told MacDailyNews that they are currently working on ExpressCard/34 modules, including FireWire 800 solutions. Expect announcements soon.

So, if you want a FireWire 800 port on your MacBook Pro or a TV Tuner or an eSATA port or something else, Apple has given you the ExpressCard/34 slot, so that you can do exactly what you want. After all, it would be silly to expect everyone to pay the cost of a built-in FireWire 800 port, if they’re not going to use it, or they want eSATA or something else instead, right? And, since the cards are hot-swappable, you could have multiple cards and switch them out to your heart’s content.

The next time you hear someone complaining about the lack of a FireWire 800 port on Apple’s new MacBook Pro, just explain that if they’ll just wait a bit for new ExpressCard/34 modules to ship, they can have FireWire 800 or whatever else they might want soon enough.

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to MacDailyNews.

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  1. Complaints are not moot. Without a native port, we lose use of the slot when we may have wanted to use it for some other purpose – samples of which are listed by Jack himself. Condemn those who want to use FW 800 to loss of the slot for something else and think that complaints are now moot? Think again.

  2. It’s a concept similar to all the iPod accessories. You can’t use the radio tuner and voice recorder at the same time. Soon you’ll see new products come out of the woordwork, and Apple will have an ExpressCard category in its Mac Accessories page on the Apple Store.

    Patience is it all it takes; we been waiing since last June for these Macs (and they’re EARLY!), we can afford to wait a little longer.

  3. Mr. Wells,

    Not including the FW800 port allows the MacBook Pro to be smaller, lighter and less expensive for everybody who does not own FW800 peripherals. It isn’t only negative for everybody.

  4. Yorktown, the cards cannot be swapped if an external FW 800 (only) drive is in active use. A number of us have Lacie FW 800 drives (or other such peripherals) and would like to be able to use them concurrently with other things as we can now.

    Mike & G, I understand that some of you are unable to use basic pieces such as an external hard drive in your iMacs and iBooks, but the world does not only revolve around the needs of newbie Mac users with consumer level computers. Some people do more than Internet browsing, email, and looking at a few family photos.

    Daner, you are correct. However, I do also wonder how many additional millimeters in thickness would have had to be added to include FW 800 ( or a faster optical drive). Perhaps too many. Perhaps an acceptable tradeoff. On the other hand, if I can get adapters to use with an external SATA (with which I am not familiar) that is purportedly three times faster than FW 800, then I could be happier.

  5. isn’t the firewire800 port smaller than the fw400 port (granted the inside pieces might be smaller but they still included it on the 1″ 17 PB) so the argument that they didn’t include fw800 to make it smaller is flawed. I still think they should have included it since you might have an external drive connected to that tv tuner so it can record straight to that drive. But I guess it’s better than nothing and apple is now using an industry standard so any product that comes out, apple can also use so I guess it’s still sort of a win.

  6. I think FW800 is a gruesome oversight. FW400 is terribly slow, and it strips a critical port from the computer. And HELLO, a card slot is good for only one device at a time; sure you can switch cards out but not if you need multiple functions at the same time. And as many are pointing out vaporware devices are useless. This SUCKS!

  7. Hg Wells said:

    Mike & G, I understand that some of you are unable to use basic pieces such as an external hard drive in your iMacs and iBooks, but the world does not only revolve around the needs of newbie Mac users with consumer level computers. Some people do more than Internet browsing, email, and looking at a few family photos.

    Real simple then: don’t buy it. Write Apple and tell them. I am not a newbie, and I have many external drives [thankfully nothing in FW800], but this MBP still meets my needs, even though it won’t allow me to use my Verizon EVDO card [though I expect that matter to be solved]. So, for me, I buy it. But your needs are obviously not met.

    Do the various ExpressSlot cards make the issue “moot”? No, I agree with you, but this issue is also not a deal-breaker for many. And those many are not merely newbies. I have been a Mac user since 87, and I own two Aluminum PBs. But the MBP was good enough for me to take that next step. The world also does not revolve the smaller universe of “advanced” users, whatever those are. Apple had to start somewhere in this transition. I am pretty happy with the decisions they made [bought both an iMac and an MBP]. Do I wish there were no compromises? Of course, but that prospect is rarely an option.

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