Mac connections: USB and Firewire

Connecting a monitor, external hard drives, printers, mice, audio devices,… We can do all this on our Macs but what do I need? which cable should I buy? the best option?

Mac connections: USB and Firewire
Mac connections: USB and Firewire

Currently, and after the new updates suffered in the Apple computers, things have changed slightly. In some cases positively and in others negatively. Therefore, we are going to review the options and variants offered by Apple computers for connecting different devices.

At least with the latest equipment. Although it is well known by everyone, there is always someone who joins in and it can be useful to know a little more about the possibilities that your equipment offers.


The iMac G3 was the first Mac to feature a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection . A standard that was developed to unify different connectors into one universal one. It is currently in its version 2.0 but there are already manufacturers that are starting to incorporate the recent version 3.0, which includes improvements in speed, energy efficiency and the possibility of transmitting data in a bidirectional way at the same time.

One of the new products that includes this new version is the Western Digital My Book. It has captivated those who have been able to try it due to its high transfer rates.

At the moment, we at Apple do not know anything about the inclusion of the new version. While we continue, like many other manufacturers, using the standard 2.0 with a number of available USB ports that has always been a point of criticism. Laptops have two and desktops have three or four as the current iMac or Mac Mini . Meanwhile, the rest of the computer manufacturers usually include three to four in the laptops and six or seven in the desktops.

But well, if we need more USB connections we can use a HUBUSB. But watch out, we must take into account if the devices we are going to connect need extra power. Especially since some of them abuse only one USB port. And while it is true that each USB bus can support up to 127 devices it is never practical to connect more than two if they need power because the voltages of each port are limited.

If this is the case, it is best to have an external power supply for the HUB, as the Mac ports do not provide enough power. This is essential if you are going to use several external hard drives connected at once, for example. Similarly, wired Apple keyboards have two USB connectors that are used to connect a mouse or an iPod, but not for other devices that make intensive use.


The other option available on Apple computers for connecting external devices is Firewire, a connection created by Apple itself in the mid-1990s with a clear objective: to satisfy the needs of both home and professional users.

The previous MacBook Pro to the unibody range included two, one for the Firewire 400 version and another for the 800 version that doubled in speed to its predecessor. Today, only the MacBook and MacBook Air ranges have been left out. While the rest of the current range includes only the Firewire 800.

Sonnenttech Firewire 800 to 400 converter

But no problem, because version 800 is backward compatible with the previous standard . Another option to connect a device that uses Firewire 400 to our Macs is to do it through a device that uses the Firewire 800 and brings a 400 connector for chaining other devices (up to 63 chained devices)

Most Firewire devices include one or two extra Firewire ports, to chain other devices so we don’t need to buy a HUB and just keep the one directly plugged into our Mac on. For example, a hard drive to which we chain a table like the ones at M-Audio and an iSight.

After the USB we can see the Firewire 400 and 800 connector respectively

The new standard for the Firewire connection is the Firewire 3200 and as with USB 3.0 we don’t know what steps Apple will take in its next updates. You will either choose USB because of its rapid adoption by both manufacturers and users, or continue to rely on the Firewire connection that has always delivered such good results.

Obviously, not only for the use of external printers or disks we can use such connections. Nowadays, there are all kinds of accessories that use USB or Firewire to connect to our equipment: speakers such as Lacie speakers, mixing desks, sound cards,…

Due to the differences between the two connections , choosing the right one depends on the use we will make of the device . If we need a hard disk where the access to the data will be continuous the best is Firewire. Much more so if we are going to use it to save material for video or audio editing. If, on the other hand, you only want to store backups or data that you won’t be able to access often, then USB is the best option due to the low cost of the devices.

For the rest of the accessories, unless we are going to move into a more professional environment, the USB connection is more than enough. You can find all kinds of accessories quickly and at a very affordable price.

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