capsule review

FireWire PCI Cards

In the few years that FireWire has been available, it has evolved from a Mac-oriented novelty to a connectivity necessity. While FireWire solves the most pernicious problems (ID conflicts, termination, and so on) that still plague SCSI, it also provides high-performance plug-and-play among those devices that support it. FireWire is here to stay, growing more prevalent and less expensive with time. We took a look at eight FireWire PCI cards to see which is your best bet if you need to retrofit a FireWire-less Mac or if you want to add more FireWire ports to the ones you already have.

No one wants to deal with the hassle of driver conflicts and maintenance. Fortunately, all the cards we tested work with the Apple FireWire software built into OS 9. In addition, the Evergreen and FireWire Direct cards that offer USB ports work with Apple's standard USB drivers as well. As PCI cards go, all cards tested were about as plug-and-play as they come.

Built-in FireWire on a Macintosh includes enough power to run a few external devices. The Macally, Orange Micro, and both FireWire Direct cards run a connector from the card to the Mac's internal power source in order to supply power to the FireWire bus. Other cards pull power from the PCI slot, which can put a strain on the motherboard. We recommend that you take the power load off of the card altogether, and use an external power supply for all FireWire devices connected to a PCI FireWire card. This ensures that the devices have enough power to work reliably.

Finally, our testing (see table) showed all cards to have largely identical performance; however, all lagged somewhat behind the built-in FireWire ports of a Power Mac G4/500.

Aside from power supply, the only real differences between these cards are price, number of ports, and bundled software. Western Digital and Keyspan have the most useful bundles, the former providing Adobe Premiere LE as well as the nonpro version of QuickTime, whereas the Keyspan card comes with QuickTime Pro.

Finally, if you're short of PCI slots, need a U2W SCSI interface as well as FireWire ports, and aren't daunted by the price, the Orange Micro card may be the right one for you.

Company Product Mice Ports Price Pros Cons Contact
Western Digital WD FireWire Adapter 2 $69 Inexpensive. No power. , 949/932-5000
Keyspan FireWire Card 3+1 $89 QuickTime Pro bundled. No power. , 510/222-0131
Macally PCI FireWire Adapter 2+1 $179 Supplies power. Expensive; no software bundle. , 626/338-8787
Orange Micro OrangeLink FireWire + U2W SCSI 2+1, 1+1 U2W SCSI $229 Supplies power; includes U2W SCSI. Overkill unless you need SCSI. , 714/779-2772
Evergreen FW fireLine PCI Card 3+1 $90 Three external FireWire ports. No power. , 800/733-0934
Evergreen Combo fireLine PCI CardCombo 3+1, 2u $120 Three external FireWire ports; two external USB ports. No power. , 800/733-0934
FW Direct FW 3-Port PCI Card 2+1 $70 Supplies power; inexpensive. Only two ports external; limited software bundle. , 512/302-0012
FW Direct Combo 6-Port Combo card 3+1, 2u $110 Supplies power; inexpensive; three external FireWire ports; two external USB ports. Limited software bundle. , 512/302-0012
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