FireWire is the best hardware interface for Digital Video (DV) camcorders and other peripherals that require high-speed data connections. Until recently, however, FireWire devices were trapped on the desktop due to the lack of FireWire ports in Apple’s PowerBooks. Now, thanks to FireWire PC Cards, you can connect FireWire devices to any G3 PowerBook running at 300MHz or faster.
Macworld Lab looked at two $149 FireWire CardBus cards: the FireWire 2 Go, from Newer Technology, and the CBFW2, from RATOC Systems. The RATOC card is faster and works with unpowered peripherals, but Newer provides better technical support. Orange Micro and VST Technologies have also announced FireWire cards, but neither arrived in time for testing.
Both cards are a cinch to install: you run an installation program that copies the needed extensions to your System Folder, reboot the PowerBook, and plug the card into the PC Card slot. Along with the driver software, Newer provides QuickTime 4 Pro (a $30 value), which you’ll need if you want to capture video directly from a DV camcorder.
We tested the cards’ performance using a DV camcorder and a FireWire hard drive. On our 333MHz PowerBook G3, both cards successfully captured video from a Canon Elura camcorder and then copied the edited video back to the camera.
When writing a 1GB QuickTime movie to a FireWire hard drive, the RATOC card was the speed champ, taking 3 minutes, 23 seconds compared with 3 minutes, 53 seconds for the Newer card. However, neither card could keep up with a FireWire-equipped blue-and-white Power Mac G3, which copied the file in 2 minutes, 27 seconds. When the cards were reading from the drive, the difference narrowed considerably, with each taking about 3.5 minutes.
The RATOC card owes much of its faster performance to its Lucent FireWire chip set; the Newer card uses the older Texas Instruments Lynx chip set found in Apple’s Power Mac G3.
The RATOC card also includes a connection for standard power adapters, allowing the use of FireWire devices that rely on the host system for power. Desktop Macs can power FireWire devices through the cable, but you can’t do this with a PowerBook–even one that’s plugged in–because it would overheat the PC Card. RATOC gets around this limitation by placing the power jack on the dongle used to connect FireWire devices to the card. The Newer card lacks a power connection.
Although the RATOC card is faster and offers more features, the Newer card is backed by superior technical support. Newer offers a toll-free support number and extensive technical information on its Web site; RATOC’s manual does not list any support contacts.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
RATOC’s CBFW2 card gets the nod for its faster performance and standard power connection, which allows the use of unpowered FireWire devices. However, if you’re a novice user who needs some hand-holding, you may find that Newer’s superior technical support compensates for the FireWire 2 Go card’s limitations.