Firewire (1394) to USB

Hi All,

I’m sure I recall a discussion about this here in the past, but I can’t find it so…

I have a late 2015 iMac with 4 USB 3 and 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports running latest Mojave.

I have an OWC FireWire 800 drive but it uses a 1394 cable.

Is there a simple dongle or cable that will let me access this drive? (I’ve seen bits and bobs in a Google search, but I thought this brain trust would have a quick answer.)

This desire is a result of my search for a drive I can use to run Sibelius software. Their supported hardware information says they don’t support:

  • APFS (Case-sensitive)
  • APFS (Case-sensitive, Encrypted)
  • Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled)
  • Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled, Encrypted)

My thought was to use the FireWire 800 as a Sibelius drive, formatting it with Mac OS Extended.

As an aside, Sibelius runs on my APFS Fusion Drive, but there do seem to be some slow down issues when disk access is involved such as loading sound sets or opening/closing files. I’m trying to determine if this can be solved by running from the FireWire 800 disk.

Thanks for any and all advice!

Apple sells a Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter.

I use one of these on my 2014 Mac mini and 2016 MacBook Air.

I also use more than one Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter. One is at the end of a chain of two Thunderbay 4 enclosures connected to a 2018 Mini via an Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter. I have not experienced any problems with the Apple adapters and various storage enclosures.

I would only buy the FireWire adapter for use with expensive hardware that only has a FireWire interface (e.g. some audio hardware) or for use with numerous different FireWire drives. Instead, you can “shuck” the FireWire drive and put it in a USB 3.0 enclosure (or dock), there are ones that cost the same as, or less than, the cost of the FireWire adapter.

I don’t know if changing Fusion drives from HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) to APFS makes applications perceivably slower. If you’re using infrequently accessed files, they’re not going to be on the solid state part of the Fusion drive and I think the magnetic drive part is only 5400 rpm. If your OWC drive is 7200 rpm, it might be a little faster and the age of the device makes it unlikely FireWire’s 100MBytes/sec limit won’t be a bottleneck. It would be easy to find an external USB 3.0 drive that is faster than the iMac’s internal magnetic drive; any SSD would be far faster but many new magnetic drives are at least somewhat faster. The OWC Express is merely a 1TB 5400rpm magnetic drive in an USB 3.1 enclosure but it claims up to 155MByes/sec for only $49.

So, if I’m understanding things correctly, you have an internal Fusion Drive, but you are experiencing slowdowns during drive access, and you hope to remedy the situation by using an external rotating disk hard drive that connects via FireWire (and in your case an expensive adapter)? Correct?

I don’t see that as a potential solution. Your external RDHD is likely to be slower than your internal Fusion drive, not faster.

I think that a more fruitful course would be to replace your internal Fusion drive with a solid state hard drive (SSD). An SSD would be quite a bit faster than your Fusion drive for large reads. And SSD’s can be found at prices that rival RDHD’s now. For instance:

Micron 1.0TB 5100 Pro Series SATA 2.5” SSD

Randy B. Singer
Co-author of The Macintosh Bible (4th, 5th, and 6th editions)

Thanks for your thoughts cwilcox and randy2.

The issue I’m concerned about why the latest release of the software Sibelius, which I have used since v.1, is, according to the publisher, not compatible with the latest MacOS drive formats.

When I contacted Avid/Sibelius about newer MacOS drive formats before laying out large amounts of $$ to upgrade, they said “Sibelius is not compatible with those formats.”

I have an older version of Sibelius running on my APFS Fusion drive, and now I have installed the latest trial version also running on that drive and they both work, but I have noticed some slowness, as mentioned, when drive access is required.

I’m trying to determine why they say it is not compatible with these newer formats and they have not been responsive saying only that it isn’t. My thought was to try running Sibelius from a “supported” MacOS format, which I guess would be MacOs Journaled, but not Extended to see if there is any difference in how the software works.

I have a number of older drives, not currently in use (and that now seem very small), and I was hoping to use one to test Sibelius running from there with a “compatible” drive format.

This is what prompted my initial question to the list about attaching a Firewire drive to a ThunderBolt port.

FYI, Sibelius is very powerful music notation software, a pretty specialized niche, but I was hoping someone here might have had experience with it.

Thanks again for any thoughts.

Jack Clay

One approach is to configure Sibelius to use an external drive for all data. I say this because the application itself loads properly, including preferences from an APFS drive and because some other applications have required that approach for data or application-controlled backups.

According to System Requirements for Avid Sibelius Products, both APFS and Mac OS Extended (aka HFS+) are supported. More accurately, they state what is not supported are the case-sensitive variants of those file systems.

This is not that unusual, Adobe’s products can’t be installed on case-sensitive file systems either. People rarely use case-sensitive file systems on Macs, I think there are niche reasons to make them more like Linux or other Unix-based systems.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to format a volume as Mac OS Extended without journaling but if you can, there is no reason to do so.

Thanks cwilcox. I didn’t know you could choose to make the file system case sensitive or not so those exclusions in the Avid/Sibelius System requirements just flew right by me, and of course Sibelius Help was no help.

I’m still wondering why operations involving reading from/writing to or loading sound files from the disk seem so slow, but we’ll hope Sibelius can help with that.

Thanks again for pointing this distinction out.

Jack Clay

There is 50+ years of knowledge learned on how to deal with the performance issues related to extracting data from and putting it onto spinning rust. When people start “fresh” and assume everything is SSD then accessing spinning rust will slow down.