BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

"BARE Facts On Macintosh Speed FEATS"


USB 2.0 versus FireWire


Theoretically, USB 2.0 should be faster than FireWire. But that may not be so in real life. WiebeTech has released a combo drive (Desktop GB) that supports both FireWire and USB 2.0. It made the perfect test unit for comparing the speed of USB 2.0 to FireWire.





NOTE: "USB2 built-in" on the graphs above means that the USB 2.0 port on the drive was connected to the Power Mac's built-in USB port. But since the built-in port is only USB 1.1, the drive's interface speed dropped to under 1MB/sec.



USB 2.0 is much faster than USB 1.1 but it is much slower than FireWire, at least in the case of the WiebeTech drive I used.

(Note: USB 2.0 is only faster than USB 1.1 if you are running OSX and have a USB 2.0 PCI card with USB 2.0 drivers.)

Even if USB 2.0 ran at the same speed as FireWire, it has two big disadvantages:
1. You can't boot from USB 2.0 drives
2. USB devices have to share the bandwidth and slower devices pull down the speed of faster ones.

In the great battle between Intel's USB and Apple's FireWire, we're at a crucial point. Even if FireWire wins on pure performance, USB 2.0 could win on sheer numbers of devices using it. USB has its place. FireWire is overkill for printers. But it would be perfect for the new digital still cameras. Yet it hasn't caught on like it did with digital video cams.

Fight on Apple, fight on.

As a consumer, I'd like to see Apple implement USB 2.0 internally and give us 800 megabit FireWire at the same time.

If you want the versatility of running either FireWire or USB 2.0, the WiebeTech Desktop GB is the way to go.




Test "Mule" was an Apple Power Mac Dual G4/800 which features dual USB 1.1 channels and single FireWire channels (2 ports).

Main Test Drive was the WiebeTech 120GB Desktop GB with one USB 2.0 port and two FireWire ports.

Since the built-in USB ports on the Power Mac are USB 1.1, I used the Orange Micro USB 2.0 PCI card that WiebeTech provided. (Orange Micro declined to send me one. Don't ask me why.) I also tested the USB 2.0/FireWire Combo PCI card from FirewireDirect. It comes with Orange Micro drivers and produced identical performance to the Orange Micro board.

I also tested it using the built-in USB ports just to show how slow USB 1.1 is compared to USB 2.0.

To be fair, I tested the FireWire port on the WiebeTech drive using a FireWire PCI card since, in past testing, the transfer speeds are lower than that of the built-in FireWire ports of the Power Mac.

Finallly, I included results from a Granite Digital FireWire case kit with a Western Digital drive similar to the one used in the WiebeTech to show how its FireWire performance compares to the top performing case kit.

For this report I used QuickBenchX (beta 5) courtesy of Intech. It's currently the only OS X disk benchmarking software that doesn't give bogus numbers for sustained and random read/writes. Even though it's technically not a "real world" application, it provides very realistic results.

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© 1995-2007 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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