Making Music and Movies with One FireWire Port


I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro for my video and audio production needs, even though the limited ports on these computers make it tricky to plan out a suitable work flow. The biggest hurdle I faced was how to get by with just a single FireWire port. In this post I'll explain how I rearranged my hardware to work smoothly with my new production computer.

 I'd been using an Apple G5 tower for several years to handle my media-production needs. This computer featured three FireWire ports, and I often used all three simultaneously. The graphic below illustrates how I had my system configured. The red arrows show how I used one FireWire port to connect my video camera, the second FireWire port to connect a fast external hard drive, and the third FireWire port to connect my audio interface. And just for the heck of it I included green arrows to show how I connected my nearfield studio monitors and my headphones. The green arrows aren't FireWire connections, just analog audio lines.

I learned to set my equipment up like this when I studied digital video production at The New School. Keeping the non-linear editing software (NLE) and digital audio workstation software (DAW) on the internal hard drive and the project file on an external hard drive was the most effective way to avoid computer errors. When the production software and project file are on the same drive, you may encounter problems from bottlenecking the data flow. Some people store their project files on a second internal hard drive (instead of an external hard drive). Either way, as long as the project file and the production software are on separate physical drives, your system should operate more smoothly.

Not long ago, you could purchase Apple notebook computers with more than one FireWire port. However, in recent years the only Apple computers you can get with multiple FireWire ports are the desktop Mac Pros. As much as I liked using a desktop computer for my production needs, I wanted the mobility that a laptop computer affords you. In order to get a laptop-based production computer up and running, I was going to need to figure out a new way to do things.

Unless you're using a Mac Pro desktop, chances are your Mac only has a single FireWire port.

One option would have been to get a 17-inch MacBook Pro and to buy a FireWire card for its ExpressCard slot (the 17" MacBook Pro is currently the only computer Apple makes with an ExpressCard slot). However, I felt that the 17" was a bit too large for my tastes, and it's also more expensive. Another option would have been to see if I could find a Windows PC laptop with a FireWire port and a card slot. I used to use a Windows PC for media production, but I switched to Mac in 2004 and I've been very satisfied. I was looking forward to getting a new Apple.

One thing was for certain; my old work flow that operated so smoothly was out the window. I had to start over.  Because I would be limited to a single FireWire port, I was only going to use one piece of external FireWire equipment. I wasn't interested in using a FireWire hub. I wanted my data flow to be as streamlined as possible. Because I had so many years of good performance when saving all of my project files to an external FireWire drive, I decided to dedicate the lone FireWire port to this task. So I went ahead and bought a new 15" MacBook Pro. In addition to paying a little extra for its anti-glare display, I also opted to get a built-in 500GB 7200RPM internal drive.

The faster internal drive option was the key to eliminating my dependence on multiple FireWire ports. In the past I would capture video from the FireWire port of my MiniDV camcorder, through my computer, and into my external FireWire drive. My new plan was to capture video onto the internal 7200RPM drive. Once the footage was captured, I would move the data over to my external FireWire drive before I would edit. This way I would only be breaking the golden rule of keeping my project file and production software on the same drive when I was capturing footage. Besides, it probably won't be long before I upgrade to a new video camera that records onto SD Cards or some other digital format that doesn't require a real-time capture.

Three capable USB interfaces: the RME Fireface UC, the NI Audio Kontrol 1, and the MOTU UltraLite mk3

Unfortunately, dedicating my only FireWire port to an external drive meant that my old FireWire audio interface was no longer a workable option for me. I know that some people successfully tether their audio interfaces by daisy-chaining them through the external drive. However, due to my faith in dedicated ports for mission-critical components, I decided not to go this route. In addition to buying a new computer, I also needed to purchase a USB audio interface.

Fortunately, there are lots of really nice USB audio interfaces on the market. Because I sometimes need to record several microphones and inputs simultaneously, I needed a more robust USB audio interface. After much deliberation, I decided to purchase an RME Fireface UC. This is an advanced USB 2.0 interface that offers outstanding performance. It features an ADAT lightpipe input and output, which allows me to connect a lightpipe expander, which enables me to record 10 microphones simultaneously into my computer. However, if you just need to record one or two microphones at a time (if any at all), you could do just fine with a more basic USB interface. There are lots of good choices out there, but remember that you always get what you pay for.

This Seven-port Hi Speed Belkin USB 2.0 Hub really made my new system complete.

I've been using my new system for a little more than three months now, and so far everything is going well. I've shot and edited a few videos and recorded a song or two and the computer seems happy. One thing that's really helped is the Seven-port Hi Speed Belkin USB 2.0 hub that I picked up. Because my 15" MacBook Pro only has 2 USB 2.0 ports, I have one port dedicated to my Fireface UC audio interface, and the other goes to the Belkin hub. Having a half dozen extra USB 2.0 ports really tied my system together.

I'm really happy that my new post-production studio fits into a backpack! I feel like this system is going to serve me well for the next five years or more. If you have any questions or comments about computer systems for digital media production, don't be shy! We'd love hear from you in the Comments section of this post!


hi, just want to know if i can capture video & audio with one firewire when am playing from a camera, thanks

i would like to know how to connect a External Video Came through Firewire and an External Audio Mixer USB/Firewire to record audio for live videos.