FireWire Failures Spread like Wildfire

The other day I went to meet my father for lunch and a talk, and he relayed one of the strangest computer stories I’ve ever heard.

My father just bought a brand new Apple Power Mac G5 tower. He loaded it with several thousand dollars of extra RAM, too. It came knocking on the door two weeks ago, and it really was quite a beauty. I helped him set it up, and pointed him at The Tao of Mac’s tips for switching to a Mac. It’s not that my dad’s a new Mac user, but since I helped him set it up I wanted to point out my reasoning for doing some of the things I did (like set up a special admin account just for computer management).

Anyway, the computer is really zippy and purred like a kitten for the first week without any problems. Unfortunately, it only comes with a few FireWire ports. Two on the front and one more in back. My father has more than three external hard drives and a number of computer accessories that connect via FireWire cables, so he went out to Tekserve and bought a Logitech 4-port FireWire hub.

Unfortunately, when he plugged the hub into the Mac all the FireWire ports died. That is, none of the FireWire ports responded to any device. As a test, he plugged in his brand-new never-before-used iSight to no avail. None of his FireWire external hard drives responded either. The G5 just wasn’t recognizing the FireWire peripherals.

Next he tried plugging one of the drives into his older G3. The G3 was known to have functioning FireWire ports, but upon plugging the first drive into the G3, all the FireWire ports on the G3 died, too!

My father gave me a call about the issue that night, and of course I suggested trying the usual things. Yes, he checked power and other cables on all devices. Yes, he rebooted the machine. Yes, he checked for the latest software updates from Apple.

Luckily, he has AppleCare and the obligatory warrantee, so he took it into Tekserve the next day to give the hardware pros a chance to take a look. He brought the G5 tower, two Lacie external drives, the FireWire hub he bought, plus a few other hard drives and peripherals that had all apparently stopped responding.

At Tekserve, the mystery got even stranger. They took a look at all the hardware he brought in and determined that everything was in good working order. He explained the malfunctioning FireWire ports and expressed concern that something in one of the devices was causing the ports to which the device was connected to to fail.

They brought up a computer with working a working FireWire card and tried to connect a hard drive to it. It didn’t work. Next they tried to connect one of their own (working) external drives to the the test computer. That didn’t work either. They brought another external FireWire drive to test, but that one also didn’t work. Then, upon plugging their own drive to another test computer, that computer’s FireWire port died. Despite my father’s warnings, the tech helping him even tried connecting her iPod to one of the test computer’s broken ports. Needless to say, her iPod died.

Replacing the FireWire card in the test computers resolved the problem, so it seemed that something in the FireWire connections was killing any FireWire controller to which it was attached. This is, to say the least, very bizarre.

The G5 doesn’t come with a removeable FireWire card; it is embedded into the motherboard itself. Thus, my father’s G5 is currently in the shop for repairs (getting a new motherboard) and he’s very hesitant about plugging in his external drives to any other computer for fear of destroying the FireWire ports. Trouble is, his drives only have a FireWire connection, so getting the data off those drives is going to end up costing a lot of money being somewhat of a hassle. (Evidently, thanks to an anonymous commenter, buying a USB hard drive enclosure should suffice. Trouble is, those are just about as expensive as getting the data off, from what I’ve seen. Maybe someone can point out a better deal for me.)

This almost sounds similar to Eric Meyer’s recent experience with his PowerBook’s BlueTooth hardware failure, if it weren’t for the mysterious way these FireWIre failures keep spreading.

My father and I have searched for any previous documentation on the issue at Apple’s Site an on Google but have turned up empty. Even the Tekserve guys said that they’ve “Never seen anything like this”….

4 replies on “FireWire Failures Spread like Wildfire”

  1. And I thought you were about to tell the world how YOU freaked me out. Why not do that next… Anyway, you used the word “died” and I am not sure if the iPod really is dead…. to be more accurate – it is suspicious now not to work, and to cause mulfunctioning of any firewire port it connects… That was really starnge, and I got no satisfatory explanation from the “experts” – all they decided to do is replace the logic board.

  2. “Trouble is, his drives only have a FireWire connection, so getting the data off those drives is going to end up costing a lot of money.”

    It shouldn’t. Just buy a USB 2.0 HD enclosure, then open all the failed external FW drives and remove the HDs and install them into the USB 2.0 HD enclosure one at at time. Or buy enough USB 2.0 enclosures to house all the drives. You don’t have to use Firewire for drives with USB 2.0 now.

  3. That’s not a bad idea. Thanks. Unfortunately, that isn’t significantly cheaper than getting sending the drive in to a repair shop. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s a simple procedure that I can do myself. :)

  4. I have the same issue and cant resolve it, I have 2 Lacie drives a video camera and an ipod that all seem to have failed

    All was fine that the drives all stopped working within a week, one after the other. I changed the card in my Dell PC and no joy, I used the 4 leads I have and nothing and then tried my external devices on other computers and none mounted, not even my video camera. It seems that whatever I plug in is killing the port on that device not only is this frustrating but expensive, any ideas how to resolve this and are my ports really dead?

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