Forget About USB 2.0 on the Mac

by Derrick Story

Back in January I was able to steal a few moments of Jon Rubinstein's time (Apple Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering and a really nice guy). Among other things, I was curious to hear his opinions about USB 2.0 and its possible inclusion on future Macs.

Of course Jon wasn't able to say much to someone wearing a media badge, but it seemed to me by his remarks and expressions that bringing USB 2.0 to the Mac wasn't exactly a top priority on his task list.

Why caused this topic to bubble up tonight? Well, I just stumbled across the greatest bargain in film scanners ever, the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual III that packs a powerful scanning punch (optical resolution 2,800 dpi, multi-sampling, and 4.8 dynamic range) and sells for less than $300. If you've shopped for film scanners, you can understand my enthusiasm here. Those specs usually cost you three times more.

The Duo Scan is both Mac and Windows compatible featuring a USB 2.0 interface that also works with the older 1.1 standard. According to Minolta's features overview, the speed difference is notable: 30-second scans for USB 2.0, and 48 seconds for USB 1.1. That difference adds up as you work through a stack of slides and a six pack of Coke.

So I go over to PC Connection and search for a USB 2.0 PCMCIA card for my PowerBook. Looks like IOGEAR had engineered the Dual Port Hi-Speed USB 2.0 card that sells for $64 US. According to the catalog description, it auto configures and requires no additional drivers. I'd love to get my hands on this card and the Duo Scan III to see how they work with Mac OS X.

But here's my point: USB 2.0 is somewhat threatening to the FireWire golden goose, and Apple isn't about to prop up this standard the way it did for 1.1. At the moment, there aren't a ton of USB 2.0 devices, but they seem to be emerging faster than I had anticipated.

If you own a desktop Mac, you can always add a 2.0 PCI adapter and be on your way. But if you're in the market for a laptop, keep in mind the value of a PCMCIA slot. iBooks and 12" PowerBooks don't have 'em.

If Apple is going to sit tight with USB 1.1, you might want to leave your options open and get a laptop with PCMCIA slot.

Have you used IOGEAR's Dual Port Hi-Speed USB 2.0 card? If so, what's your report?


2003-03-17 02:41:08
Serious pro-users should stick to FireWire
USB 2 is all very well but it's real-life transfer rates still don't match even FireWire 400, let alone the new 800 spec.

As a professional in digital media, I wouldn't give USB a bigger job than connecting my keyboard to my Mac. It's just not got the legs to be a viable solution.

2003-03-17 05:45:32
Let us know!
Derrick, let us know if you order it and it works over USB 2.0 with your Mac. The specs from Minolta seem to say that it will only work over USB 1.1 on Macs but that could just be an assumption on their part.
2003-03-17 06:44:00
USB 2.0 Drivers
I purchased a PCI USB 2.0 card for a client recently. It was marketed as Mac Compatable. The specs inside said it would run 2.0 on Apple "as soon as Apple released drivers".
As Is it only ran 1.1

I haven't seen drivers yet! Did I miss the release? Or does the PCCard you are looking at have 3d party drivers.

Jack King

2003-03-17 07:45:33
IOGEAR Says They Have 2.0 Drivers
I went snooping around on IOGEAR's support site and found this page that shows how to install USB 2.0 drivers on Mac OS X 10.1. Hmmm. Every where I go on their site they confidently say that this product works with Macs. Anyone hands on yet?
2003-03-17 07:50:27
Serious pro-users should stick to FireWire... Yes, but...
I'm not interested in USB 2.0 to replace FireWire. Gads! I love FireWire. But, I also want access to some of the new USB 2.0 equipment that will be rolling off the line.

Basically, I'm always coming from the same place in these matters: I want to use my Mac to access every good technology available. I don't see it as FireWire vs USB 2.0. I see them as complements.

2003-03-17 07:55:02
A hardware company should capitalize on this
A hardware company should capitalize on this atitude. Market a firewire to USB 2.0 adapter! Connect it to your computer fireport port and gain 2 to 4 USB 2.0/1.1 hub ports.
2003-03-17 08:12:16
Firewire 2 USB devices
Couldn't someone make a Firewire 800 to USB 2.0 converter? I know the technologies are quite different but it seems feasible to me...
2003-03-17 08:57:55
Complement or Replacement?
It's all well and good for people to say they want USB 2.0 as a complement to -- and not replacement for -- Firewire 800. But as the company currently leading the charge for Firewire, Apple must surely find this very problematic. How does Apple encourage support for Firewire 800 when many companies may regard USB 2.0 support as "just good enough"? If Apple includes USB 2.0 support in all Macs, it may actually play a part in marginalizing or killing Firewire 800 outright (not on the merits of the technology but instead because of market realities).

In the absence of built-in USB 2.0 support in Macs, it only stands to reason that the same peripheral manufacturer would be more motivated to add Firewire support, lest it lose out to other companies which do. (Yes, I'm mindful that Macintosh market share is very small, but this rationale still comes into play all the same.)

Let's not forget the lesson of OS/2 which offered a Windows compatibility mode so good that third-party developers then didn't bother to write any OS/2 native code. Admittedly this is something of a catch-22 for Apple; but for the majority of its computers, there is a third-party USB 2.0 option available, and this should be good enough.

-Jeff Mincey

2003-03-17 10:09:18
Complement or Replacement? I agree, mostly
I'm not advocating that Apple formerly adopt USB 2.0 and include the hardware in its computers. From their standpoint, that does seem at cross-purposes to promoting FireWire.

That being said, I do think Mac users should have access to third-party USB 2.0 adapters, and I think Apple should support those vendors.

I'd counter your OS/2 history lesson with a reminder that if Apple had jumped on the standards wagon much earlier in its existence, it would have more than a 3.8 percent market share today.

2003-03-17 12:05:17
USB 2.0 Peripherals
There used to be a small trickle of USB 2.0 devices the retail shelves are full of them. The number of firewire devices is decreasing at an alarming rate. I base this on comparisons from last summer to the current reality...visit any major computer store.

I agree, there are great new devices coming out but only with the USB 2.0 standard...Apple needs to reevaluate their stand on this one. This is definitely a limiting factor for an otherwise outstanding company.

2003-03-17 12:39:40
USB 2.0 at 30 sec, vs USB 1.1 at 48 sec
Was that a typo? Or was the "amazing" 480 bps speed of USB 2.0 really just fractionally faster than the 10 bps or so USB 1.1 speed in practice?

I've read reports that the real-world speed of USB 2 was less than FireWire despite the higher theoretical speed. But just 16 bps... well, that seems quite pathetic! Is this what we can expect for most USB 2 devices out there?

2003-03-17 12:55:45
agreed completely!
i agree...thats why i bought my desktop a nice card that combines firewire, usb 2.0, and also ata-100....

as for the guy who commented that serious people should stick to firewire....umm. Yeah, right dumbass. Like ANYONE is going to look at a nice piece of gear and say "ooh, thats not firewire...i'm not gonna get that! I'm far too serious of a professional for that." Hehehe. You buy whats available when you find it and hopefully for an awesome price. USB/firewire/scsi....doesn't matter what the interface is. If you need it and it rocks, you get it and use it to make your daily bread.

2003-03-17 13:20:54
USB 2.0 at 30 sec, vs USB 1.1 at 48 sec -- More Detail
Yeah, those numbers struck me that way too. I went back to Minolta's spec page to double-check my numbers. Interestingly enough, the 2.0 figure is with a Windows set up, and the 1.1 figure is with a Mac config. Here's the detail:

30-second scan: System test environment: Windows Me, Pentium 4 1.5 GHz, 512 MB of RAM, 2.57 GB of hard-disk space, Application: Adobe Photoshop 7.0, Memory allocated to application: 80%, Interface: USB 2.0 

48-second scan: System test environment: Mac OS 9.2.2, PowerPC G4 800MHz, 512 MB of RAM, 8.3 GB of hard-disk space, Application: Adobe Photoshop 7.0, Memory allocated to application: 450MB, Interface: USB 1.1

I'd like to see some numbers with Mac OS X ...

2003-03-17 14:35:51
30 versus 48 seconds?
But I thought USB 2.0 was 50 times faster than USB 1.1!
2003-03-17 15:19:33
I tried the IOGEAR USB 2.0 Card on my Pismo PowerBook. When you download the 10.2 drivers from the IOGEAR website, you can see that the drivers are written by Orange Micro and are version 2.0. Orange Micro has a version 3.0 driver on their own website, so I installed that instead. I know that the USB 2.0 is working, because I use a Lexar Media JumpDrive 2.0 with it. Transfer rates are much faster using the USB 2.0 ports than they are when using the built-in USB 1.1 ports.


2003-03-17 15:24:33
IOGEAR USB 2.0 PC Card -- Very Helpful
Thanks Peter for this post. This is darn useful stuff.
2003-03-17 19:54:29
I'm normally a big opponent to USB2 (be very careful about plugging multiple devices into the same bus! That keyboard could make your scanner/camcorder spin down to 1.5Mbps!) I normally save that opinion for HDs and Camcorder/video equipment (which still isn't as good as a HQ PCI solution),andthis is a great case and point. You don't want the Nikon Super Coolscan or Polaroid Sprintscan or (and this one is slick) Imacon's Flex-Tite because it's got this connection or another. You want them because of the high quality optics, dynamic range, and post processing software. The speed is an afterthought, if you need speed you want a digital camera in most cases. The temptation to tweak each scan is both strong and important, shot with different film from one roll to the next? exposure errors? I've rarely seen anyone effectively use a slide loader in everyday workflow. If the Minolta gives you satisfactory image fidelity, suck up the 18 seconds and just use 1.1. When you figure in the time you spend in the software after the scan, how large a percentage of your time is really spent waiting for the slide scanner? (I'm not familiar with the Minolta yet, but I've not seen a decent slide scanner for under $800 yet, and really the 4000dpi models are usuallywell worth the extra price.)
2003-03-18 00:23:59
USB 2.0 PC Card for $59.95
I found a USB 2.0 PC Card for even less. You can get one for $59.95 from
2003-03-18 01:00:26
I user USB2 and FW400 on the same drive...
Typically, I use USB 2 on some of my PCs, Firewire on some of the other PCs and Firewire on the Macs.

While there may be some difference in access speed, the differences are pretty negligable.

Oh.. and once and for all - can we drop this stupid idea that mixing USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices will slow it down to USB 1.1 speeds? That's simply not how it works. USB doesn't allow multiple devices to simply be paralleled together - multiple devices have to go through some kind of hub. Cards with multiple connections are essentially a hub on a card where the hub is integrated into the controller.

All USB 2.0 hubs are required by the spec to handle speed shifting to USB 2.0 speeds. If you plug USB 2.0 devices into a USB 1.1 hub then yes - it runs at 1.1 speeds - duh - but that's not a fault of USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 - USB 1.1 hubs cannot support USB 2.0 speeds (if they did, they'd be a USB 2.0 hub).

But I've plugged a mix of USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices into multiport USB 2.0 controllers and hubs and I've simply never, ever seen the dreaded slow down occur.

2003-03-18 05:56:32
agreed completely!
Ahmdal's law, when applied to this, would indicate that the bottleneck isn't the transfer, but most likely the scanner itself. It is altogether possible that the scan takes 28 seconds, and the transfer either 2 seconds or 20 seconds, depending on the USB version. Of course, I have no idea as to the real ratio between scan time and transfer time; that the usb2 version was benchmarked with WinME could have made the comparison worse.
2003-03-24 23:42:30
Actual USB 1.1 vs USB 2.0 Test with Scanner
I ordered the IOGEAR USB 2.0 2-Port CardBus Card (GPU202) and downloaded the USB host controller drivers from Orange Micro. After a quick install and restart, I plugged the Minolta Scan Dual III into the USB 2 port and scanned an image that resulted in a 55.7MB size file (16-bit, x4 Multi-sample). The process took 3:08 minutes.

I then shut everything down, plugged the scanner into my TiBook's standard USB 1.1 port and scanned the same slide again with the same settings. The process took 5:42 minutes.

Clearly in the case with the Minolta, USB 2.0 does improve performance. One last note, on the box that the IOGEAR card was packed in, it said that, "Mac users must have OS X to take advantage of Hi-Speed USB 2.0."

2003-03-30 20:18:13
USB 2.0 vs. FW800
Will USB 2 be that much of a threat to Firewire since FW is moving toward 800 mbps and higher?
2003-07-10 09:00:58
Actual USB 1.1 vs USB 2.0 Test with Scanner
Thanks a ton for this info, Derrick. I'm in the same situation as you -- bought a new scanner, and would like to take advantage of the faster scan times that USB 2.0 should get me.... I'm buying the GPU202. :)
2003-07-18 10:12:51
Apple System Profiler screenshot?
I just got my GPU202, installed the latest driver from the iogear website (v3.1.2, same as what you get from orangemicro), restarted, and I don't see any speed improvement with my Epson 1660 scanner (a USB 2.0 device). In fact, I'm pretty sure my TiBook only is running this thing as a USB 1.1 device. :(

The good: Apple System Profiler shows that the correct extension is loaded, and I can see that the OMI_EHCI.kext file is in /System/Library/Extensions.

The bad?: Under Devices and Volumes, Apple System Profiler shows nothing interesting in the CardBus area. It looks the same as if there is no card plugged in at all. And my scanner shows up exactly as it would if I had plugged it directly into a built-in USB 1.1 port.

I'm wondering what Apple System Profiler shows for folks who definitely have things running at USB 2.0 speeds? It could be that all is just fine & dandy, but my scanner is still a botteneck as opposed to the interface. Although I distinctly remember reading before that scan times are reduced with a USB 2.0 connection.

FWIW, I have a first-gen TiBook, 400 MHz. Definitely CardBus compliant.

Thanks to anyone who can help!


2003-07-20 15:03:37
Apple System Profiler screenshot?
OK, I got this figured out... I just wasn't stressing the interface enough to see much of a speed difference before.
Scanning a letter-size color doc on my Epson 1660 at 150 dpi takes 52 secs with USB 1.1, and 40 secs with USB 2.0, a difference I didn't even notice before I timed it. But if I scan a smaller 4x6 pic at 1600 dpi, it takes over 5 minutes with USB 1.1, as compared to 2:30 with USB 2.0. So the iogear card is definitely doing its thing. :)
Incidentally, anything I plug into the GPU202 shows up in Apple System Profiler as a device on the USB 0 bus, exactly as it would if I plugged it into the built-in USB port marked "2" on my TiBook. With devices plugged into both GPU202 ports, and into built-in ports 1 & 2, ASP shows one device on USB port 1, and 3 devices on USB port 0. As I stated before, the CardBus area appears no different than it does when nothing is plugged into the slot! Weird....


2003-08-13 05:33:37
Adaptec 3100LP is Useless
Adaptec 3100LP PCI USB2 Card is useless, not until you've installed it do you dicover that it doesn't work, Adaptec say tough it's an Apple problem, do not supply a driver unlike OrangeMicro for example and have been giving me the run-around for months. Now it's too late to return the card to teh vendor.
2003-10-24 10:52:44
OS X 10.2.8 has full USB 2.0 support
In case any Jaguar users stumble across this article, I just thought I'd let you know that since 10.2.8 came out, my IOGear GPU202 works at USB 2.0 speeds in my TiBook 400, with no additional drivers needed.

Prior to 10.2.8, it would only run at USB 1.1 speed unless you installed the driver that you can download from either the IOGear or Orange Micro website. Once that driver was installed, it would work at USB 2.0 speed, but removing the card from the slot usually caused some sort of system problems. :( So I was kinda bummed, and decided that the hassle wasn't worth the speed increase for me.

But now, with 10.2.8, it works flawlessly! Here's the order of operations that I follow:

1) insert GPU202 into slot.
2) plug USB cable into GPU202.
3) do whatever you need to do.
4) unplug USB cable from GPU202.
5) use menu item to "Power Off Card."
6) remove card.

I imagine it should work just as well under Panther.... But I sure am glad that Apple snuck this feature into the free 10.2.8 update!

2005-10-12 05:50:26
Apple System Profiler screenshot?
Can i get the drivers for the ORANGE MICRO PCMCIA USB 4 port for WINDOWS
2005-12-17 01:19:25
Serious pro-users should stick to FireWire... Yes, but...
Hi new chap here and not terribly techie but I'm on OSX 10.3 and am inteested in a tv device ... something like the : Compro VideoMate U900 - Tiny USB TV Box ... it mentions in the spec that it really needs USB 2 ....anyone comment on this please ....many thanks .... Roger