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Firewire Shelf Life

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Damian Panitz
Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 4, 2010 at 3:44:26 pm

Good day,

As of 5:40pm Saturday April 3 the a Pro Tools lab I take care of had 3 reports by students that they've had trouble with their firewire ports. They explained they are experiencing flames and smoke when they connected their Fire Wire drives to the provided FW cables. 2 instances were fromcold cold boot ups and one student said it happened while hot swapping their drive. I noticed these computers all have had their FW cables replaced in the last week.

I called my friends at the local Apple repair shop to try and suss out this problem and see if there is a simple solution. After a long talk about unstated Apple events we concluded that it is particularly common for high use fire wire ports on G5 model computers to fail, resulting in small flames and or sparks with smoke that follows. It's particularly common after the 3 year Apple warrantee for these events to occur.

We discussed in depth Apple history particularly focusing on the SE 30 model that ran from 1989 to 1991. This model had a great shelf life and was pretty much bullet proof. Clearly a problem for those at the Apple accounting offices I am sure. Although dated after 1991 companies continued to use this model for client and email servers for many flawless years. I actually have one that still works and I can play Asteroids on it. The nerds chuckled. We discussed the apparent clear line of product over-time failure. This may sound ridiculous but we have a name for this event, its called "the magic year." Also known as year 4. Year 4 is when things magically happen like in the Pro Tools lab. 3 weeks ago many of the PMU batteries failed to hold a charge so we replaced them. Now magically many of our computers in that same lab have been setting our students drives alight.

During our tekkie discussion about firewire 400 and 800 we talked about other possible events that could cause sparks, fire and smoke like cross pin misconfiguration, humidity and other natural and unnatural events. The board the firewire bridge exists on is a 4 layer wafer. With a powerful magnifying lens and an exacto knife you can pull apart the board. This is where one of my friends said you'll find the evidence. He compared it to a relay. He said every relay made has a certain amount of clicks or on's and off's before it needs to be replaced. He said hard drives behave the same in this case it seems whether intentional or not these firewire boards go bad after an undetermined amount of times it's been used. In my opinion since we've replaced the FW800/400 cables and we are still receiving reports of sparks and smoke emitting from the new cables that it makes sense that the problem exists not in the cabling but in the 4 layer board I mentioned.


Is this "shelf life" common with high use Macs? Keep in mind this is not just one or 2 computers it's many of them clustered with in a short amount of time.


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Will Salley
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 4, 2010 at 8:39:46 pm

Speaking strictly from personal experience, I can say that I've never had a Firewire bus or interface go bad on the any of the 8 or so Macs here in my office. I have had several Firewire bridge boards go bad on the drives themselves and one in particular was because of static ( I know because I was the "ground"). We've got two G5s still in operation here and they both have had no problems with Firewire or really, any other issue other than the PRAM battery you mentioned. One is still chugging along with PT version 7.3 and making money. The other is a backup machine, but still working.

I can sympathize with the four year phenomenon with many other devices, but the Macs, fortunately, have not had any problems. We run them real hard too! But we also have learned from much experience, how to avoid problems and keep them cool. I replace the primary Macs (Final Cut Pro systems) every two years so they don't have much of a chance to cause problems, but they go on to be used for other uses.

Mac Pro 2x2.8 Quadcore - 10.6.2 - QT 7.6.3 - 22 GB RAM - nvidia8800GT - SATA internal & external storage - Blackmagic Multibridge Pro - Open GL 1.5.10 - Wacom Intous2 tablet - AJA io
SONY XDCAM EX3 - Letus Elite


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John Fishback
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 4, 2010 at 10:10:31 pm

Our experience is similar to Will's - no problems with the Macs, a couple of problems with FW drives. It's possible the problem is related to the quality of the supplied a/c power.

John

MacPro 8-core 2.8GHz 8 GB RAM OS 10.5.8 QT7.6.4 Kona 3 Dual Cinema 23 ATI Radeon HD 3870, 24" TV-Logic Monitor, ATTO ExpressSAS R380 RAID Adapter, PDE enclosure with 8-drive 6TB RAID 5
FCS 3 (FCP 7.0.2, Motion 4.0.2, Comp 3.5.2, DVDSP 4.2.2, Color 1.5.2)

Pro Tools HD w SYNC IO & 192 Digital I/O, Yamaha DM1000, Millennia Media HV-3C, Neumann U87, Schoeps Mk41 mics, Genelec Monitors, PrimaLT ISDN


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Damian Panitz
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 4, 2010 at 10:21:22 pm

This is not an ordinary circumstance. There are 27 Dual 2.5's and are in different rooms on different power supplies and the clients are all using different brand hard drives. It seems this problem is snowballing.


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Ty Ford
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:39:02 am

Hello Damien and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

We know a lot about audio here. What you want to know about is Macs. But for the sake of dicussion, I'll play. Are these the stock front and rear FW ports? Third-party FW port cards?

I have been running a dual 2 GB G5 Mac for over 4 years with none of the problems you report. I have blown the FW port, but that was due to a bad power supply in a third party CD duplication system.

Although I am not a Mac tech support guy, I'd be looking at power supplies and rails in the Mac that power the FW busses. Perhaps a short in a capacitor that's allowing current to flow, or voltage to discharge where it shouldn't.



Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Richard Crowley
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 6:02:35 am

Both Apple and Sony have published warnings about the vulnerability of Firewire ports, particularly when hot-plugged. Over the years I have seen many complaints about Firewire ports that have been zapped and rendered dead in both computers (Macs and PCs) and camcorders, etc.

Where are you? Are you experiencing low humidity? Do you have wool carpet or some environmental condition conducive to generating ESD? Many ports can be damaged by zaps that are too small to be noticed by users.


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Randy Wheeler
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:32:56 am

Connecting to the Firewire Port the Wrong Way

Some people make a common mistake of plugging in their firewire the wrong way, which can damage the firewire connection. This can be a very expensive repair, so it is very important to be cautious of how you plug in your Firewire. Always read warnings with regards to connecting. There have been occurrences of smoking laptops when the firewire is connected the wrong way. Consequences can include burning and damaging your circuits. Another important thing to avoid when installing your Firewire card is a kink on the cable

Read more: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/3-common-problems-to-avoid-when-installing...

Randy


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Damian Panitz
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:22:12 pm

It's been raining a lot here in New York City and the building has a modern HVAC system. I am certain the rug is made from synthetic polyester industrial office kind of stuff. It's truly a mystery since there are 27 Dual 2.5's in different rooms and their FW Ports are failing like domino's.

I guess what I am trying to suss out is whether or not it's a "shelf life" issue.

I would like to read the articles you mentioned that are published by Apple and Sony regarding Firewire vulnerability. What I've read which were articles that mention hackers can get info from computers via the firewire port (I like the "Target Disk Mode" function).

I appreciate the feedback from Ty, Will, John, Randy and yourself. I hope to get to the bottom of this soon.

Damian


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Richard Crowley
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 2:48:03 pm

HVAC systems tend to reduce humidity by warming the air. Wouldn't
hurt to go and get yourself one of those little temp and humidity
indicators and hang it on the wall.

Here is another discussion about Firewire port vulnerability right here on the COW: http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/8/921212 There are likely others, including many in other places on the internet, but I spent only a few seconds browsing Google hits.

I don't think there is any evidence to support the "shelf-life" theory. There is no intrinsic quality of Firewire (or any other) hardware that has some finite "shelf-life". Indeed there are Firewire ports that have been in continuous use literally for decades.


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Ty Ford
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:22:36 pm

Damian,

Please let us know what you find. In the back of my head I'm wondering if there's someone with a grudge.

Regards,


Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Damian Panitz
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 3:53:39 pm

On a personal note I am 300 percent Apple. I've dibbled and dabbled with Linux, I have had Windows running machines in search of a cheaper more efficient means of recording and editing sound for Film and TV. However I found Mac to be the most efficient, reliable joy ride of a computer yet. I am exited about the iPad and feel deep in my bones that it's revolutionizing the personal computer and the way we use PC's on the consumer level.

What I am hoping to gain through this web interaction is to figure out whether this is an isolated indecent or if others have experienced this same "shelf life" like occurrence. Like I said in my original post we've reached the magic year (post Apple Care warrantee) and like I said we round tabled "shelf life" back in 2003. To remind you "shelf life" refers to a theoretical amount of times you connect and reconnect a firewire device to a computer. We were actually referring to firewire drives not the computer back in 2003.

What's peculiar is I have had more than 8 out of 27 Dual 2.5 machines (my colleague just came through my office looked over my shoulder and said more that 8 computers) do this in different rooms in just over a months time. The first problem with these same machines were we had to replace the PMU batteries the month before.


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Richard Crowley
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:05:02 pm

My first bet would be environmental (low humidity static electricity from users). Note that many synthetic carpets are even worse then wool for generating ESD. And you can zap electronic equipment with a spark that you can't even detect. Winter is the worst time for ESD problems because of dry indoor air. Same reason many people use indoor humidifiers to keep their noses from drying out in the winter.

The other possibility might be that somebody(s) has started using some new make and/or model plug-in drive that is causing a problem, although I wouldn't put much money on that horse.

Anytime the same problem starts happening to lots of different systems, especially after a long period of problem-free use, I would look for an environmental cause first, and this just smells very much like ESD to me.


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Ty Ford
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:12:37 pm

[Richard Crowley] "Anytime the same problem starts happening to lots of different systems, especially after a long period of problem-free use, I would look for an environmental cause first, and this just smells very much like ESD to me.
"


why didn't it happen in previous winters?

Ty

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Richard Crowley
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:25:13 pm

"why didn't it happen in previous winters? "

Building managers make changes to the HVAC systems (or just changes to how they are operated) typically without informing the tenants. There could be several different reasons why something would happen this winter where it hadn't before.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that there is some sort of epidemic with the computer hardware, either. I've had 2/3 of the computers in one of my classrooms all drop dead nearly simultaneously from the same cause (bad batch of hard drives).


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Ty Ford
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 4:07:48 pm

Damian,

Anecdotally, I'm a Mac guy. I still have my first SE-30 Mac that started life as an SE. Last time I fired it up, it still worked.

When I first got my dual 2 GB, I had noise in my Pro Tools rig. There was something about the Power Supply in some early pieces. When pressed, Apple suggested a software mod. When pressed harder they paid to have the Power Supply replaced.

In speaking with an Apple rep early on, I complained about the noise. They guy said, "Sir, we really have no way of knowing how these Macs will be used, so we can't predict what specs we need to adhere to." I said, "it's a G5 , dual 2 GB Mac. You think, I'm not doing audio and video?!?!?!"

The new P/S helped on the firewire output, but I still need isolation transformers for the Mac's unbalanced analog outs.

How about going back to the place where you bought these to see if they can increase your leverage to the degree that you get some action.

Could this turn out to be a "Toyota-sized" recall problem? No way to tell until you get enough research about others, which is, I guess, what you're doing here.

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Damian Panitz
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:23:10 pm

I appreciate your help. My boss and I have been communicating with Apple. I hope I can get to the bottom of this. I love the video and your song.


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Ty Ford
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 5, 2010 at 5:46:41 pm

Damian,

Thanks! more stuff here, not all instrumentals http://www.reverbnation.com/#/tyford

You may need to bring it to Apple's attention with a class action (not the term I'm looking for, but can't think of another one). Something that demonstrates it's not just a one-off thing.

Regards,

Ty

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide






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Shawn Sullivan
Re: Firewire Shelf Life
on Apr 20, 2010 at 5:20:22 pm

I can report another case of exactly what Damian is talking about. In the lab I supervise we have experienced the same scenario. It is with G5 towers and FW800. Here is what happens.

Turn on computer it boots up completely. Connect an external hard drive(G-Drive) via FW800 that is powered off. Once you turn on the drive, which has not been used and is not hot, poof sparks and smoke with a LOUD repeated POP sound. This only happens with the G5 not the Mac Pro.

They stopped making these Towers in August 2006. I wasn't at the school when they purchased these but they are in that "Magic Year". We lost 19 towers in about 10 days. During those 10 days we even brought in an electrician to check the power in the room. They did some minor adjustments but everything seemed to be okay then they started blowing up HD's again. This was in early March 2010.

Now in another room at the school we have the same thing happening again but just to the G5 towers. I'm in NYC as well. Maybe it's something in the air...



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