Customers are asking all the time these days which FireWire controller is installed in particular Macs they’re thinking of buying. I figured that information would be available in System Profiler, and was amazed when I learned that it wasn’t. I was intrigued. How do you determine which chip is used without opening up the machine and looking at it?

The answer is Single User Mode, conjured by holding down the command and S keys immediately after your computer makes the startup chime. You’ll see the screen turn from the expected gray to black with white text. As the white text scrolls past, there will be a reference to the FireWire chip set used in your machine. The information for my iMac (from late 2008), uses a Lucent ID 501 that supports FireWire 800, as indicated in this line:

FireWire (OHCI) Lucent ID 5901 built-in now active, GUID 000ff3fffe2f9ff2; max speed s800

The same chipset was found in an early 2008 MacBook and a new Mac mini; the Pro machines tend to include Texas Instruments chip sets. There is a third type that may be in your machine made by Agere. The main reason so many are asking about the chipset is that some online forums claim that professional audio devices, particularly those from Apogee and MOTU, do not play well with the Agere chip set. We have no evidence that this is true, and find it extremely unlikely.

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