ExpressCard slots on new Mac and PC notebooks look tantalizing, but buyer beware: adding FireWire audio can be perilous. Multichannel FireWire interfaces work beautifully with the proper drivers and controller, but get some element of that equation wrong, and you may find your high-end interface is rendered unusable (think glitches and dropouts). The chipset in the controller and in the laptop can have an impact, but having a TI (Texas Instruments) controller in your ExpressCard seems to be a good start.

Speaking of Rain Recording, Rain is about the only vendor I’ve found that offers a 2-port FireWire ExpressCard known to work well with audio interfaces. Now, your mileage may vary depending on the chipset in your laptop, but based on what I’ve been hearing, this looks like a good option. I’ve also seen a cheap (US$30) card floating around some random Internet vendors; it’s so cheap, I’m probably going to buy one just to see if it works. I’ll report back.

2 Port FireWire Express Card (formerly ADS Tech PYRO1394a) [Rain Recording]

I get nothing out of this, for the record; Rain actually hopes you’ll get this card with one of their laptops, but I’m just as curious to hear how it works on other machines. Of course, this would be a nice add-on not only for PCs, but also potentially for MacBook Pro users wanting dedicated FW400 ports and the TI controller – theoretically, at least. Let us know what happens if you take the plunge.

If you’ve had experience with different chipsets and ExpressCard slots on Mac or PC, we’d love to hear it. And I hope to offer my own tests soon.

Updated: The StarTech EC13942 also shares the TI chipset and is available from a number of vendors if that’s a vendor you prefer. It’s the only one endorsed by PreSonus aside from this former ADS Tech card that Rain sells — and may give you better results with other, non-PreSonus hardware, based on reports I’ve read. See PreSonus’ official word on the matter:

Presonus Hardware Compatibility: Approved Chipsets [PDF]

  • I run my MOTU 828mk3 and TC Powercore X8 both off a generic expresscard FW interface with a TI chipset. Everything seems to work fine, and I haven't had any troubles with it.

  • I had seen one problem with the generic card, but under Linux … and lots of other variables there. Which generic? Which OS, Windows?

  • clarity

    I've been running my Korg Zero 4 connected to a Belkin 2xFirewire/1xUSB expresscard on my 2.33Ghz MacBook Pro running OSX 10.4.11. Works beautifully with Ableton Live 7, Logic Pro 7, Traktor Scratch/Pro, NI Plugins in standalone mode, and the Legacy Collection in standalone mode.

  • Ah, cool — now you're talking. 2x FireWire *and* an additional USB sounds nice. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have to see if I can't pick one of those up…

  • White Badger

    I've been using my RME FF400 with a Wiebetech FW800 expresscard:

    Certainly not the cheapest, but was the only one available at my nearby comp store and it was needed in an emergency, but it certainly has worked flawlessly for the 6 months I've been using it. I find that I actually get much better usage having the FF400 on the expresscard and my external hard drive connected to my MBP's FW800 port. Sometimes having the FF400 and hard drive plugged into the laptop, the FF400 would drop out. Hasn't happened once while keeping the 2 isolated.

  • Good call. Yeah, theoretically having both on the same laptop bus should be no problem at all — except very often the controller can't handle it. So it's well worth taking advantage of that ExpressCard slot. (This, incidentally, blows holes through the myth that Mac users don't want expandability.)

  • m:ck

    i've tested my mbox 2 pro and motu 828 mk3 connected to this cheap texas instruments equipped COMBO Dual 1394 + USB2.0 from everything runs smooth on my macbook pro. cheers.

  • julian

    I am currently playing email tennis with microsoft, ADS, Rain and Presonus.

    Have had a disaster, my laptops on board firewire was made out of cardboard or something and my presonus firebox would not work at all.

    so on presonus's recommendation i PHONED america to buy one from Rain.

    two weeks on i get incedibly slow and distorted sound, thats the best ive got.

    i have mail from all four of the above so will get back after trying their results – one of microsofts suggestions was to go back to XP!!!!

    i now need this to work as have brand new vista lap top and spent maybe a hundred hours tuning vista to even work and cant face losing all that effort, not when ive got it running so well

    i think it is a driver prob

  • julian

    by the way, i did infact receive the OLD one, ie pyro1394a NOT the replacement but have been told they are identical

  • Julian, what host are you using? Are you getting garbled sound in all software, even when using the ASIO driver?

  • julian

    laptop hp dv 7 , have tried a variety of software inc the likes of ableton and traktor, even winamp

    using WDM and asio drivers all to the same result, even used unibrains firewire drivers, get exactly the same result (vista home premium service pack one) i should test the "fixes" ive been sent first and get back

    the firewire is obv not being processed at the right speed for a start plus it drops off after a few minutes anyway

  • julian

    okay have had a brief read through but not applied yet.

    microsoft say try on another laptop – ta

    Rain say – could be the firewire sharing IRQ with something else, i hope not as that i hear is not changeable in vista – and also that it maybe drivers

  • julian

    i notice when i look in device manager at the IRQ, it shows 4 instances that say

    (PCI) 17

    does this mean all those four are on that one channel?

    the four instance all appear to be the pci express firewire as follows

    ICH9 family pci express root port 2
    ICH9 family pci express root port 6
    texas instruments ochi compliant 1394

    and oddly

    ICH9 family USB universal host controller

    (my firewire card is 2 firewire outs, no usb, iknow already that usb/firewire combos dont work

  • Nick

    I bought one off of Newegg for $36 this past May and it has always worked perfectly on a Macbook Pro with an M-Audio Firewire Audiophile interface and a 160gb Glyph drive chained. It looks like people had problems with it on Windows, but it's been so solid and relieved my Mac's stock firewire bus to allow my FW800 to operate without any of that speed cap that happens when sharing the bus with a 400 device.

    This card has a TI XIO2200 Chipset.…

    TI XIO2200 Chipset
    2-ports FireWire 1394a with 400Mb/s
    Compliant with ExpressCard/34 standard
    IEEE 1394-1995 Standard compliant, for High Performance Serial Bus and P1394A Supplement 4.0
    1394 OpenHCI Specification V1.0 and V1.1 compliant
    Fully plug & play and hot plug supported

  • Nick

    Sorry, the overview link is:

  • julian

    im pretty sure the problem is vista – i plugged the firebox into my old laptops (acer travelmate 3200) inbuilt firewire and it worked perfectly without going near any settings (xp svc pack 2)

  • @Julian: Well, Vista has a whole bunch of different drivers, so … totally different game; any number could cause this problem. Try searching for "DPC Latency Checker" and giving that tool a try. If you see red bars, it may be an indication that some hardware or driver failure is causing your problem. It may not even be that card. I don't know in this case what the specifics may be.

    @Nick: Ah, very cool. Well, the other issue is not only the OS but the machine. That card has the TI chipset — good news. But the bad news may be the ExpressCard controller on the laptop being sub-par. Or the driver.

  • julian

    DPL latency checker is indeed awesome tiny ware that has helped in the past but latency doesnt seem to be an issue

    i have vista running with dpclat in the green , the odd yellow but no where near red spikes (with audio software and the firebox running)

    id pretty much turned off/ disabled most things to no avail anyway

  • poopoo

    Make sure you get a FW cable with a big ferrite.

    I know it sounds stupid, but I bought a cheap cable which came without a ferrite and my FW interface refused to work. A new cable with a proper ferrite solved it.

  • yep, belkin is the go. works beautifully with my motu 896 and powercore x8

  • julian

    well the cable may be to fault if anyone else has had slow distorted sound, no just tried two bog standard cables that came with equipment

    no ferrite

    against this i have tried both the on built firewire with a different third cable and both firewire ports get different fails, the on board plays fine for a minute or two and stops

  • I can't remember the name of the expresscard I use. It's a 2x FW400, 1x USB. I used it in combination with my MacBook Pro (Core Duo not core2duo). I got the Belkin first, and it never worked for me with OS X.

  • As an aside, I found having the express card FW interface to be essential for me. I had at one time a MOTU 828mk3, TC Powercore X8, Korg M3, and a Firewire HDD all running off my laptop firewire buss. This caused problems when I was running multiple tracks while also using many powercore plugins and the M3. Using the card, and thus having another firewire bus helped with this a great deal.

  • Kokko

    Would be cool to know if someone is using ExpressCard eSata on a Mac Book Pro. They are very difficult to find in Italy…

  • Kokko: Using a first gen 17 inch mbp with a LaCie eSata expresscard adapter. It works pretty well most of the time. It's faster than firewire 800 on my quad interface external hard drive. Sometimes when i insert the card, the computer locks up. So i usually reboot or shut down the computer before inserting the card to prevent problems.

    Most of the eSata adapters for Mac are based on the same chipset. I've seen some adapters going at twice the price i paid.

  • so wouldthese power firrewire audio cards then. i hate having to plug my firwire card into a socket when using it with my laptop

  • @arctic-sunrise: Yep, that's the idea. Of course, whether they all work properly is a different question.

  • ah thanks peter, i kinda of thought as much due to the thread. ah well. technology always brings its problems ๐Ÿ™‚

  • julian

    artic sunrise

    no they do not

    where as 6 pin on board firewire provides power for the attached device and four pin doesnt

    because this is through the pc express card slot no power is provided – really glad ive start down this route

  • julian

    wow i just got my final email of help from rain who sold me the express card

    just a lot of patronising crap about how my laptop wasnt designed for audio and this is the problem, though they dont know what it exactly is and would i like a quote for a new laptop

    so far one useless presonus firebox down, one useless express card down and no useful help from any party involved

    i kinda think my dv 7 should be able to handle audio , its not exactly weak

  • Oh, I thought you HAD gotten a second laptop to try.

    Look, Rain can only support the card they literally sold you, and odds are that the card is not at fault because it's one PreSonus recommends and one that can work quite reliably.

    On the HP side, you have the controller for that ExpressCard slot and the driver for it. And I've seen ** widespread ** reports online of exactly the problems you're describing with certain controllers. The audio interface could be fine, the ExpressCard slot you're adding could be fine, and the laptop could cause total havoc because of one component or driver.

    I don't think anyone's trying to be patronizing here. This stuff is really messy. I know it's frustrating when you can't get your gear to work.

  • julian

    I have tried the firebox on the in built firewire card on a lap top running xp and it works, i also beleive the problem not to be the express card or firebox

    but how many people are having problems of various kinds makes me think its the rule not the exception

    (one of many)

    yes i think it is something in either vista or the computer before it reaches the TI chipset or processing the data from the firewire, i just dont know how to fix this or even effect it at all.

    and im sorry but an "answer" that was a page long ad for buying a laptop from rain and that it was a "digital world these days", it was bloody patronising, ill forward it if you like…

    "if you have a laptop thats just meant for checking emails and surfing the net"?!!

    i kinda hoped it was a bit more powerful than that.

  • It's not about power, it's about compatibility in component choice.

  • veggieryan


    firewire in general is not a good protocol for audio.

    id like to see some head to head cpu/buffer comparisons between popular firewire interfaces and the new express card interfaces like the new indigo and the rme hdspe express. I know my old echo mona and rme digiface would destroy my old firewire motu 828 in the cpu/buffer department… on the order of double or more…

  • Joshua Bogart

    I bought a generic version of this card about 9 months ago, it was made in China. I bought it because my Macbook Pro was the first generation 1.8Ghz model where Apple thought it would be a great idea not to add both a 400 and 800 firewire port, which I was pretty pissed when the next gen model came out. Anyways, I use Logic 8 and Ableton Live 7 with an Apogee Duet. I use this card for my firewire hard drives and not my interface, as I would never trust my interface through one of these things. The only problem I've noticed is a delay when using Logic to start recording. I hit record and about a minute later it starts. Well, there's my experience…..if anyone cares.

  • The FireWire ports on my MacBook Pro recently blew out, and I got a Sonnet FireWire 800 ExpressCard/34 adapter (manufacturer part # FW800-E34) rather than replace my logicboard. I haven't been able to determine which chipset it uses. I had nothing but trouble with it – audio interfaces and drives would drop offline, and my Kyma system would freak out at random.

    I replaced it with a Sonnet FireWire 800 ExpressCard adapter (manufacturer part # F5U514), which I've confirmed uses the TI chipset, and so far it's worked flawlessly.

  • Sorry – my mistake. The second adapter was a Belkin FireWire 800 ExpressCard adapter (manufacturer part # F5U514).

  • @julian – although i haven't been involved in the dirty work, i stay close to the firewire audio support project FFADO for linux. i can assure that there really are quite a lot of firewire chipsets and firewire/PCI bridges that are simply broken in ways that the OS cannot work around. this isn't on windows, where we have to live with what MS tells and gives us. even on linux, where some of the smartest programmers i know have been doing a great job trying to audio over firewire working well there, and where they can change anything from the lowest levels of device drivers and the kernel on up to GUIs etc, there are many h/w configurations that they've had to just abandon as unusable. its unfortunate but sadly true, and i wouldn't be too ready to disbelieve what you're hearing.

  • Koenie

    Hi Julian,

    I'm having exactly the same problems as you do (hp dv7 – startech firewire expresscard after not working with onboard firewire and not working with new card either). Do you have any solution in sight??


  • dominic

    i've had similar hassles with my dv 5 i bought less than a month ago. can't make protools work reliably. wish i had've read this before i bought my laptop

  • I have been thinking about trying an HP 2140 Mininote, just for recording 16 tracks, I have the Mackie Onyx 1640 with Firewire. If anybody has tried the new Mininote with an ExpressCard/Firewire, please share your results. The 2140 would be so much nicer than lugging around a full size laptop or desktop…

  • David

    I'm running Vista Home 64-bit on an HP Pavillion laptop with a Presonus FP10, and have tried getting 2 different ExpressCards to work…first is a Dynex 800 Firewire card. With this card I get normal speed audio that has distortion. Second card is a generic card with TI chipset. With this card, I get extremely slow, distorted audio. Painful to even listen to. Am I reight that there is **widespread** problems with ExpressCard audio on HP laptops?

  • acidrecords
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  • Koray

    I have the same problem with an HP dv6 1050 and firebox poorly performing on a 4 pin firewire port.. Rain express firewire card doesnt event make the light blue! (Which was the recommendation of HP tech support by the way) Attempts to install winxp were not successfull, Hp says they've never tried the hardware with xp, windows 7 does not make any difference even if you load the legacy 1394 drive. I'm stuck. I tihnk i'll get back to my m-audio audiophile usb interface (if it works of course!) By the way i've received no response from presonus so far.

  • FWIW…

    I have a Toshiba laptop with XP and a Dell Laptop with Vista. Using an Edirol FA-101, an express card with a TI chipset, and Audacity.

    I get horrible distorted sounds on both machines. Actually, the Vista distortion is kinda cool and glitchy.

    Nothing I have tried so far works. Way back when, I had a working system with the FA-101 and a 64 bit XP laptop.

    I think I am going to try the Echo Indigo next. I'll comment with the results.

  • usernamesarepoop

    I own the very 2-port firewire express card pictured above. I regularly test it between my Rain Livebook Pro and my MOTU Ultralite when I think I've discovered something new and clever to try. The MOTU still periodically does the standard Poop-Out & CrackleFest anyway so I end up returning to using the little 4-pin port on the front edge of the laptop just because it's simpler and I can use the express card slot for other goodies.
    What I have not tried yet (I'm a little embarrassed to say) is powering the express card with a wall wart – partly because it never occurred to me that that could be a problem (since I'm powering the damn Ultralite with a wall wart anyway, right?), and now that is has, I have no idea where the cord is or whether one even came with the card or not. There's a little round hole on the right side of the plastic housing (when you look at the external end of the card) which is obviously for a DC power cord and I'm starting to think perhaps I should be using it. At least it's something I haven't tried. Anyone else checked this out?

    …OK, I just looked at StarTech's pdf manual online ( and read that the card is optionally powered with a 12VDC (1A) power adapter which is not included with the card. I will be procuring one shortly and will return with results I get when I feel I have obtained them. And if I can find this thread again.

  • johnny

    did any of you guys get the firewire expresscard working with the HP dv6 -7 series?

    please let me know


  • ankit

    I dont think anyone did and i hate to sound negative but i think the issue is with the jmicron controller and the fact that the expresscard might be handled by the same controller.

    fucking crap shit

  • ankit

    hmmm i dunoo but maybe a usb to firewire converter ( if someone can find one ) with nothing else on any usb port on the same bus.

  • Jimmy

    Hi.. My name is jimmy. I m From India. I bought a new dell laptop – corei3 4gbram, 500gb Hdd, with 34 expresscard slot, I m wanted to use firewire audio interface for zero latency. So would you please guide me to purchse 34mm firewire 800 expresscard so that i can do music work smoothly on my laptop ?

  • Dudu

    I bought this SIIG Firewire interface 400 / 800, and it doesn't work with MAUDIO firewire interface. Whenever you install the SIIG Driver, the MAUDIO driver stops working. 
    Do you know if I use Texas Instruments Chip Set it would work? I found a Lacie express card:

    I have a PCI / Firewire 400 Lacie and it works perfectly with my MAUDIO interface in my QuadCore desk PC. 

    That's why I am intending to try Lacie express card on my lap top. Anyone has any idea? 


  • Mat Tia

    Is this device functional for esxpandind my mid 2010 Macbook Pro with a non working FW800 port?
    I should connect a Motu 828 MK3 FW400 Audio interface..
    Also, which one sould I buy beetween this and EC13942?
    Thank you so much