64. Firewire speeds up
By Mark Alberstat
When it comes to computing and peripherals, most people want things faster
- faster modems, faster connections and faster throughput. Faster is not
always needed, but it is one of the factors pushing today's marketplace.
Firewire is one technology that is gaining popularity in a variety of
sectors of the computer industry. It is a high-speed, hot-swappable
peripheral interface. That definition alone is enough to turn some people
off, but in effect it is similar to our now familiar USB ports, found on
most computers built within the last few years, or easily added with an
Firewire allows you to connect various peripherals to your personal
computer through a thin data cable. One of the attractive aspects of
Firewire technology is that it allows you to connect many devices to your
computer with data transfer speeds of up to 400 Mbps (megabits per
This speed is considerably faster than USB 2.0. In fact, it is about twice
as fast. The next generation of Firewire is already on the horizon,
doubling its existing speed to 800 Mbps.
Before Firewire came along, computer users had a limited number of choices
for peripheral connectivity. Printers were usually hooked up via a slow,
but robust, parallel cable.
Later, USB (Universal Serial Bus) was developed, and still widely used
because of its "hot plug" or "hot swappable" capability.
This is the ability to plug a peripheral into your computer without
rebooting the machine. USB, however, is limited to about 12Mbps.
Another, but much less utilized, connectivity method is SCSI (Small
Computer System Interface). This type of connection scheme never really
caught on very widely due to its more complex and expensive setup.
All Firewire devices adhere to the internationally defined 1394 IEEE
standard. Among the definitions laid out in this standard is that a device
can be connected to the computer as long as it is within 4.5 metres.
In addition, each chain may have up to 16 devices along it, so, in theory,
a device could be as far away as 72 metres and still function as cleanly
as it does if it were a few centimetres away.
The primary users of Firewire are system-hungry applications and hardware
such as digital cameras, DVD recorders, digital camcorders and some
These types of applications and hardware like Firewire because they can
take advantage of Firewire's speed and its ability to move large amounts
of data over a relatively quick period of time.
Two of the main disadvantages to Firewire is that most PCs don't come from
the factory with Firewire ports and that many devices on the market today
are not being built with Firewire capability.
Instead they are staying with the more common USB interface.
Despite your PC not coming with a Firewire port, adding one is fairly
simple. All you need is an open PCI slot and a Firewire card.
Today, the cards cost about $30-50. Smaller format Firewire cards are also
available for laptop computers.
If you are looking for optimum performance from your peripherals, and can
find those you want with a Firewire option, this may be the connectivity
solution you are searching for.
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Originally published 17 July 2005