What Is FireWire: The In’s and Out’s

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What Is Firewire

In simplest terms, FireWire enables high-speed communication between two separate computers or between a computer and a peripheral, such as a keyboard or a digital camera. Connectivity is an important aspect of computer technology. Having multiple devices that all operate together at maximum efficiency is what FireWire is all about. The following information describes what FireWire is, how it works, the difference between FireWire and USB, and how all this matters regarding the efficiency of multiple devices.

What is FireWire?

FireWire, which is also called IEEE 1394, is a connecting device used primarily for adding peripherals to a computer. FireWire is often used for connecting external hard drives and digital camcorders that benefit from a high transfer rate. These transfer rates are often up to 800 Mbps. It is predicted that it may not be too far into the future when these rates increase to 3.2 Gbps. FireWire 800 hubs can also connect devices that are up to 100 meters apart. FireWire 800 can work with FireWire 400 equipment as well. FireWire was initially developed by Apple and was a standard feature on many of the Mac computers for several years. In recent years, however, Macs have been installed with an interface called Thunderbolt.

How Exactly Does FireWire Work?

If you have a computer that is connected to any external devices, the computer will query all devices that are connected whenever it starts to power up. This process is called enumeration, with the computer giving each device an address. When connecting a new device to your computer, the operating system will detect it and ask for a driver disc. If the device is already installed, the computer will automatically activate it and start communicating with it.

FireWire devices are called hot pluggable. This means even without any power on, they can be connected and disconnected. Using a 64-bit fixed address, there are three individual parts in each packet of information that is sent by a device when using FireWire. This includes a 10-bit bus ID, which determines which FireWire bus the data has come from, a 6 bit ID, which will identify what particular device sent the data, and a 48-bit storage area that can address 256 terabytes of information.

How are FireWire and USB Different?

Every device that is developed to communicate with a computer needs a connection. Both FireWire and a USB can provide those connections. A USB (Universal Serial Bus) allows you to connect a printer and other devices quickly to your computer. The following are the main differences between USB and FireWire.

  • More Data – The primary difference between FireWire and a USB is that the FireWire is used for devices that include more extensive amounts of data such as digital camcorders and DVD players.
  • More Speed – The second difference is that FireWire is a faster method of connection and can transfer power to a device through the same cable through which data transfers. This amount of speed is not necessary, however, for devices such as a mouse and most printers.
  • More Expensive – FireWire cables are generally more costly to use.
  • Peer-Based – Another difference between USB 2.0 and Firewire is that the USB is host-based. This means that any devices that are used must be connected to a computer to be able to communicate. FireWire is considered peer to peer which means that two FireWire devices can communicate without going through a computer.

What are Some Practical Applications of FireWire?

Digital cable television companies in the United States are required to provide a high definition cable box with FireWire when requested by a customer. This is for customers that have leased cable boxes that are capable of high definition. They can then record and display programming such as HDTV. FireWire, when plugged into a Mac, is also often used to build an elaborate home theater system.  FireWire is used in professional film and video editing and editing computer graphics. With competition from Thunderbolt as well as improvements in USB technology the future of FireWire will depend on its ability to compete with these latest technological advances.


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