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What Is FireWire?

Always "Wiki" before you call: FireWire at Wikipedia
FireWire at a glance:
  • "Real-time" bi-directional, multi-speed data transfer for all compliant applications (read as co-processor and multi-processor ready).
  • Fast Data transfer rates of 100, 200, 400 and 800 Mbits, today, and soon 1600 and 3200+ Mbits/s, over copper wire and / or fiber optic cable, equivalent to 10, 20, 40 and 80 MegaBytes, respectively.
  • Automatic configuration Hot Plug and Play live connection/disconnection without interruption of other host services.
  • Free-form Fully bi-directional network topology allowing mixed branches and daisy-chains between peripherals and peer to peer computers and co-processors.
  • Chip level termination no separate line terminators required.
  • Guaranteed bandwidth assignments for real-time applications and co-existing performance levels.
  • Common Connectors two types, 4-pin unpowered and 6-pin powered for all devices and applications.
  • A Solid Standard IEEE 1394 High Performance Serial Bus is fully iLink and FireWire compatible.

Technically Speaking:

You may know that FireWire is a connectivity standard that allows you to transfer data at lighting speeds between your Macintosh computer and another device, such as a hard drive or a digital camera. FireWire 1394a and 1394b is a packet switching, peer to peer network with 64 or 128 node addressing. Similar to USB and Internet Protocol, but with all devices having equal priority and an equal time share.

But did you know that you could use FireWire to transfer data between two Macintosh or Windows or Linux computers? It's true. With nothing more than a FireWire cable, you can take advantage of FireWire Target Disk Mode to link two FireWire equipped computers together and transfer files between them quickly and easily. Use FireWire Target Disk Mode to transfer data - fast, faster in bulk file transfer rate than 1000baseT ethernet.

Thumbnail History:

The 1394 digital link standard was conceived in 1986 by technologists at Apple Computer, who chose the trademark FireWire, in reference to its speeds of operation and the thermal "noise" created in the connections when the highest speeds were implemented. The first specification for this link was completed in 1987, and adopted in 1995 as the IEEE 1394 standard at about the same time that Sony introduced its trademarked iLink concept as a significant variant of the standard.

A large number of IEEE 1394 products are now available including digital camcorders with the FireWire and iLink 1394 connection, IEEE 1394 integrated and stand alone digital video editing systems, digital VCRs, digital still and video cameras, digital audio players and a wealth of other infrastructure products such as connectors, cables, test equipment, software tool kits, and emulation models.

Originally, Apple FireWire and Sony iLink lead the way for the development of this connectivity standard. Sony and Apple were the significant leaders and developers of the 1394 technology. The IEEE 1394 Organization has adopted a joint standardization of these specifications from all sources, Apple, Compaq, Sony and many others, so now the standard is fully integrated with these variants. FireWire and iLink may be considered a "super set" of the IEEE 1394 standard, but there is currently no practical difference between these brand names and the IEEE 1394 specification standard.

Benefits of FireWire 1394

iLink, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 are used extensively in professional videography, video and film editing and computer graphics editing and rendering. Applications that benefit from 1394 include nonlinear (digital) video presentation and editing, desktop and commercial multimedia publishing, faster document imaging, home and presentation theater multimedia and plug and play personal desktop computing. The low overhead, high data rates of 1394, the ability to mix real-time synchronous and asynchronous data on a single line and the ability to mix low speed and high speed devices on the same single network connection, provides a truly universal connection for almost any consumer or commercial peripheral application. This, backed by the openness of being an IEEE standard, now makes 1394 the preferred choice for a number of high speed interconnect applications in a wide variety of markets.

Although other high performance connectivity protocols like SCSI III and USB 2.0 are available, the backward and forward compatibility, peer to peer process sharing and future performance potential make 1394 the better performance champion. IEEE 1394 at 400 Mbps is a significant contender for the performance champion, bested only modestly by Ultra Wide SCSI II and SCSI III, but with the added benefits of hot plug and play.

USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 at 480 Mbps is still the methodology of choice for master/slave peripheral devices like the human interface (keyboards and controllers) and to a lesser extent audio and video devices. 1394 however would have to be the storage media interface of choice over all others because of "real time", synchronous / asynchronous peer to peer data transfer and future potential over wireless and fiber.

A Future for 1394 ... FireWire 800 ... FireWire 3200? ...

The strong multimedia orientation, self conformability, and high performance of 1394 have encouraged new, innovative product concepts in prototype or soon to be released and in development now. Examples include stand alone, video editing systems ... multimedia presentation systems ... stand alone, smart storage media for Internet data transfer systems ... co-process systems ... and other interesting applications.

With the advent of native IEEE 1394 support in Microsoft Windows operating systems (Windows 98SE, Windows ME and Windows 2000) and full Linux and partial Unix and Sun OS support and soon Windows CE support, a number of new applications for 1394 will come forth that inter link the worlds of consumer, Internet and commercial and industrial electronics.

A few companies are beginning to take advantage of the IEEE 1394 provisions for "peer to peer" networking, bi-directional high speed communications, co-process sharing and co-processor computing so that the standard may soon be used for full co-processing as well as master to slave computing. Look for 1394's heavy usage in local networking, multi-processing, multi-computing operation. An example: a large number of the new Apple Cube computers could be linked via FireWire to make the world's fastest commercially available process sharing system.

More Info: FireWire Technical Specifications