FireWire versus USB isn’t exactly the most exciting of format wars — we are talking about data cables, after all. Most people use one or the other for connecting all manner of digital paraphernalia to their PC (and more often than not, USB 2.0) but probably don’t give the underlying technology much of a though.
FireWire, pioneered by the likes of Apple and Sony, has had a bit of a rough ride. It appeared almost ubiquitously on Apple computers and Sony camcorders, and would have been familiar to early adopters of the iPod, but has since fallen from favour somewhat, with Apple downgrading many of their FireWire ports from the faster 800Mbps to slower 400Mbps standard.
USB 2.0, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength, and is found on nearly every desktop and laptop computer, digital cameras, high definition TVs, set top boxes, broadband routers — you name it, it’s everywhere. Arguably, though, it’s not the fastest of the two, at 480Mbps, and FireWire — theoretically at least — may have dealt it another blow with two faster speeds having just been approved by the IEEE.
S1600 (1.6Gbps) and S3200 (3.2Gbps) FireWire (IEEE 1394) specifications will be available from October, allowing the possibility of much higher speed data transfers, but still keeping compatibility with existing equipment. Of course, that depends on hardware manufacturers building in ports which can handle the faster data rates.
USB, on the other hand, could retaliate with version 3.0 by the year 2010, offering speeds of up to 4.8Gbps. However, a number of manufacturers have claimed that Intel is withholding information about the specifications — hardly a way to roll it out as a new standard.
They’re only cables, but when it comes to moving digital information — of which we now have many Gigabytes worth of — they’re vital. Let the battle continue.