Firewire Vs. USB

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Firewire Vs. USB

If you want to thoroughly compare USB technology with Firewire, you have landed on the right page. Keep reading ahead, to know about the pros and cons of using these two data transfer technologies.

Two of the premier high speed serial bus interfaces used in computing today are Firewire and USB. Both technologies are popular in the consumer market, as high-speed connectors for external devices, that can be attached to computers.

Difference Between USB and Firewire

It is always good to have a problem of plenty, rather than a problem of scarcity, when it comes to choosing between technologies. That way, you have more options when making a choice and get the most suited combination for your needs. When it comes to serial bus interfaces, that are used in connecting external storage devices and other accessories, the two choices are Firewire or USB. The key point in this comparison, that you should look for, is speed of data transfer.


Firewire development was initiated by Apple and later developed with many other companies like Texas Instruments, in collaboration with an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) working group. After development completion in 1995, it was officially released with the name of ‘IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus’.

Firewire is the name given by Apple, to their version of that standard. Texas instruments released this product by the name of Lynx, while Sony’s version is called I.Link. At start, the speed of transfer offered by Firewire was 400 Mbps. Subsequent versions of this standard have been released, with higher data transfer speeds.

Now, let us have a look at the history of USB development. The first USB devices were developed in 1996 by a research collaboration between many companies including IBM, Intel, Digital, Compaq, and Microsoft. The thought behind its development was to make the connection of external peripheral devices easier, at high speeds. At the start, the USB 1.0 specification had a data transfer speed of 12 Mbps. Subsequently, USB 2.0 was released in 2001 and USB 3.0 was released in 2008.

Functionality and Features

Continuing with our comparison, let us see the differences in functionality and features, between the two standards. Firewire provides isochronous data transfer in real time and is used in personal computers, audio, video, aeronautical, and automotive applications. This technology is also available for communication through fiber optic, wireless, as well as coaxial modes.

All kinds of high-end professional audio/video equipment uses IEEE 1394 standard. Firewire devices are built for high-speed application and are based on a ‘peer-to-peer’ architecture. This means that two devices like camcorders can directly communicate with each other, without a computer as an intermediary. These ports are intelligent and can easily negotiate bus conflicts and determine which device can control data transfer in each case. Firewire devices have a ‘Daisy Chain’ type of network topology. Both have plug and play, as well as hot plugging facility.

USB 2.0 is based on a ‘Master-Slave Architecture’, where the computer is the master and controls the data flow. This kind of architecture is host-based. So, USB devices cannot communicate directly. They need a computer as intermediary. USB is used in connecting all kinds of peripheral devices, including USB flash drives, digital cameras, scanners, printers, external hard drives, mice, keyboards, and computers.

There are many USB connector types; all of which have four data pin connections. The rectangular USB-A connector is most common. Firewire comes with 4-pin, 6-pin, and 9-pin connectors. USB devices have a ‘Hub’ type network topology.

Speed and Performance

Firewire 400 standard provides a data transfer rate of 400 Mbps, while the USB 2.0 standard offers a data transfer rate up to 480 Mbps. In actual performance, Firewire devices are faster than USB, owing partly to their peer-to-peer based architecture. The latest release of Firewire, promises a data transfer speed of 800 Mbps, while USB 3.0 promises a transfer speed up to 4.8 Gbps.

Firewire is more expensive than USB. Overall, it should be preferred if you are looking for audio and video applications, while USB is the technology you should go for, in case of computer peripherals.

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