What are the Different Types of FireWire® Cords?

Jeffrey L. Callicott

There are several types of FireWire® cords, and although they all are utilized to transfer data, each kind has a slightly different use. The varieties available include 4-pin, 6-pin and 9-pin varieties and adapters such as FireWire-to-Universal Serial Bus (USB). What type the user requires will be determined by several factors, including the physical FireWire® ports themselves and the speed at which data will be transferred.

A USB cable to the left of two Firewire® cables.
A USB cable to the left of two Firewire® cables.

FireWire®, also known as IEEE 1394 and based on standards set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is similar to USB but is different method of data transfer via a physical cable. Similar to USB, FireWire® has several data speeds, but unlike USB, FireWire® cords do not always have the same physical connectors. They are thus not as backward compatible as USB cords tend to be. The older transfer standard for IEEE 1394 was called FireWire® 400 and was named for its maximum data transfer rate of 400 megabits per second. FireWire® cords based on this standard are limited to 14.8 feet (about 4.5 m) in length, though it is possible to link multiple cables together in succession.

A FireWire® port.
A FireWire® port.

Cords based on the 400 standard have four or six pins. The majority of these cables have the same connector at each end, but if needed, FireWire® cords are available that have a 4-pin connector at one end and a 6-pin connector at the other. The 6-pin connectors are the most common type and almost always connect to a computer, hard drive or other electronic device that stores or processes data. The much smaller 4-pin connectors are typically used on mobile electronics or other types of data-gatherers. For example, some digital video cameras use the 4-pin connectors.

A more recent IEEE 1394 standard, FireWire® 800, came into use in 2002. It had the advantages of allowing cable lengths as long as 32 feet (about 9.7 m) and doubling the possible data throughput to 800 megabits per second. The downside to the enhancements was that it introduced a larger, 9-pin connector. This meant that older FireWire® cords based on the older 400 standard could not be used to connect to the newer ports.

Cords based on the FireWire® 800 standard utilize the 9-pin connectors at both ends. FireWire® cords are also available that have a 9-pin connector at one end and but an older 4-pin or 6-pin connector at the other. This allows the use of FireWire® 400 devices on computers that have FireWire® 800 ports.

Cables are also available for more specialized connections via FireWire®. Firewire-to-USB adapters are available. Some devices use a FireWire® connector at one end and a specialized connector at the other. These rarer FireWire® cords tend to be more expensive than regular FireWire® cables.

USB 3.0 speeds surpass those of Firewire 400 and 800 in most cases.
USB 3.0 speeds surpass those of Firewire 400 and 800 in most cases.

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