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What Are the Different Types of Portable FireWire® Devices?

By L.S. Ware
Updated May 16, 2024
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Portable FireWire® devices are available in many varieties, from webcams to external hard drives. There are two types of FireWire® specifications currently available. The original is FireWire® 400, also known as 1394a, which transfers data at 400 Mbps over a maximum distance of 14.8 feet (4.5 meters) of cabling. FireWire® 800, or 1394b, is the current standard as of 2011 and transfers data at 800 Mbps over a maximum of 328.1 feet (100 meters) of cabling. Daisy chaining of devices allows for much longer connections.

Three types of connectors can be found on portable FireWire® devices. FireWire® 400 connections are either four-pin passive for self-powered devices, such as camcorders, or six-pin active for devices that require power via the cable, such as external hard drives. Newer FireWire® technology has the nine-pin connector that is the standard for all 1394b devices. FireWire® 800 is backward compatible, and adapters and special cables are a couple of the other types of portable FireWire® accessories.

Digital video applications are where many gadgets make use of the real-time, isochronous data transmission that comes with the 1394 connection. Most digital cameras and camcorders have FireWire® connections. Examples of portable FireWire® gadgets in this category include external video capture devices and analog to digital video convertors. The ability to transmit digital data across long distances quickly and without data loss makes the 1394 standard ideal for audio and visual applications.

Owing to their speed and clarity, audio interfaces typically use FireWire®. These audio interfaces allow for recording and mixing from virtually any location, pulling their power from the computer into which they are plugged. Portable FireWire® speakers have been designed that do not require an external power supply or open universal serial bus (USB) port and improve data transmission.

Other types of portable FireWire® gadgets and devices include hubs, repeaters, and extenders. Repeaters and extenders allow daisy chaining of multiple devices and extend the range of the cabling. Hubs allow for expansion of ports that can be controlled via FireWire®, including USB.

The most abundant device is probably the external hard drive, as most that are produced come with FireWire® technology. Media card readers are another prolific example. A number of computer peripherals, like external DVD or CD burners, printers, and scanners, will have a FireWire® connection. A new, faster 1394 standard that transmits at up to 3.2 Gbps will become the primary in years to come, allowing for even more portable FireWire® devices to be developed.

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