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What Is FireWire® 800?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk

FireWire® 800 is a hardware model of rapid data transfer for various electronic devices from personal computers to digital cameras that uses a serial bus architecture first invented by the Apple® corporation in 1986. It has since been adapted to computer systems that run on the Windows® Operating System created by Microsoft® Corporation, and is often referred to by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers specification "IEEE 1394." Like the popular Universal Serial Bus (USB) port on many computers and other electronic data storage devices as of 2011, the FireWire® interface was meant to be a form of universal connection for various consumer electronics. Initially, FireWire® 400 was the standard, where up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps) of data could be transferred, and FireWire® 800 was an improvement in 2002 that doubled this speed, which is sometimes referred to as IEEE 1394b.

One of the unique advantages of Firewire® technology that has not seen a lot of use in the consumer marketplace as of 2011 is that it allows for a long series of devices to be connected together. The 1394 specification allows for up to 63 devices to be connected, and the projected 1394.1 specification would allow for more than 60,000 devices to be connected together by Firewire® cables. The cables themselves, however, only fit specific devices. There are three types of Firewire® cables, with the 6-pin design being the original one that is modeled for computer systems produced by Apple® Corporation. The 4-pin model was created for Windows®-based computers, and a special 9-pin cable also channels a power supply to the electronic device it plugs into where needed.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Another unique advantage that FireWire® 800 has over the USB architecture is that it is backward compatible. This means that a FireWire® 800 port connected to a FireWire® 400 port can still transmit data at 800 Mbps. A USB 2.0 architecture, however, will drop down to the speed of a USB 1.0 architecture if USB 2.0 and USB 1.0 ports are connected by cable. The cable limit on both architectures is fairly short, however, with the effective limit for data transfer on a FireWire® 800 device being a maximum cable length of 15 feet (4.6 meters).

While the IEEE 1394 port for either FireWire® 400 or FireWire® 800 is almost as common on personal computers and cameras as the USB port is as of 2011, it tends to have more specialized uses. Since data transfer by FireWire® 800 is about twice the rate of USB 2.0, it is commonly used where large files need to be rapidly shifted from one device to another. These types of applications include gaming, digital video transfer, and the high-speed storage of information in corporate settings. FireWire® also has the drawback that it is not compatible with many other kinds of high-speed video transfer cabling used as of 2011, such as with the use of high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cables.

FireWire® technology was developed by Apple® in conjunction with work from engineers at other prominent technology companies such as Texas Instruments™ Incorporated in the US and Sony® Corporation in Japan. Because of this joint effort, these companies also have their own brand names for the technology, with Texas Instruments™ labeling FireWire® ports as Lynx®, and Sony labeling them as i.LINK™. A FireWire® 800 port can also commonly be labeled as IEEE 1394, just 1394 or as a digital video (DV) port. Other devices can lack an identifying label altogether where FireWire® is present, and instead use a Y-shaped diagram to indicate that the port is indeed a FireWire® interface.

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      Woman doing a handstand with a computer