What Is FireWire? IEEE 1394 Interface & its Uses

If you are a 1990’s or 2000’s user, you perhaps used FireWire in those times. Not only in laptops and desktops, but also in cameras, camcorders, printers, scanners and almost in every device, this connector was seen. Just like, in modern times, USB is seen and used in every device like mobile phones, cameras, computers, scanners, etc., FireWire was also very commonly used in those electronic devices for creating a connection between devices to transfer data and other necessary tasks. Initially, in the past, FireWire was the most popular connector for its unique features and fastest data transfer speed but soon, USB becomes so advanced with its new versions that FireWire was gradually overshadowed by USB and its uses become less and nowadays there is literally no user left to work with it. You may notice FireWire ports in devices that are released before 2010 or 2011 but after 2011, most of those ports in the devices are converted into Thunderbolt ports because of the lack of developments for FireWire that it really needs.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Introduction of FireWire

FireWire was very first invented in 1990 under various manufacturers (Apple, Sony, Panasonic, IEEE 1394 Working Group) but it was first used in 1995. Actually, the real name of the connector is ‘IEEE 1394’ but it was more popular with the brand name, given by Apple i.e. ‘FireWire’. Not only Apple but also Sony and Texas Instruments also gave it their brand names. Sony called it ‘i.LINK’ and Texas Instruments named IEEE 1394 as ‘Lynx’. Just like it has many names, given by the companies, it also possesses various unique features which are filled with excellence. That’s why it was the most popular interface a decade ago.

Versions and Their Specifications

The very first version was just the normal name i.e. IEEE 1394 and Apple named it as FireWire 400 which is first invented in 1990. The numbers beside the name FireWire refers to its maximum data transfer speed. That means FireWire 400 has the maximum data transfer speed of 400 Mb/s. IEEE 1394 had many transfer modes available which are S 100, S 200 and S 400. The speed was dependant on those modes; 100 Mb/s is for S 100, 200 Mb/s is for S 200 and lastly, 400 Mb/s is for S 400. The connector of this version of the interface is just like this picture below.

FireWire 400 Pin Config

There are 6 different pins available in the connector. 4 pins are there for data transfer and 2 pins are there for power delivery. Its maximum power output was 60 watts.

FireWire 400 Connector

In 2001, they updated the interface and released a new version named as ‘IEEE 1394a’. Many features were added in this version. Some of those features are; asynchronous streaming, quicker bus configuration, power saving etc. But one big change which was added in that version was that they decrease the size of the connector from the bulky one to a little one. For this reason, the small devices like cameras, webcams, camcorders, printers and scanners were also started to get the utility of this connector. History provides the fact that this connector was mainly developed by Sony and they named it ‘i.LINK’. The fault in this connector was; it had only 4 different pins for data transfer that means this version was not capable of delivering power. So, in that case, you had to provide power externally though it was an updated version of FireWire.

IEEE 1394a

Another version of FireWire was released after one year in 2002 with the name, ‘FireWire 800’, given by obviously Apple. One the other hand, its actual name was changed as ‘IEEE 1394b’. The reason behind the name FireWire 800 is its data transfer speed i.e. 800 Mb/s which was really massive speed in those times. Another absolute change from other version is the modification of the connector. The connector of FireWire 800 or IEEE 1394b is literally different from its other versions. It had a total of 9 pins. So backward compatibility was definitely not possible here. If anyone wanted to use FireWire 400 on FireWire 800 connector, he/she had to purchase an adapter for that.

FireWire 800 Connector. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In 2007, FireWire 800 was improved and updated with two different versions which were ‘FireWire S1600’ & ‘FireWire S3200’. FireWire S1600 provides the maximum speed of 572 Mb/s whereas the maximum data transfer speed of FireWire S3200 was 1345Mb/s.

Features and Capabilities

As I have already mentioned, FireWire possesses very unique features that are full of awesomeness like daisy chaining & peer-to-peer communication.

Daisy Chaining:- Another Matchless advantage that differs Firewire from USB is the capability of daisy-chaining with a maximum of 64 different devices. Many users have not experienced this term so, for them, there is an example below to simplify what basically Daisy Chaining is. Suppose, you connect your computer with an external hard drive which has two Firewire ports. With one port, you have to connect the computer and with another port, connect with another external hard drive that has also an extra port and with that extra port, again connect with another hard drive. just like that, you can connect 64 devices together. That is a daisy-chaining.

Daisy Chaining

Peer-to-Peer Communication:-  Firewire also makes the two devices like digital cameras or laptops to communicate directly with each other without connecting with a central server because of its special feature which is called Peer-to-Peer device communication or Peer-to-Peer networking.

Though it is still now a versatile interface that can beat others but unfortunately, because of the abandonment of its development for new and updated versions and also in today’s world no device can work with this interface, it started to lack its users and from 2011 or 2012, no one uses this connector. They rather use the more popular and upgraded USB.

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