USB and Firewire

August 23 2007

Most computers today offer the ability to connect USB and/or FireWire devices. Compared with earlier connectors, both of these technologies are extremely convenient. What are the differences?

USB (Universal Serial Bus) is a communications technology originally intended to replace the aging serial and parallel ports with a new format that fully supports "plug 'n' play" devices. Its original target market was lower-end devices that don't require high speed transfer rates, including printers, mice, removable disks (such as ZIP and floppy disks), joysticks, scanners and digital cameras. USB can connect up to 127 devices per port. Today there are two versions of USB:

  • USB 1.1: Supports transfer speeds of either 1.5 or 12 Mbps (Mega bits per second) .
  • USB 2.0: Supports transfer speeds of 480 Mbps (40 times faster than 1.1). Backwards-compatible with USB 1.1. FireWire (also known as i.Link or IEEE 1394) was created by Apple Computer and targets devices like hard drives and audio/video equipment that demand higher traffic capabilities. A single FireWire port can connect up to 63 devices.

Today there are two versions of FireWire, 400 (1394a) and 800 (1394b).

  • FireWire 400: Supports transfer speeds of 400 Mbps
  • FireWire 800: Supports transfer speeds of 800 Mbps and is backwards-compatible with FireWire 400.

As you can see, FireWire boasts higher speeds, but is usually more expensive than USB. Perhaps because of this, more USB devices populate the market. If you are looking for raw speed, FireWire is your best choice. But since these two systems coexist peacefully, why not take advantage of both?