Many times, over the span of my life, I have seen two competing things, one of which is clearly far superior, do battle, and see the inferior product win out, usually because of either misunderstanding, or cost differential. The classic confrontation is that of Beta versus VHS. Beta was clearly superior, upon inspection, to anyone whose sight was better than legally blind, but, back then Sony wanted a bit more for the use of the Beta technology, and VHS offered a bit longer record time. Longer record time and cheaper licensing fees won out over superior picture quality (and later, sound quality, as SuperBeta was far, far superior to SuperVHS in the audio quality comparisons).
Now the question is whether FireWire will survive, even though it has been shown that FireWire is far superior to USB 2.0. This is because many people don’t bother to read past the initial specs, which make it look as though USB has the edge. 480 Mb/sec for USB 2.0 versus 400 Mb/sec for FireWire? It should be no contest, right?
Well, no, it’s much more complicated than that, and the reasons are beyond the scope of this article (don’t you love that phrase!). It suffices to say that, in real life, FireWire, because of the superior intelligence built into the equipment, and the way the standard was set, will always be faster than USB 2.0. It will show faster burst speeds, and it will show faster sustained speeds. The sustained speeds are where FireWire really shines, and is what makes it ideal for video, where any speed problems would show up as glitches.
USB 2.0 has the benefit of being able to, with hubs, hook up 127 peripherals (which must include the hubs themselves) to one “master” port. FireWire can only daisy-chain 63 peripherals. Does anyone, in normal usage, really threaten to hit the limit of FireWire connections? If you have that many peripherals hanging on your computer, more power to you, but then you can probably afford to put a few of them on a different FireWire port – which should not be a problem, as most modern chipsets are found with 2 or 3 FireWire ports. Also, if you do come close to the limits of FireWire, it is there that the superiority of FireWire would really shine, and show you why it should be the winner of the popularity contest. With USB, more peripherals means less bandwidth for each one, and the interface is not smart enough to “get out of the way” of faster transfers. FireWire, on the other hand, has ways, much like the SCSI standard, for a peripheral, to take over the bus, after a certain amount of negotiation, usurp nearly all of the available bandwidth until such time as another peripheral steps up and asks for some of that bandwidth back.
Again, in the short answer, FireWire is much faster when at the limits of its possible connections.
So what about FireWire versus USB 3.0? Well, Grasshopper, the answer there would be that the answer has been around for a few years – it is called FireWire 800, and should absolutely crush USB 3.0, as again, it has more intelligence built in to go with the added speed. Should that not be enough, FireWire 1600 and 3200 are already on the books, with implementations for the mass market at the ready.
Unfortunately, Apple, being the major force behind FireWire, does not have the same amount of market capability as Intel, the 800 pound gorilla in any room.
FireWire’s long-term prognosis isn’t looking very good at the moment. It’s no longer uncommon for motherboards to ship without a FireWire port on the rear I/O panel, and though most mobos support the spec internally, you’re now more likely to find an eSATA port integrated into your case than a FireWire port.
But the most damning piece of evidence that FireWire might be on its way out is a leaked Windows 8 slide indicating that Microsoft’s next OS will sport better support for USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, but makes no mention of FireWire whatsoever. You might recall that Apple created quite a stink a couple of years ago when the Cupertino company dropped FireWire support from its MacBook line, but would Microsoft see the same kind of backlash if it were to drop FireWire when Windows 8 ships?
FireWire remains popular in the video and audio industries where users are quick to point out the faster transfer rates when compared to USB 2.0. But with USB 3.0 starting to take hold, the tide may be turning in its favor.
Are you ready to let go of FireWire, or should Microsoft continue to support the interface in Windows 8?
Without the push from Apple, will FireWire survive? Will we ever get to see FireWire 1600 on a peripheral or add-in board? I’m certain that home video aficionados will do their best to see the continuance of FireWire, but will their support be enough?
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Things change rapidly in the world of computers. It was not that long ago that people thought mainframes would always be the fastest, best way to do things. Now most simply take up space until replaced. Let’s hope enough people see the benefits to FireWire, as there are many, and push for its continued existence…