Race between USB, FireWire

Even if you have a combo Universal Serial Bus 2.0 and IEEE 1394 FireWire hard drive enclosure, you still have to choose between them.

Although many PC users became familiar with USB 1.1 by using USB-connected mice, keyboards and other low-bandwidth input devices, they might not be familiar with USB 2.0. This is essentially an evolution of the USB standard that allows for the connection of high-performance peripherals.

USB 2.0 offers significant performance enhancements over USB 1.1, but uses the same cables and connectors, and preserves the same plug-and-play, automatic installation of drivers and power management features. Its main advantage is that it offers 480 Mbps of bandwidth'40 times that of USB 1.1.

FireWire was patented by Apple Computer Inc. and later adopted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers as a standard, IEEE 1394. The current version runs at speeds of 400 Mbps, supports plug-and-play and allows simultaneous connection of up to 63 FireWire devices to your computer.

While the theoretical transfer rate of FireWire is 400 Mbps, or 50 Mbps in 'real' use, the first generation of drives transferred data at 10 Mbps to 12 Mbps.

The new class of drives using the Oxford 911 electronic bridge typically transfers data between 20 Mbps and 25 Mbps, with bursts up to 35 Mbps.

The latest FireWire 800 standard, with 800 Mbps bandwidth, delivers about double the effective bandwidth of USB 2.0.


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