IEEE 1394 / Firewire

FireWire – Setting the World on Fire?

Developed by Apple Computer, and adopted as the IEEE 1394 standard, Apple’s FireWire technology is being adopted throughout the computer and consumer electronics industry as the means of providing high-speed interconnections between devices such as:

 Digital camcorders  Digital settops
 Digital VHS  Digital photography
 Disk drives  Printers
 Scanners  Digital audio
 HDTV (high-definition television)


While Apple, Compaq, IBM, Sun, Texas Instruments and Microsoft are the most visible endorsers of the technology, a wide range of semiconductor vendors are actively developing chipsets. Market preference for Sony digital camcorders with IEEE 1394 interfaces is forcing other consumer electronic vendors to support this interface for their forthcoming consumer digital products.

The major features and capabilities of IEEE 1394 are:

  • User friendly cabling, 4.5 meters in length. Up to 16 hops, with up to 63 devices.
  • Peer-to-peer, no master. Each node receives all packets and repeats them.
  • Supports isochronous (realtime) audio and video data streams broadcast from one node and received by multiple nodes.
  • True plug-and-play: no jumpers, switches or terminators.
  • Hot plugging: no power cycling or resets are needed.
  • Topology: point-to-point tree.
  • Bandwidth: currently defined as 100, 200 and 400 Mbps. Being extended to support 800 and 1,600 Mbps data rates.

For computer manufacturers, providing FireWire interfaces facilitates applications for processing vast amounts of audio and video information. Since 5 GB are required to store 30 minutes of audio and video, such applications should stimulate the demand for consumer PCs having large amounts of memory and disk, as well as high performance processors.

For consumer electronics manufacturers, the high quality of digital devices, along with the ability to mix and match, suggests that their market will explode, much as compact disks replacing phonographs did in the 1980s.

The very success of FireWire technology is likely to have several unanticipated effects:

  • While VESA plans to use 1394 as the backbone for its home networking standard, askmar believes that it will also have considerable impact upon 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps Ethernet. Already efforts are being made to extend the point-to-point cabling length of 1394, and to implement an IP protocol upon it.
  • USB is currently anticipated to be primarily used for keyboards, mouse, joy-sticks, low-speed modems, and local audio devices. The sheer volume of 1394 devices and products could well reduce unit implementation costs of 1394 to those similar to USB.
  • By using multiple 1394 networks, aggregate performance equivalent to FiberChannel, but at substantially lower costs, can potentially be obtained.

In summary, Apple’s FireWire technology has the potential to revolutionize the personal computer and consumer electronics industries, by acting as a catalyst for the convergence and integration of these vastly different industries. In 10 years, these discrete industries may well become homogenous.

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