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All FireWired Up

FireWire is sneaking into all kinds of devices, from enterprise storage to tools for the GarageBand crowd. By Esther Schindler
More than ten years ago, engineers at Apple Computer developed a high-speed method of transferring data, which they dubbed FireWire. The company included it on all new Macintoshes, and also brought the technology to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), hoping it would become a cross-platform standard. It did. In December 1995, the IEEE released an official FireWire specification called IEEE 1394, which describes data-transfer speeds of 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps, and 400 Mbps.

Today, FireWire is defined by the IEEE 1394-1995, IEEE 1394a-2000, and IEEE 1394b standards. Devices that use these standards can move large amounts of data using simplified cabling, hot swapping, and transfer speeds of up to 800 megabits per second.

And its acceptance is faster than a speeding data-transfer rate. According to the 1394 Trade Association, by the end of 2006 more than 510 million 1394-equipped devices (such as computers, hard drive, and televisions) will be available worldwide with FireWire as the transport mechanism for high-quality audio, video, data, and control. That's estimated to double over the next 24-36 months.

With the rapid growth in the professional audio market, several dozen new 1394-equipped products are set for introduction throughout the music industry during calendar 2006. From an IT perspective, of course, the major interest in the technology is in storage and in vertical markets, such as industrial cameras for machine vision applications, aerospace systems communications, military systems, and robotics.

But that's today, or at least today's technology. How is FireWire evolving?

Coming up, 1394 and Ethernet will be able to reside on the same device, so both data including audio and video can run over 1394 and Ethernet along the same CAT-5 cable. In effect, explained a representative of the 1394 Trade Association, the system will decide which standard to use to maximize efficiency for the application. 1394c is a way to reuse the gigabit Ethernet PHY for the 1394 protocol by defining how that PHY can be used in a 1394 environment.

The bottom line is that with one piece of silicon, a 1394c-equipped network will pass 1394 signals to 1394 devices and Ethernet signals to Ethernet devices. That device spec is now being approved by the 1394 Trade Association and the IEEE 802.3 committee. It is expected to be in place by summer.

Advances in Storage and Professional Audio
Many high end drives have both FireWire and USB, such as hard disks from Maxtor and Seagate (soon to merge), as well as Western Digital, LaCie, and others.

If your IT shop hasn't switched everything to FireWire, that's no problem. Many companies that supply the interface chips offer dual, two-in-one devices with both USB and 1394. For example, Oxford Semiconductor Inc. announced a configurable USB/FireWire dual SATA storage controller with encryption which, the company says, "enables external storage manufacturers to provide users with the option of highly robust data security."

Then there's the market issues.  The High-Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance (HANA), the first cross-industry collaboration to address the end-to-end needs of connected, high-definition, home entertainment products and services, is using 1394 in all of its networking implementations, primarily because of FireWire's "one cable, one remote" strategy. HANA, led by Samsung, Mitsubishi, JVC, and Sun Micro, expects its first consumer electronics networked implementations to be in place by summer.

Audio system makers are now including 1394 in a range of mixers, pre-amps, speakers, and other products for music makers. For instance, BridgeCo, which provides entertainment networking solutions, recently announced that it had doubled the bandwidth of its BeBoB FireWire audio interface platform. And with Lexar Media, Inc.'s Smart Download, photographers can manage multiple concurrent downloads using Lexar's Professional Firewire and USB 2.0 CompactFlash Readers, says the company. Smart Download is an intelligent acquisition plug-in module that allows photographers to rapidly download and manage images directly from their memory cards via Adobe Bridge, a component of Adobe Creative Suite (CS2).

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Esther Schindler has been writing about technology professionally since 1992, and her byline has appeared in dozens of IT publications. She's optimized compilers, owned a computer store, taught corporate training classes, moderated online communities, run computer user groups, and, in her spare time, written a few books. You can reach her at [email protected]
Related Keywords:firewire, data transfer, ieee 1394, storage, connectivity, hana, ethernet, usb


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