Next-gen FireWire to hit 3.2Gb/s

The 1394 Trade Association recently announced a new specification to quadruple the speed of FireWire to reach 3.2 gigabits per second.

The new electrical specification, known as S3200, builds upon the IEEE 1394b standard, preserving all the advantages of FireWire while offering a major and unprecedented boost in performance. The new speed uses the cables and connectors already deployed for FireWire 800 products, making the transition forward easy and convenient for 1394 product vendors and their customers. Because the 1394 arbitration, data, and service protocols were not modified for S3200, silicon and software vendors can deploy the faster speed FireWire quickly and with confidence that it will deliver its full potential performance. The S3200 specification is expected to be ratified by early February.

FireWire 800 products deployed since 2003 have proven that IEEE 1394b delivers outstanding performance. Operating without polling, without idle times, and without continuous software management, FireWire 800 efficiently delivers more than 97 percent of its bit rate as payload — not overhead. FireWire 800 hard drives today can easily move over 90 megabytes per second. S3200 preserves 100 percent of the 1394b design efficiency and will deliver extremely high payload speeds reaching nearly 400 megabytes per second. Other interface technologies struggle to deliver half their advertised bit rate to the user, even under optimal conditions.

The S3200 specification brings FireWire to this new performance level without compromising existing features. For example, FireWire provides much more electrical power than any other interface, freeing users from inconvenient AC power adapters. FireWire products built using S3200 will directly connect to every previously released FireWire product. Alternative cable options are available to carry FireWire over long distances – 100 meters or more – even at high speeds.

Also, FireWire’s peer-to-peer architecture allows products to operate with a computer – or without one. This superior combination of features is not found in any other technology, which explains why over one billion FireWire ports have been shipped to date, on products as diverse as computers, cameras, televisions, hard drives, and musical instruments. IEEE 1394 also is deployed in vital applications in state-of-the-art aircraft and polar orbiting satellites.

One of the strongest markets today for FireWire is storage for computers. The best hard drives with FireWire 800 can move data almost three times as fast as the best hard drives with USB 2.0. Also, FireWire provides much more electrical power than USB, so FireWire-equipped hard drives can operate without an AC adapter, and at high rotational speeds. USB hard drives can fail to work from USB power, or require a second USB cable for power, or use the lowest-performance drive mechanisms because so little power is available.

With S3200 this power advantage for FireWire is fully preserved. S3200 also makes FireWire so fast that users will see no advantage from eSATA. Both interfaces are much faster than any modern hard drive mechanism, but eSATA does not provide electrical power to operate a drive. On a computer, an eSATA port is far less flexible than a FireWire port, because many more devices can connect to FireWire. For these reasons, S3200 makes FireWire the superior choice for future external storage products.

S3200 will also enhance FireWire’s strong position in consumer electronics A/V devices such as camcorders and televisions. Today, 100 percent of HD set top boxes provided by cable companies have FireWire ports. So do 100 models of HDTV. FireWire is the only separable interface today that can record HD programs in their full digital quality while also meeting the content protection requirements of copyright holders. Many companies are pursuing whole-home HD network solutions using FireWire – notably the HANA Alliance.

Technology development is also nearing completion to permit FireWire to operate over cable television coaxial cables, without disrupting the existing program content. With S3200, FireWire becomes fast enough to move even uncompressed HD signals over long distances at much lower cost than solutions such as HDMI.

“The S3200 standard will sustain the position of IEEE 1394 as the absolute performance leader in multi-purpose I/O ports for consumer applications in computer and CE devices,” said James Snider, executive director, 1394 Trade Association, in the press release. “There is a very clear migration path from 800 Megabits/second to 3.2 Gigabits/second, with no need for modifications to the standard and no requirement for new cables or connectors.”

The Silicon Working Group developed the S3200 specification within the 1394 Trade Association, with participation by industry leaders including Symwave, Texas Instruments, LSI Corporation, and Oxford Semiconductor. S3200 specifies the electrical operation of the 3.2 Gigabit mode first specified by IEEE 1394b-2002, without changing any connector, cable, protocol, or software requirements. Based on the working group’s progress, the Trade Association has set a January 2008 date for the specification to enter a ratification process.

Source: 1394 Trade Association


  1. “FireWire is the only separable interface today that can record HD programs in their full digital quality while also meeting the content protection requirements of copyright holders.”

    That’s an interesting statement. It would allow third party vendors like Apple to provide DVR functions for HDTV.

    “Today, 100 percent of HD set top boxes provided by cable companies have FireWire ports”

    Whilst this is true, no one has a developed a commercial unit that takes advantage of the FW port. I’ve recorded digital TV via by mac using this but it only works for unencrypted signals.

    Hopefully Apple are involved in the evolution of FW. FW800 made a mistake on requiring a different connector from FW400. USB was smarter on that one. Now most still cameras use USB2 and I can see digital camcorders going that way too.

    FW needs a new use to keep going or be stuck as a niche connection for high end digital transfer.

  2. Considering that the iPod is cross platform, therefore more are connected to PCs, and PCs have yet to widely adopt IEEE1394, I highly doubt apple will go back to FW for iPod syncing (it’d be nice to have both options, but more expensive). Not to mention USB 3.0 will also be out soon and supposedly will be at 4 Gbps (although 3.2 Gbps FW will still be a better option for many devices for the same reasons FW400 beats USB 2.0). Bear in mind also that iPod HDs have pretty slow transfer rates. The USB 2.0 interface is hardly limiting.

  3. sorry “Fatty”, it wonʻt be standard on PCs (at least not right away). It may eventually find itʻs place on iPod Touch & iPhone for HD quality files.

    Intel has a vested interest in keeping USB alive. Had Apple just stuck with Firewire (while ignoring USB) and licensed it earlier, it would have been a standard by now.

  4. One nice thing about the FireWire 400 connectors is the asymmetrical design that makes it obvious in which orientation the connector plugs in. As far as a I can tell, the FireWire 800 connectors suffer from the same problem as USB. Think about how many times, plugging in USB devices, you start off the wrong way and have to flip it over.

  5. Part of the problem behind the low adoption rate of FW800 compared to FW400 is the change in the connector. As soon as they did that, I thought “that’s just dumb and will cripple FW800 deployment”.
    They should have followed the lead set by USB and kept the same shaped connector but given it extra pins and backwards compatibility with the previous standard. If they had have done this, FW800 would have become ubiquitous instead of a very niche product.

  6. Fatty Arbuckle: Time to put Firewire back on the iPod!

    Both micro harddisks and flash memory as used in iPods have very limited writing speeds to begin with. FireWire wouldn’t really give you much of an improvement over USB2, if any.

    So why bother?

    FireWire has substantial benefits as described in the article, but filling iPods isn’t really among them.

  7. NAME: USB 3.0 is going to use fiber optics tech and hit around 4 Gb/s

    Sure. And with the horrible overhead (polling etc.) it will be lucky to achieve effective transfer rates of half that.

    USB is a horrible mess conceptually; For mice and keyboards it’s okay. But not for serious data throughput. There are too many design problems which can’t be overcome.

  8. Let’s hope that Apple deploys this soon.

    Ping’s right, any flavor of USB, for anything other than input devices, is a joke. Like Windows boxes, it looks okay on paper, but in practice? No thanks!

    I’d like to see ExpressCard slots in iMacs and Mac Pros. They’re perfect for card readers and smoke USB2 readers.

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