Should IEEE 1394 replace USB?

Has USB finally met its match in the form of IEEE 1394? In this first installment of Member Debate, we examine the two technologies and offer a chance for members to debate on which technology is best.

All seems right with the world when manufacturers agree on hardware standards that are used in just about every machine available for purchase. An example of one such standard is USB, or Universal Serial Bus, which can be found on almost every new laptop and desktop. It seems like everyone is making something that can be plugged into a computer via a USB port.
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To my annoyance, I have found that although most of these devices are faster than traditional serial ports, they still are a bit slow. USB transfers data roughly at 12 Mbps at full speed, while low speed devices transfer at 1.5 Mbps. As far as direct data connections go, this just seems far too slow. After all, my hard drive sends data at 100 Mbps, so why would I want to send data out at one-tenth of the speed of my hard drive?

I’m also slightly irked that any external USB device also needs its own power supply. When I take my laptop with me, it’s bad enough that I may have a bulky external drive or two, but to have to carry around a power supply and even a power strip as well is just a bit too much for me to handle. I might as well carry my laptop in a duffle bag, or better yet, bring along a desktop and monitor.

Don’t you know that USB 2.0 is on the way?
While it is true that USB 2.0 is being developed, one simple fact remains: it isn’t here yet.

I must admit that the initial specs for USB 2.0 sound great, but I do have a few concerns stemming from what I have read at and the USB Workshop.
  1. There is no mention of powerless devices for USB 2.0.
    As I said earlier, I had extra power cords. I’ve looked and looked for information on USB 2.0 and the use of power supplies, but have found nothing at the time of this publication.
  2. Incompatibilities will exist with existing USB technologies.
    I personally hate it when a product is released and it isn’t backwardly compatible. According to the USB Workshop, current USB 1.1 hubs will not work with USB 2.0 hardware. Instead, you must purchase a USB 2.0 repeater.
  3. USB 2.0 won’t be here for quite some time.
    If you’re looking for USB 2.0 products, you’re in for a wait. Since the actual standards for USB 2.0 are currently being worked out, it’s likely that you won’t see any actual products released until late 2001. And even then, USB 2.0 has to be adopted by motherboard manufacturers to become part of the mainstream market.

Why not IEEE 1394?
Just because product vendors agree on a standard doesn’t mean that it’s the best solution available for consumers. I’d like to know why manufacturers haven’t agreed to incorporate my favorite external bus connection into every machine: IEEE 1394, better known as FireWire? After all, it works somewhat like USB, except that it’s much faster. Presently, IEEE 1394 can reach speeds of 400 Mbps, roughly 30 times more than today’s current USB standard. This makes IEEE 1394 perfect for attaching hardware that requires speed (e.g., external hard drives, CD-ROMs, and digital cameras) to your computer. In addition, IEEE 1394 supplies power directly to the external device, which means that no extra plugs are needed. And because it is part of the IEEE standards community, regular computer users can contribute to the development of the IEEE 1394 product.

IEEE 1394 does have its drawbacks, however. There are two major ones that are really holding the product back:
  • Apple Computer, Inc.
    Apple has erected a roadblock on the path to the rapid proliferation of the IEEE 1394 standard. “FireWire” is Apple's version of this standard, and anyone wishing to use the name FireWire must pay Apple a licensing fee. What does this mean? Not many people are likely to use the name FireWire, except for those individuals in the Mac community. Most manufacturers are more likely to develop their own names for the IEEE 1394 standard to avoid paying Apple a licensing fee. Hopefully, a standard name will be developed quickly to avoid too much consumer confusion. Evergreen Technologies is one example of a company choosing a different name for its IEEE 1394 line. It dubbed its IEEE 1394 products fireLINE.
  • Expensive technology
    Because IEEE 1394 is a relatively new technology, it doesn’t come cheap. IEEE 1394 cards usually go for just under $100 (U.S.), and the IEEE 1394 cables are a bit pricey as well. The hardware that supports IEEE 1394 can also be a bit expensive.

But even with its drawbacks, I think that IEEE 1394 is the way to go for external bus connectivity. USB is popular at the moment, but if product vendors begin to widely support the IEEE 1394 standard, IEEE 1394 can easily surpass the popularity of the Universal Serial Bus.

Time to choose sides
Do you prefer to use USB or would you rather that IEEE 1394 replaced USB altogether? We want to know where you stand. Feel free to make your case by using one of the links below:
If you have a topic you’d like to see featured in a future debate, please feel free to send us a note with your suggestion.

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