What is the Firewire interface and differences with USB

What is the Firewire interface and differences with USB

Does the Firewire port ring a bell? Surely you have seen this term more than once, although it is almost certain that your PC does not include it, especially if it is quite modern. We explain what the Firewire interface is and why it is so rare to see it on today's personal computers. What is the Firewire interface and its most important differences with USB.

What is the Firewire connection

Firewire or IEEE 1394 is a high-speed input and output connection port used to connect devices to a PC. This port uses the IEEE 1394 standard communication protocol, which is why it is often recognized by this generic name.

firewire connector

Image of a FireWire port with its six pins.

Firewire has the characteristic of working in series, just like the USB interface , much more common in all types of devices. The Firewire interface allows you to connect a wide variety of devices, some of the most common are digital cameras and printers, although they typically come with the USB port.

Firewire is a technology that was invented by Apple in 1995 , a revolution in time that reached all the computers of the Cupertino company. In Europe it is very strange to see Firewire ports, in America it is much more common to use this serial connection interface.

Differences with USB

The Firewire interface has been largely replaced by the USB port and other high-speed connections such as Thunderbolt . In the domestic sector it is very strange to see the Firewire connection today, although in the industrial sector it is still quite common.

A differentiating feature of Firewire was the ability to control the devices that were connected to it from the PC, something that was not possible with the first versions of the USB interface . This made it possible to update the firmware of a multitude of devices in a very comfortable way. Another advantage of the Firefire was being able to supply power at 25 VDC. These advantages did not last long, since USB implemented them many years ago.

The different versions of Firewire to date are as follows:

  • Firewire 400 (IEEE 1394) : speed up to 50MB / s, far faster than 1.5MB / s for USB 1.1.
  • Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b): up to 100MB / s over 100-meter cable distances. Greater than 50MB / s USB 2.0
  • Firewire s1600 : the bandwidth is expanded up to 200 MB / s. It is surpassed by USB 3.0 that reaches 600 MB / s.
  • Firewire s3200 (IEEE 1394b) : its speed reaches 400 MB / s. USB 3.0 is still at 600MB / s.

The following table compares Firewire versions with their equivalent USB version:

Firewire 400 (IEEE 1394)50 MB / sUSB 1.11.5 MB / s
Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b)100 MB / sUSB 2.050 MB / s
Firewire s1600200 Mb / sUSB 3.0600 Mb / s
Firewire s3200 (IEEE 1394b)400 MB / sUSB 3.0600 Mb / s

An advantage of Firewire in Peer-to-peer is that your link does not need to use system memory or CPU , unlike USB. Other advantages of Firewire are that it is an asynchronous transmission medium for real-time connections, something important for video surveillance for example. It is also superior to USB in that it allows connections of up to 63 devices and 4.25 meter cables.

Both Firewire and USB are serial data connections, this makes them compatible with each other with the use of adapters . In these cases, the data transfer speed will be limited by the slower interface of the two.

Firewire to USB adapter cable

Example of a Firewire to USB adapter cable


It seems pretty clear that Firewire was a very innovative port when it hit the market, but over the years it has lost its edge to the point of being outmatched by the USB port in almost every respect. Its use at present is reduced to situations in which some features are required that are present in Firewire, but not in USB.