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FireWire FAQ

FireWire Overview

FireWire Products FAQ

See our full list of FireWire drives, devices and peripherals.

Or return to our FAQs and Guides index.


FireWire Overview

So what is it?

FireWire is in essence a connector on your computer, which allows you to transfer information from one FireWire device to another very quickly.

FireWire was created by a joint effort from Apple, Sony and Panasonic that was standardised in 1995 as IEEE1394. It is also commonly known as iLink on Sony devices and by the IEEE1394 standard.

FireWire was designed in order to assist the fast transfer of digital data - mainly for use in capturing video from a camcorder onto a computer - but also to allow the use of an external digital device such as a hard drive, CD writer or DVD writer at speeds faster than internal devices.

Recently the new FireWIre 800 standard has been launched, with the original FireWire being renamed FireWire 400. FireWire 800 is twice as fast as FireWire 400, assuming a computer that can handle the full speed.

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Why choose FireWire?

FireWire is a reliable well established transfer protocol which allows you to almost infinitely expand the possibilities of your computer by overcoming the space issues related with internal devices, and yet often beating the high data transfer from internal devices. FireWire 400 can operated at up to 400Mb/s - that's transferring 400 megabits of data per second. FireWire 800 can transfer data at up to 900Mb/s

With FireWire connectivity you can import movies on to your computer in minutes as opposed to hours from your digital camcorder, or straight on to your FireWire hard drive you don't even need the computer in some cases FireWire allows you to transfer data from your camera to the hard drive anywhere, it is the versatility which make the difference. You can even use FireWire to connect two computers together!

Use your FireWire CD writer to back up your important data, burn music CDs and much much more; or use the DVD-R to create your own presentations, movies and DVDs for use in any DVD player.

FireWire enables you to connect your digital devices in a "plug and play" manner, you don't need drivers every time and you can take your FireWire device from one machine to another without having to restart and reset both machines.

FireWire has become the standard means of reliable transfer for professionals and home users alike - in fields such as design and digital video it has become much used and trusted technology that is affordable and understandable by the least technical of people.

FireWire's main competitor is USB 2.0, follow the link for the FAQ.

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What hardware / software do I need to use a FireWire card / device?

In order to add FireWire to your computer you will need to have the following components / specifications. If you are unsure as to your computers details please contact us and we can help you find out! FireWire is standard across computer platforms and devices can run on Macs, PCs and Linux machines.

PC Requirements -

  • Windows 98 / Windows 98 SE / Windows XP / Windows ME
  • Pentium II Processor > 400MHz
  • 64MB RAM (for applications such as CD writing)
  • 1 or More FireWire Ports (see below)
  • If you have a desktop and FireWire is not fitted as standard, you need a PCI FireWire Card
  • If you have a laptop and FireWire is not fitted as standard, you need a CardBus PCMCIA FireWire Card

Mac requirements -

  • MacOS 8.6, 9.0.4, 9.1, 9.2, OS X
  • PowerPC Processor > 180MHz (recommended G3)
  • 32MB RAM
  • 1 or More FireWire Ports (see below)
  • If you have a desktop and FireWire is not fitted as standard, you need a PCI FireWire Card
  • If you have a laptop and FireWire is not fitted as standard, you need a CardBus PCMCIA FireWire Card

Please note that FireWire uses the system processor for some tasks, therefore the faster your machine is, the better that FireWire will perform on some tasks - please ask us for more details.

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My computer doesn't have FireWire, how do I get FireWire?

That is where we come in! We can supply a FireWire card for both a portable or a desktop computer, which works with both PC and Mac platforms.

If you have a portable computer you need A FireWire CardBus Card: A credit card sized connector that fits into the PCMCIA slot on you computer and has 2 FireWire ports to allow you to connect to FireWire devices. To see the prices see our FireWire peripherals.

If you have a desktop computer you need a FireWire PCI Card and a PCI slot on your computer, also available from our FireWire peripherals range (please ask us if you are unsure), which gives you either 2 or 3 FireWire ports. Once again we stock both Orange Micro and Ratoc Systems cards.

Both these solutions require little technical knowledge and our technical team can always help you through if you have any problems.

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What is FireWire 800

The newest fastest way to transfer data - Firewire 800

With its high data-transfer speed, FireWire is the interface of choice for today's digital audio and video devices, as well as external hard drives and other high-speed peripherals. Now transferring data at up to 800 Mbps, FireWire 800 delivers more than double the effective bandwidth of the USB 2.0 peripheral standard. That means you can send more than a CD's worth of data every ten seconds.

FireWire 400 delivers data over cables of up to 4.5 meters in length. Using professional-grade glass optical fibre, FireWire 800 can burst data across 100 meter cables. So you could toss that CD more than the length of a football field ? every ten seconds. What's more, you don't even have to have a new computer or device to gain the length. As long as both devices are connected to a FireWire 800 hub, you can connect them via super-efficient glass optical cable. That means you could put a camera on the field -connected directly to a Mac in the press box. Or set up a killer digital audio studio with Macs in one room and recording interfaces in another with no latency loss from the extra cable length. The short - about 5 meters - cable distance and the lack of peer-to-peer connectivity of USB 2.0 limits its usefulness in deployments that require long-haul cabling, such as sound stages and studios.

The FireWire 800 advantage can be summed up in three words: speed, speed and more speed - at 800Mbps, it has more than two times the usable bandwidth of USB 2.0, which makes it the perfect choice for high-speed storage and serious video capture. The extra speed of FireWire 800 over USB 2.0 makes FireWire much more suitable for bandwidth-intensive applications like video and graphics, which often consume hundreds or even thousands of megabytes of data per file. For instance, a single hour of DV-format video consumes about 13 thousand megabytes (13 GB). Other benefits include: Highly efficient architecture. IEEE 1394b reduces delays in arbitration, while 8B10B encoding reduces signal distortion and increases throughput.

Better user experience: No matter how you connect devices together, FireWire 800 just works. In fact, you can even loop your FireWire 800 chain back to your Mac for redundancy while performing live.

Backwards compatibility: Manufacturers have adopted FireWire for a broad range of devices, such as DV cameras, hard drives, digital still cameras, professional audio, printers, scanners and home entertainment. Adapter cables for the FireWire 800 9-pin connector let you use these FireWire 400 products on the FireWire 800 port.

Second Chance PC supply an ever growing range of FireWire 800 upgrade cards and devices so that you can take advantage of the new transfer speeds in your new or older machines. As this is a new protocol more devices are coming through thick and fast so make sure you check back! Our current FireWire 800 products can be found on our FireWire page.

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FireWire Products FAQ

FireWire Hard Drive FAQ

Different types of FireWire hard drive can vary considerably from one to another - they have been optimised for some particular aspect of external storage - the following is designed to help you choose the best hard drive to suit your purposes and your purse!

FireWire hard drives are differentiated by a number of factors, which are suited to certain tasks.

Usually people looking for a FireWire hard drive are looking either to back up their existing hard drive / add some extra space for their files and data or use them for the storage of digital video / audio files / streams.

When working with digital video, data is required to flow from the hard drive in a constant, consistent and fast manner - thus in order to get the best quality and without losing frames you need a good fast hard drive.

All FireWire Hard drives have their speed and performance expressed in terms of the following specifications.

FireWire Hard Drive specifications

  1. Spin speed : - this is measured in RPM and is either 4,200, 5,400 or 7,200 RPM. The greater the RPM the faster the drive can send information to the computer, or receive it from a digital camera, but also the faster the drive the more expensive it will be.
  2. Access time :- this is measured in ns (nano seconds) - this plays a smaller role than spin speed, but for digital video it will make a difference. The lower the value the better - however this is also linked to the cost.
  3. Sustained transfer rate :- this is measured in terms of megabits/s and is of most importance in digital video where data is required to be transferred at a near constant speed - for backing up of data and for extra storage this is less of a problem (see burst transfer rates below) for digital video it is recommended to look for greater than 30Mb/s, for backup or storage around 20 Mb/s is fine.
  4. Burst transfer rate :- similar to sustained rate, also measured in Mb/s, this is how a measure or how fast the drive can send and receive smaller packets of information down the FireWire cable - this factor is not as important in digital video as video requires a sustained rather than burst transfer. For storage or backup needs aim for the fastest possible speed - up to 300Mb/s.

Here at Second Chance PC we supply several different brands of FireWire hard drive. Follow this link to see the FireWire hard drives we currently have in stock. Or this one for our full FireWire product list. To find out more information about a specific FireWire hard drive, please follow the "More Info" link below the vendor name next to any product we sell - this will take you to a page with links to the manufacturer's specs for this device.

Portable Hard Drives

A portable FireWire hard drive is one designed with one feature in mind - portability. Our range of portable hard drives are powered by the FireWire port, meaning no extra wires for you to carry. Due to their decreased size you will not get the speed that can be achieved from desktop versions. They have a slower RPM, longer access time and slower transfer rates. After much testing of these devices they are recommended for all digital video and storage needs - however they will be significantly slower than their larger relatives and will cost a lot more.

FireWire Enclosures

Another way of getting a FireWire hard drive is to get a FireWire hard drive enclosure and put a standard IDE internal hard drive inside it, more details can be found in our USB 2 and FireWire Enclosure FAQ.

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Which FireWire CD Writer is for me?

CD writers are differentiated by the speed at which they write data on to the recordable CD. The faster the writer the greater the cost. But just how fast is fast?

We stock the current range of EZQuest. Follow the link for prices on our FireWire CD writers or check out our full FireWire product list.

Drives come currently at 52x24x52 speed.

These numbers indicate the speeds at which the drives write, rewrite and read CDs. The greater the numbers the faster the drive and the less time it takes to burn a CD! As an example a 24x10x40 CD writer will take around 3.5 minutes to burn a CD, a 52x24x52 CD writer takes well under 2 minutes. When purchasing a CD drive it is worth thinking about how often you would use it and whether the extra money is worth the extra speed to you. Obviously if you are writing many CDs per day the extra minute can make a lot of difference. If you need any other advice concerning CD writers please contact us

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What is a FireWire DVD-R and DVD-RW?

DVD-R and DVD-RW drives enable you to record digital information to a DVD disc in one of two ways. Either as data which can store up to 4.7GB of information on a single disk - that's up to 8 CD's worth!) or as DVD format. This facility can enable you to import digital video from a camcorder via FireWire, then record you movies to a DVD that you can send to your colleagues/friends etc - which they can then play in a standard DVD player!. This has opened up the DVD market to home and business users alike without the expensive production costs normally associated with DVDs. With the right software designers, photographers and the general public can produce DVD slide shows for presentations, reports or even as a CV.

DVD storage is becoming a much bigger technology as the need for storage keeps growing. On a DVD you can store up to 2 hours or perfect video, or 8 CD's worth of audio, or 4.7GB of data. The cost of this technology is still quite high but has dropped by half in the last 6 months making it much more accessible for the general public.

There are two types of DVD writer - a DVD-R (writer) and a DVD RW (rewriter) - the difference between the two is that the RW model will let you write over disk that you have already used - a good way of reducing costs on media. A DVD RW is more expensive than a DVD-R - and often come as a combination drive combined with a CD writer. If you want any more information please let us know.

Follow the link to see our range of FireWire DVD writers.

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