USB and Firewire are two types of connection which can be used to connect external storage devices and cameras to your computer. Most computer users will use USB devices as a way to connect external devices. However is USB really ideal for anyone working with video software?
There are a number of advantages which FireWire gives you and very few disadvantages. This makes them important for anyone interested in video editing.
USB (Universal Serial Bus)
USB is a standard for a wired connection between two electronic devices, including a mobile phone and a desktop computer. The connection is made by a cable that has a connector at either end. One end, the one that plugs into the computer, is the same across all USB cables while the one that plugs into the mobile device can be of various types such as miniUSB, microUSB or a proprietary connector.
FireWire (IEEE 1394)
A very fast external bus standard that supports data transfer rates of up to 400Mbps (in 1394a) and 800Mbps (in 1394b). Products supporting the 1394 standard go under different names, depending on the company. Apple, which originally developed the technology, uses the trademarked name FireWire.
FireWire (also known as i.Link or IEEE 1394) is a personal computer / consumer electronic serial bus interface standard offering high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data services. The IEEE 1394-1995 standard for the High Performance Serial Bus defines a serial data transfer protocol. The capabilities of the 1394 bus are sufficient to support a variety of high-end digital audio/video applications, such as consumer audio/video device control and signal routing, home networking, nonlinear DV editing, and 32-channel (or more) digital audio mixing.
USB and Firewire Technology
USB and FireWire are very similar on paper however they work differently. USB is a slave technology which requires a computer to work properly. Without a computer or a host device it’s not possible to share information. This means that all cameras and external hard drives are normally set up only to be slave devices.
FireWire on the other hand is a much more sophisticated type of connection. This is capable of managing the transfer of data more effectively. This is a peer to peer connection which is where any two devices can be connected together.
Compatibility of USB and Firewire
USB is the more common technology which makes using it much easier. Every computer made in the last 10 years supports some form of USB connection. USB 1.0 is slower than the newer versions of USB 2.0 but it’s still possible to use all USB devices without any extra equipment. FireWire on the other hand will require additional equipment to be used properly which needs extra cards and cables.
Not every device will support FireWire. Whereas any device supporting FireWire will also normally support USB. This means that a FireWire external hard drive can normally be connected to a USB port as well.
FireWire is a much faster and more reliable technology for video editing. This is because it works much faster and works better to transfer large files.
A single 1394 port can be used to connect up 63 external devices. In addition to its high speed, 1394 also supports isochronous data — delivering data at a guaranteed rate. This makes it ideal for devices that need to transfer high levels of data in real-time, such as video devices
Speed analysis of USB and Firewire
FireWire is a much faster and more modern technology. There are two types of FireWire still in use today. FireWire 400 was the original version of the technology which supported 400 Mbps speeds. This was much faster than USB 1.0 which had a speed of 12 Mbps. However USB 2.0 pushed the speeds to 480 Mbps which was higher than the limit for FireWire.
A new version of FireWire was released known as FireWire 800. This supported speeds of up to 800 Mbps which was much faster than USB 2.0. There is a theoretical limit of 3.2 Gbps for the technology when another new version is released. FireWire is still the best option for video editing because it works quicker.
USB 3.0 may level the playing field slightly when it comes out due to increased speed. However FireWire will probably still remain the connection type of choice for most professionals.
Cost analysis of USB and Firewire
USB is much cheaper to use and implement because almost all devices support USB connections. If you want to use FireWire then you will normally need to upgrade your computer with an expansion card inside the PC. Putting this into a desktop computer is relatively easy however sourcing a card for a laptop computer can be very difficult. You will also need to purchase different cables in order to use them with your computer