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Firewire to gain 3.2Gb/s bandwidth boost

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Not to be outdone by rival peripheral interconnect technology USB, Firewire is likewise having its data throughput increased, the organisation behind the standard said today. But it's target speed of 3.2Gb/s falls some way below that of USB 3.0.

Firewire currently supports two speeds: 400Mb/s and 800Mb/s. Both use different connectors so they're not plug compatible, though chips capable of delivering the latter speed can also support the former.

The 1394 Trade Association said the third incarnation of the technology, dubbed S3200, will use the nine-pin Firewire 800 connector. Indeed, it also uses many of the same protocols - no great surprise since the IEEE 1394b standard that defines Firewire 800 allows for speeds of up to 3.2Gb/s, albeit over optical interconnects.

So S3200 essentially provides the extra technology to deliver that speed over electric links. However, the Association implied the differences are small, allowing chip makers to quickly adapt their current offerings for the third-generation Firewire 3200 - or whatever it'll be marketed as.

The Association said the spec is expected to be approved by the IEEE early in February 2008.

That will put it some months ahead of the USB 3.0 standard, which is expected to be finalised by the end of June 2008. However, USB 3.0 is set to deliver speeds of up to 4.7Gb/s - almost 50 per cent more bandwidth than S3200.

Of course, Firewire supporters maintain that their favoured technology is more efficient than USB and is superior in that it's a peer-to-peer system, allowing any Firewire device to connect to any other, and devices to be chained. USB is defined as a host-slave technology, and while a peer-to-peer version is available, it's not widely used.

And Firewire - even Firewire 400 - is generally faster in operation than 480Mb/s USB 2.0. The 1394 Trade Association clearly hopes that will be maintained, potentially allowing S3200 to deliver faster real-world file transfer speeds than 4.7Gb/s USB.

The 1394 Trade Association was also quick to point out Firewire is the "only" technology of its kind with the capacity to deliver full-resolution video data that's also copy protected. Once again, this is something the USB alliance is also now working on in a bid to make its offering less of a computer-centric technology and more suitable for the consumer electronics world.

Expect USB 3.0 to host HDCP-encoded video signals.

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