USB 3.0 vs FireWire 3200

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The first update to the USB specification in eight years has arrived in the form of USB 3.0, and it’s all everyone is talking about. And given that it boasts a tenfold transfer speed increase, why shouldn’t they? Unfortunately, many of those reporting are quick to call it the death of FireWire 800, but don’t mention that the FireWire people have an update of their own to brag about in the form of FireWire 3200. Both standards have already been ratified and both have a lot going for them. So which specification should you choose?

With a possible transfer rate of 4.8Gbps (gigabits per second), USB 3.0 is theoretically the much faster specification. The designers have also gone to lengths to improve the power efficiency as well as power output, meaning you will be able to plug it into your computers with less of a power draw (especially important for laptops) as well as be able to charge devices faster and power more devices solely through USB. They have also ensured that USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with old version of USB. Although your USB 2.0 hardware will never achieve USB 3.0 speeds, you can still at least use the same cables and devices without changing anything.

FireWire 3200 promises a lower transfer rate of 3.2 Gbps, but boats that its P2P architecture will deliver 97% of the theoretical rate, a number that is much higher that the master/slave architecture of USB is expected to produce. As a result, it’s possible that in real world usage FireWire may actually be faster, regardless of the fact that it isn’t on paper. As far as power output, despite the improvements made by USB, FireWire still maintains an edge. It can produce more power and will therefore be more capable when it comes to charging items or running them directly. The designers have also made FireWire 3200 backwards compatible with FireWire 800, and as an added bonus you can plug a FireWire 3200 cable/device into your old FireWire 800 port and still get the full transfer rate of 3.2 Gbps.

To be honest, the jump from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0 is impressive. But it’s important to remember that if it’s more impressive than the jump from FireWire 800 to FireWire 3200, it’s only because USB had that much more ground to make up. Despite all the gains of the new USB, FireWire still maintains a technical edge in power management, hardware compatibility, and potentially even the actual transfer rate. With all this going for it, why would anyone choose USB? The answer reminds me a lot of the difference between Apple, which has long endorsed FireWire, and Microsoft, whose machines have long supported USB. And the reason is that USB is less expensive, more available, and perfectly functional. USB 3.0 will make things easier for the vast majority of the computing world which relies on it to transfer data, but it is important to note that FireWire 3200 is impressive too. Even though Apple may have seemed to take a step away when it failed to include FireWire in the new MacBook, for the right people and the right tasks, FireWire can and should still be the specification of choice.



December 8, 2008 at 11:21 PM

Thanks for your info. Initially I'm very new to this firewire concept. Now got some idea about usb and firewire.