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IEEE 1394 - FireWire Explained

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See also IEEE Support in Windows 98 and Windows 2000

What Is IEEE 1394?

1394 is the IEEE designation for a new high-performance serial bus designed to fill the need for high-speed digital communications between electronic devices. This standard defines both a physical layer and a cable connected virtual bus. The interface standard defines transmission method, media and protocol.
The primary application of the cable version is I/O connectivity at the back panel of personal computers or directly between consumer devices using a low-cost, scalable, high-speed serial interface. The IEEE 1394 standard also provides new services-such as live connect / disconnect capability for external devices, which in the future will include disk drives, printers and hand-held peripherals (e.g., scanners and cameras). Presently, IEEE 1394 is available on a range of audio / video devices, as well as Kodak's high-end digital still cameras.

How IEEE 1394 Works
IEEE 1394 is a high-speed serial bus particularly adept at carrying digital video such as the images captured in a digital camera. In many ways, IEEE 1394 is like an advanced high-speed version of the PC-based Universal Serial Bus (USB). However, unlike USB, IEEE 1394 is a true peer-to-peer interface-a PC is not required to connect between various peripherals. This means a printer or hard drive could be connected directly to other devices, such as a digital camera.

Why IEEE 1394?
The need for IEEE 1394, and other next-generation network topologies and protocols, is driven by the rapidly growing need for mass information transfer. Parallel high-speed communications-such as SCSI-are not suited to long distances and do not support live connect / disconnect, making reconfiguration a time-consuming task. Other factors driving next-generation protocols such as IEEE 1394 include the need for reliability, durability and universal interconnection.

Currently, connecting a new device to a computer using the SCSI architecture requires the user to reboot the system. This method is time-consuming and lends itself to faulty connections as a result of the constraints associated with the SCSI bus.

Benefits Of IEEE 1394
Compatible Connectors
Without an in-out or up-down direction, the connectors at each end of the cable will generally be the same, making no difference which socket is used on a particular device. Additionally, the connectors are asymmetrical and come in 6 vs. 4 connector varieties.

Plug And Play
Due to its ability to instantly reconfigure systems after peripheral installation, plug and play is the industry standard that has grown from an option to a demand by end users.

Shared Memory
IEEE 1394 is based on a shared memory model, which allow devices to directly access locations in memory as needed instead of having to wait for information to flow by in a stream. This is similar to instantly accessing a particular track on a compact disk instead of having to wind a tape to a specific location.

Single Connection
Because all the digital signals for a particular piece of equipment can be carried on the same IEEE 1394 cable, only one connection is required for any unit, alleviating the burden of supporting multiple cables within one system.

Smaller Connector Than SCSI
As computers strive to become more compact, IEEE 1394's smaller connector serves as another proof point of its anticipated widespread adoption.

Speed
Since IEEE 1394 is faster than USB, it will accentuate the time and cost savings associated with streaming digital images.

Conclusion
The serial-bus IEEE 1394 has the bandwidth capacity to displace most other peripheral connection communication methods in use today-including Centronix parallel, RS232, SCSI and Apple's Desktop Bus-and consolidate them into a unified high-performance serial bus. The serial bus' memory space addressing is a perfect fit for "slotless" systems such as PDAs. Finally, the "hot plugging," power sourcing, and dynamic reconfiguration abilities make IEEE 1394 a user-friendly environment. The features of IEEE 1394 will make plugging into a computer expansion system as easy as plugging into AC power, providing communications on demand without having to shut down and reconfigure each time an I/O device is added or removed.

Issues Surrounding IEEE 1394
Market Driven Effects
From a hardware perspective, there is no "must have" device currently driving computer manufacturers to include IEEE 1394 ports. With a chicken and egg scenario, IEEE 1394 is anticipated to help usher in a new brand of peripherals. Additionally, a new PC standard known as a "device bay" will be introduced in 1999, which will allow users to add or remove devices to and from their PCs without opening the PC chassis. This, in addition to the availability of IEEE 1394-based hard disk devices, will rapidly increase the presence of 1394 in the marketplace in late 1999.

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