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12/12/2007
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FireWire Spec To Boost Data Speeds To 3.2 Gbps

The technology will be able to use existing FireWire 800 cables and connectors while delivering a major boost in performance.

A new set of specs for data transfer technology will quadruple top speeds to 3.2 Gbps. Formally known as IEEE 1394, the technology is called FireWire by Apple and i.LINK by Sony.

The new version is called S3200 and builds on the earlier specification approved by the IEEE, according to the trade association that is preparing to unveil the details this week. The technology will be able to use existing FireWire 800 cables and connectors while delivering a major boost in performance.

"It will probably go into storage products first," said 1394 Trade Association spokesman Richard Davies in an e-mail Wednesday. "It should turn up in set-top boxes and maybe Blue-ray devices, too. It's too soon to tell how fast [consumer electronics] makers might adopt it."

FireWire technology already powers hard drives that can move more data at speeds of 90 Mbps, and the technology's low power consumption frees users from the necessity of using AC power adapters.

The new spec also will let users interconnect various home-networking appliances via coax cable, "linking HDTVs with set-top boxes, TVs, and computers in various rooms around a home or office," Davies said. The new release enables the transmission of FireWire data over distances of more than 100 meters. Home entertainment centers are likely to be an early application.

Another FireWire feature likely to contribute to its use in entertainment applications is its peer-to-peer architecture, which paves the way for its use with or without a computer. Already virtually all high definition cable TV company set-top boxes already utilize FireWire ports as well as many models of HDTV. "FireWire is the only separable interface today that can record HD programs in their full digital quality while also meeting the content protecton requirements of copyright holders," he said.

The 1394 Trade Association said more than one billion FireWire ports have been shipped to date on a wide variety of products ranging from computers, cameras, and TVs to hard drives and musical instruments. The technology has also found its way into more esoteric state-of-the-art aircraft and polar orbiting satellites, which require the rapid transfer of vast amounts of data.

The new FireWire release will likely be compared to USB 3.0, which is still under development. USB and FireWire are alternately viewed as competitive or complementary, depending on the beholder. Many PCs, for instance, feature ports with both technologies. Many developers and users like the idea that FireWire-equipped hard drives can operate at high rotational speeds without an AC adapter, while USB drives may require an additional power source, provided often by a second USB port.

James Snider, executive director of the 1394 Trade Association, said the new specification will begin its ratification process in January. "The S3200 standard will sustain the position of IEEE 1394 as the absolute performance leader in multi-purpose I/O ports for consumer applications in computer and CE devices," Snider said, in a statement.

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