What are the differences between a USB port and FireWire port? The Ports, in simple words, are slots that you usually find at the sides and/or at the back of a computer.
These slots are basically on the motherboard. These ports serve different purposes, depending on the respective characteristics of each. Usually, the ports are used to connect different external devices.
In This Article
- The data transfer speed by a FireWire port is much faster in comparison to that of any USB port.
- USB ports usually use simpler hardware and a tiered star topology but a FireWire port uses a high speed serial bus and a tree topology.
- Comparatively, FireWire technology is older than USB technology though both are available in different versions today in the market.
- The maximum current and voltage of the USB is much lower in comparison to those of the FireWire port.
11 Differences Between USB Port and FireWire Port
1. Difference in History
The USB 1.0 was released in 1996 and was used to make software configuration simpler in the communication devices and replace the large number of connectors at the back of the computers.
The USB 2.0 was released in April 2000. It was regularized by the USB-IF in late 2001 and was created to improve data transfer rate by Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Philips, and NEC jointly.
The USB 3.0 was released on 12th November, 2008. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group assured a maximum data transfer rate of up to 10 times faster than the previous versions.
On the other hand, FireWire was created by the IEEE P1394 Working Group. However, there were huge contributions for several engineers from Apple, Sony, Digital Equipment Corporation, Texas Instruments, INMOS/SGS Thomson which is now STMicroelectronics, and IBM.
It was designed to offer connectivity to audio and video devices as well as a serial substitution for the corresponding SCSI bus.
2. Difference in Data Transfer Speeds
Any high-speed USB 2.0 port will usually transfer data at a speed ranging up to 400 Mbit/s. However, it technically operates at a signaling rate that is higher than FireWire 400 which also transfers data at the same speed of 400 Mbit/s.
Moreover, when it comes to sustained data transfers, a USB computer host will hardly ever go beyond transfer speeds of 280 Mbit/s though it stays more typically around 240 Mbit/s.
This is because USB relies heavily on the host processor in order to deal with USB protocols of low level. If you consider the USB 3.0, the theoretical data transfer speed is 4.8 Gbit/s which is nearly five times faster in comparison to FireWire 800.
On the other hand, FireWire can transfer data substantially faster in comparison to any high-speed USB not only in theory but also in practice.
This is because the task is delegated to the interface hardware which needs using very little or no CPU usage. The FireWire host interface backs the memory-mapped devices.
This allows running high-level protocols without the host CPU being loaded with suspends and buffer-copy operations.
Apart from the output differences, it also uses less complex bus networking, allows more data transfer reliably, more power to the chain without using too much CPU resources.
3. Technical Differences
Depending on the designs and goals, there are some technical differences between USB and FireWire. Ideally, USB was developed to be simple and low cost connectivity ports.
It was also considered as a complement to FireWire or IEEE 1394 initially. USB uses much simpler hardware and operates at a much lower data rate.
It is appropriate for connecting keyboard, mouse, and other small computer hardware peripherals. It uses a tiered-star topology and the USB 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0 variants follow the ‘speak when spoken to’ protocol.
This means that without the host requesting for a communication specifically, peripherals cannot interact with it.
The network typically relies on one host at the top of the tree for controlling the network. And, the latest USB 3.0 is planned to allow for device-initiated interactions towards the host.
On the other hand, FireWire was created to offer high performance especially for time-sensitive data transfers by using high-speed serial bus. It uses a tree topology.
Depending on the conditions of the network, it can interact with and control any other node within the network at any point of time.
4. Difference by Definitions
FireWire is a high-performing serial bus which is the Apple version of a regular IEEE 1394 and connects external devices to personal computers.
On the other hand, the USB acts as a Plug and Play interface which allows the computer to communicate with other devices connected to it or other peripherals.
5. Different Designers and Designs
The designers of USB are Intel, Microsoft, Compaq, IBM, DEC, NEC, and Nortel. These USB ports have almost similar physical layouts irrespective of the version it supports.
However, the USB cables and devices typically support various versions of the USB standard such as version 1.1 and up to the latest version 3.1.
On the other hand, FireWire is designed by Apple Inc. A FireWire port is usually found in Mac computers and is also called IEEE 1394. It uses a serial bus to facilitate high-speed communication.
These ports are used to connect two devices to share files between them such as, audio and video devices, camcorders and external hard drives.
6. Common Types or Versions
The most common type of port is the USB port, where USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. There are different types of USB ports available in the market now. The major ones are:
- USB-A or Type A port which is usually about 1.4 cm in length by 0.65 cm in height and used for connecting keyboards and mice
- USB-B or Type B port which is less common and almost square in shape and are used to connect routers, game consoles, and printers and
- The new USB-C or Type C port which is usually 0.84 cm by 0.26 cm in dimension and supports devices with thinner forms.
The FireWire ports, on the other hand, come with specific characteristics such as reasonably high bandwidth support of 400 Mbps to 800 Mbps and more. It can take on up to 63 units on the same bus.
There are different versions of FireWire ports such as:
- The first FireWire 400 or IEEE 1394 which was developed by Apple in 1995 having a data transfer speed ranging between 100 Mbps and 400 Mbps
- IEEE 1394a which was launched in 2000 having additional features such as packet concatenation, asynchronous streaming, and suspend mode
- FireWire 800 or IEEE 1394b with improved data rate and used ‘beta mode’ or optical cable and transferred data at a speed of 3200 Mbps
- FireWire S800T or IEEE 1394c which was released in 2007 with data speed improved further and
- FireWire S1600 and S3200 which are compatible with FireWire S400 and S800 gadgets with even a higher data speed ranging between 1.57 GB/s and 3.14 GB/s.
Usually, these ports support any Plug and Play or PnP devices and can transfer huge amounts of data at a great speed.
7. Difference in Designing Year
USB was designed in 1996 but, in comparison, FireWire was designed about a decade back in 1986.
8. Difference in Maximum Voltage
This is one of the most significant differences between these two ports where the USB comes with a maximum voltage of up to 5 volts but that of the FireWire is much, much higher than that, measuring up to 30 volts.
9. Difference in Maximum Current
When you consider maximum current, that for a USB 2.0 is 0.5 Amperes and for a USB 3.0 it is 0.9 amperes. On the other hand, the maximum current for FireWire is 1.5 amperes.
10. Difference in Signals
The FireWire ports can transmit data signals in streams but, in comparison, the USB ports send packet data and therefore are usually slower in performance.
11. Difference in Bitrate
Depending on the modes, the Bitrate of USB can be 1.5 Mbit/s, 12,480 Mbit/s, 5000 Mbit/s, and 10000 Mbit/s.
On the other hand, the Bitrate of FireWire usually ranges between 400 Mbit/s to 3200 Mbit/s.
Which is Better – USB Port or FireWire Port?
USB and FireWire are two different technologies but serve the same purpose, which is connecting a device to a computer to transfer data.
However, it is not easy to label one of these types of ports as better than the other because both differ in features and functionalities.
Therefore, this decision is best left for the users to decide based on their specific needs.
Universal Serial Bus or USB was created by Microsoft and Intel jointly while FireWire was developed by Apple.
While a USB port allows establishing a connection between a personal computer or other host controllers and an external device, the FireWire port transfers data between devices.
If you want to use a lost-cost option with a simple design then USB will surely be your first choice.
However, if you want something more advanced to use for time-sensitive applications such as audio and video data transfer, then FireWire should be your choice for its sheer speed in data transfer.
Also, if you want to use something that is more flexible then USB will be much better as compared to FireWire.
This is because USB ports are usually found in almost every small computer peripheral.
However, there are a few significant advantages of using FireWire over USB and vice versa, which is good for you to know.
Knowing the pros and cons of each along with their differences will make you more knowledgeable and confident when you make a comparison between the two.
Usually, FireWire has been a standard for interfacing both audio and video for a long time.
It also supports a much higher bandwidth than USB and therefore can transfer large amounts of data much faster than a USB port.
When you need more inputs and outputs to be utilized, the stability as well as the performance will increase when you use a FireWire port.
However, for a single or dual channel FireWire or USB port, the difference may be negligible.
Another significant benefit of using FireWire is that data will be transferred in streams rather than in packets. Once again, this will result in better performance and more steady synchronization.
Data can be streamed by FireWire in both directions unlike USB that typically sends the packets of data to complete a transmission before further data is sent to the device.
However, you cannot use a FireWire port for other services on your computer apart from audio and video data transfer, unlike USB ports. This is because the FireWire port usually has a single controller.
USB does not allow cascading or creating a daisy-chain to connect multiple devices together but a FireWire allows that. This means that you can have multiple outputs and inputs.
Now, take a look at the good things offered by USB ports.
Typically, a USB port can be used to connect a wide range of hardware peripherals and almost every computer today comes with USB ports, and even multiple of them.
However, this may sometimes result in some sort of conflict.
Using USB ports means that there will not be any chipset incompatibility issues when you connect a device to your computer through these ports.
On the other hand, if you want to use a FireWire port you will first need to make sure that it has a compatible chipset so that the connected device can be used properly.
And, if cost is a factor to you, then USB ports are the only feasible option to you and all users who are on a budget.
Most modern computers usually do not come with FireWire ports built in them.
Though you can upgrade your computer in order to support FireWire ports, it will however need buying and using additional hardware.
And, a few particular types of computers cannot be upgraded at all to support FireWire.
For example, if you have a laptop computer that does not come with a Cardbus, ExpressCard or a PCMCIA slot, you will not be able to add FireWire in any way to your system.
On the other hand, if you have a desktop computer which does not come with any PCI or PCI Express slots, you will be able to add FireWire only after removing another device.
So, now you know that both FireWire and USB have their respective merits and demerits, which is why you should first know your computer well as well as your computing needs and then make your choice.
FireWire and USB ports are the typical interfaces that allow data transfer between electronic devices.
Any of these ports will not serve all your purposes, which is why you should know about the differences between them inside out.
That was the main idea of this article.