As its name suggests, the new FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b) standard allows data transfer at speeds up to 800Mbps, twice as fast as traditional FireWire 400 and 320Mbps faster than USB 2.0's 480Mbps. And while FireWire 400 cables max out at 4.5 meters in length, FireWire 800 cables allow transfer over lengths of up to 100 meters, meaning that a digital video camera operator doesn't have to haul a storage device alongside.
"FireWire 800 enables high-definition content, video-conferencing, and other multiple high-bandwidth connections, and is designed for streaming content as well as TCP/IP," says Mitsubishi Electronics America marketing director Ron Perry. "It allows secure, long distance connections in home and commercial environments." The nine-pin connector is backwards-compatible with six-pin FireWire 400, and developers promise that the standard will eventually be scalable to 1.6Gbps and 3.2Gbps.
The first place we'll see FireWire 800 connectivity is on Apple's new PowerBooks, which will give the notebooks external connections that are potentially faster than their own internal data transfer rates. What's more, several manufacturers introduced new peripherals at MacWorld that take advantage of the new standard. LaCie demo'd its hard drives, encased in their d2 chassis and featuring two FireWire 800 ports for daisychaining multiple drives together. The LaCie drives are built around an Oxford Semiconductor 922 bridge chip and an external power supply to keep the drives cool without a fan. At the low end of LaCie's offerings is their 200GB, 7200RPM hard drive for $479; the high-end 500GB Big Disk boasts a $999 price tag.
While Maxtor has yet to bring any of its FireWire 800 drives to market, the company demonstrated its 200GB, 7200RPM concept drive at MacWorld. Likewise, Macpower rolled out its Reality Series enclosures for FireWire 800, which also feature Oxford Semiconductor's 922 chip.
FireWire 800 won't likely make much of a difference in the optical storage field, says Bob DeMoulin, marketing manager of Sony's disc storage and peripherals division. "I think cameras and hard drives will benefit from the faster interface, but even that's not likely to be a big deal until we start dealing with high-definition video signals," he says, adding that FireWire 800 may also find applications in networking and disk array storage. While Apple is now outfitting all of their G4 units with FireWire 800 cards, another Sony spokesperson said that company is taking a "wait-and-see" approach, with no immediate plans to integrate the technology into its VAIO computers.
Adaptec, which manufactures PCI cards, is also cautiously optimistic about FireWire 800's promise. "FireWire 800 exhibits some great potential," says Chris Schultz, marketing manager for Adaptec's desktop solutions group. "However, until there are peripherals or new compelling applications that take advantage of the speed, it will remain a marginal interface. As soon as such products begin to appear, Adaptec will be ready to make FireWire 800 the next mainstream I/O solution." Another Adaptec spokesperson added that the company has already done some R&D on FireWire 800 cards, but has no timetable for bringing them to market.