PC Magazine has posted an extensive
comparison of FireWire and USB 2.0, two peripheral connectivity technologies vying for the attention of PC users. The results are sure to interest Mac users, as well.
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FireWire is the 400Mbps interface technology that’s standard across the entire Mac product line. It was recently supplanted by the downwardly compatible yet considerably faster FireWire 800 interface, now appearing on new PowerBook G4 and Power Mac G4 models.
USB 2.0, meanwhile, actually offers greater bandwidth that FireWire’s original implementation — 480Mbps — but has yet to appear on the Macintosh. Apple still uses USB 1.1, the much slower 12Mbps standard, instead. USB 2.0 has become increasingly widespread on Windows-compatible PCs, as well, which provoked PC Magazine to ask what’s better, USB 2.0 or FireWire?
Noting that the results surprised them, PC Magazine said that USB 2.0 peripheral use was often considerably slower than the 40x factor it’s sometimes made out to be. “Our tests showed that USB 2.0 was generally only 2 to 13 times as fast as USB 1.1,” they wrote. Still an improvement over USB 1.1 to be sure, but not the equality with FireWire that some USB 2.0 advocates would have you believe.
In looking more in detail at FireWire, PC Magazine noted that the Apple-developed interface is “available in far more consumer electronics devices, too. And it can work without a PC.” And better still, FireWire outperforms USB 2.0 “especially with streaming audio and video.”
USB 2.0, meanwhile, is cheaper on the whole than FireWire, thanks to a less sophisticated I/O architecture. That inexpensiveness comes at a price, however — as USB requires a host/slave architecture driven by a computer, you can’t just hook up two USB 2.0 peripherals to transfer data to each other, as you can with many FireWire gadgets.
All in all, PC Magazine said that FireWire gets the nod for hard disk drive connectivity, and is the obvious choice if your goal is to hook up consumer electronics to your computer. USB 1.1 is still sufficient if you have a low-res scanner or even an inkjet printer, according to the reviewers. Optical drives like CD-RW and DVD drives seemed to do fine with USB 2.0, but the magazine warned that FireWire would provide users with better video playback.
“Over the next few years, both high-speed data-transfer standards will continue to coexist. This may complicate your buying decisions but will also improve the ties that bind your PC and its peripherals,” said PC Magazine.