Faster FireWire on way for gigabit generation

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers approves a specification that gives support for bandwidth of up to 3.2Gbps.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has approved a new specification that gives support for bandwidth of up to 3.2Gbps--the standard that is used by Apple's FireWire and Sony's iLink, among others.

Most commonly called FireWire, it was initially intended as a general-use fast serial bus, but has found niches in attached storage and multimedia applications, primarily because of its guaranteed latency.

Like many standards, the issue for this specification--IEEE 1394-2008--is maintaining compatibility across different generations, and ensuring that the protocol keeps up with advances in hardware technique. Many implementations are still using the 400Mbps S400 specification, even though the 800Mbps S800 standard has been available for some time.

The IEEE on Wednesday announced that it had formally approved the specification, which will introduce support for S1600 (1.6Gbps) and S3200 (3.2Gbps) while offering full backward compatibility with S400 and S800 ports. The IEEE 1394-2008 spec will become available in October, according to the IEEE.

FireWire's main competitor is the Universal Serial Bus (USB), which is more widely used in desktop and mobile applications and is less expensive to implement. It is currently on version 2.0 with a top speed of 480Mbps, with USB 3.0 due out in 2010 at a rate of 4.8Gbps.

There has been some controversy over USB 3.0: the standard is being driven by Intel, with other partners in the USB industry group complaining that key details of the new specification have been withheld from them, thus leaving them at a competitive disadvantage. Intel denies these claims.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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