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Chipset speeds FireWire's work

Lucent rolls out new, more efficient chips for the 1394 data-transfer technology, which will let PC makers save precious amounts of power.

Lucent Microelectronics introduced new chips that will allow consumers to more easily connect PCs to image and data-rich devices such as digital camcorders, VCRs, and other peripherals.

Lucent's new chipset for the IEEE 1394 data-transfer technology--also referred to by Apple Computer's trademarked name FireWire--will allow PC makers to include the technology in notebooks and other devices that operate on battery power.

1394 chipsets transfer data at much faster rates than similar technologies, which in turn makes shuttling images back and forth more practical.

To date, 1394 connectors have not been widely used on portable devices because of the relatively high power consumption of the chipsets needed to run 1394. Plus, those chipsets have been costly.

Lucent also announced that it will demonstrate prototype chipsets at the upcoming Comdex trade show based around the next generation "1394B" standard. 1394B is capable of speeding data along at up to 800 megabits per second (mbps). 1394 chips like the ones introduced today by Lucent are capable of data transfer rates of up to 200 mbps.

By contrast, the Universal Serial Bus (USB), another data transfer technology that is being included in most new PCs, allows for data rates up to 12 mbps.

The FireWire technology has long held promise for its ability to connect consumer electronics devices such as digital TVs, cameras, cable set-top boxes, etc., to PCs without causing a data dump meltdown. Another advantage is that a consumer just needs to plug a 1394-enabled peripheral in, and they are ready to work.

That promise has only been partially fulfilled, because PC makers have been slow to incorporate the needed ports into new PCs, and Microsoft just introduced support in the operating system for FireWire with Windows 98.

Also, many of the available peripherals are quite expensive. A digital camcorder with a 1394 connector typically costs between $1,000 and $2,000, while traditional camcorders fall well below that mark.

Sample quantities of Lucent's chips are available now, with a six connector version available by December, Lucent said. No pricing was announced.