Choose your storage interface: USB 2.0 vs. FireWire

Externally-mounted hard drives and other IDE peripherals such as CD/DVD drives, typically come with one of two interfaces for their host PC: USB 2.0 and FireWire. Both of them get the job done, but they're different enough that the differences are worth discussing in detail.

USB 2.0 is the newer of the two interfaces, and can theoretically support transfer speeds of up to 480 megabits per second. FireWire (or IEEE 1394, as it's also known) supports up to 400 megabits per second, and has been around since the late 1990s. In real-world testing, though, FireWire consistently outperforms USB 2.0 when used for large-capacity devices such as hard drives— FireWire is just faster.

One big reason for this is because USB is optimized for multiple devices; more of the bandwidth is used up for message passing rather than actual information. FireWire -- especially in its new FireWire 800 incarnation—is optimized for speed, since most people don't plug in more than one or two FireWire devices at a time. Also, when copying between FireWire devices, the host controller doesn't need to manage the communication; the devices can talk to each other directly for greater speed.

The one big advantage of USB 2.0 is that it's the more broadly-supported and available interface of the two, and is fully backwards-compatible with USB 1.1. Many machines (especially servers) do not ship with a FireWire controller and need to have one added on separately. Fortunately, this

Requires Free Membership to View

isn't very difficult -- a good FireWire controller generally doesn't cost more than $30 or so. It's even possible to get combination USB 2.0 / FireWire controllers for around $50, so that an older machine can reap the benefits of both busses.

To sum up: If you want convenience and backwards compatibility, use USB 2.0. For speed, use FireWire.

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of The Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

This was first published in June 2005

There are Comments. Add yours.

TIP: Want to include a code block in your comment? Use <pre> or <code> tags around the desired text. Ex: <code>insert code</code>

REGISTER or login:

Forgot Password?
By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy
Sort by: OldestNewest

Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

Disclaimer: Our Tips Exchange is a forum for you to share technical advice and expertise with your peers and to learn from other enterprise IT professionals. TechTarget provides the infrastructure to facilitate this sharing of information. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or validity of the material submitted. You agree that your use of the Ask The Expert services and your reliance on any questions, answers, information or other materials received through this Web site is at your own risk.