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Old and new FireWires don't always get along

When multiple FireWire devices are plugged into a single system, malfunctions can occur. Find out how to avoid this and other unexpected conflicts.

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FireWire (also known by its technical name, IEEE 1394) is a high-speed data bus that's become a staple on new PCs. It's also become a standard way to attach mass storage devices to PCs or servers, since many standalone drives are sold with 1394 interfaces. It's possible to buy bare drive cages with 1394 interfaces into which a user can install a standard Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics (EIDE) or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) drive.

Multiple FireWire devices can be plugged into a single system, which can sometimes create unexpected conflicts. One such problem arises when two devices that use slightly different iterations of the IEEE 1394 standard are plugged into the same computer. The original IEEE 1394-1995 standard (so named for the year of its release) and the newer IEEE 1394-2000 standard (also named for the year of its release) handle the presence of multiple devices a little differently. If you plug one of each kind of device into the same 1394 bus, the bus resets and may not enumerate the presence of each kind of device correctly. The effects of this are hard to miss -- plug in one device and the other fails.

There are a few ways to alleviate the problem. One is to plug each type of device into an entirely separate device chain. Another, and probably the more practical long-term solution, is to upgrade the older of the devices to the newer standard.

I've also noticed that a number of external drive chassis can use both USB 1.1/2.0 and FireWire. This may be due to the way USB has been designed, but mixing multiple varieties of USB devices on the same bus doesn't cause the same problems I've already described above. There might be a slight speed advantage to using USB 2.0.


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!

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