FireWire speed ramps to 3.2 Gbit/sec

December 17, 2007 -- The new spec will use the cables and connectors already deployed for FireWire 800 products.

December 17, 2007 -- The 1394 Trade Association has announced a new specification to quadruple the speed of FireWire technology to reach 3.2 Gbits/sec.

The new electrical specification, known as S3200, builds upon the IEEE 1394b standard and is designed to preserve all the advantages of FireWire while offering a major boost in performance. The new speed will use the cables and connectors already deployed for FireWire 800 products -- which, as the name implies, support 800-Mbit/sec transmission. (There is also a specification for 1.6-Gbit/sec transmission; no products designed to this higher-speed standard have reached the market yet, according to Richard Davies, who performs media relations for the association.) Because the 1394 arbitration, data, and service protocols were not modified for S3200, the trade association believes that silicon and software vendors will be able to deploy the faster version of FireWire quickly and with confidence that it will deliver its full potential performance. The S3200 specification is expected to be ratified by early February.

Products built to the new specification are expected to be backwards compatible with FireWire 800 products. FireWire ports have been shipped to date on a variety of consumer and business products, including computers, cameras, televisions, hard drives, and musical instruments. IEEE 1394 also has seen deployment in aircraft and polar orbiting satellites.

"Alternative cable options" can carry FireWire over distances of 100 m or more. The plastic optical fiber (POF) community has targeted FireWire applications as a market opportunity, particularly for home networking in conjunction with the High-Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance (HANA). The standard also supports the use of 50-micron multimode fiber.

"The S3200 standard will sustain the position of IEEE 1394 as the absolute performance leader in multi-purpose I/O ports for consumer applications in computer and CE devices," comments James Snider, executive director, 1394 Trade Association. "There is a very clear migration path from 800 Mbits/sec to 3.2 Gbits/sec, with no need for modifications to the standard and no requirement for new cables or connectors."

The Silicon Working Group developed the S3200 specification within the 1394 Trade Association, with participation by Symwave, Texas Instruments, LSI Corp., and Oxford Semiconductor. S3200 specifies the electrical operation of the 3.2-Gbit mode first specified by IEEE 1394b-2002, without changing any connector, cable, protocol, or software requirements. The Trade Association has set a January 2008 date for the specification to enter a ratification process.

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