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Old 8th January, 2003, 11:33 AM
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Firewire 2! Loads of bandwidth!

Firewire 2 (1394B) is upon us! Boasting up to 3.2Gbit/sec of bandwidth (Compared to USB2's 480Mbs), it doesn't look bad! The engineers behind the standard have been working hard to enhance and optimise the original 1394 standard

For those who may not be quite so up to date with Firewire (1394), there's already been a couple of varients of it. The original version was IEEE 1394-1995, which was then updated to IEEE 1394A. Both offered the same 400Mbit/sec worth of bandwidth, but the update helped compatibility.

Now, 1394B is out there and alive and kicking. It's backwardly compatible with both the original 1394 and 1394A. All the original features (such as isochronous operation) are still there. On the other hand, new features have been implemented, and with vengence.

1394B decided that the limited distance for 1394 was a restriction, and worked hard to provide a much longer interconnect. 1394B can now manage 100metres over unshielded twisted pair. Granted, that's at 100Mbit/second. Move up to fibre, and longer distances and higher speeds are yours! Existing plastic fibre runs at 200Mbit/sec, and next-gen plastic fibre runs at 400Mbit/sec. Move up to the expensive stuff (multimode glass fibre), and you've now pushed well past the realms of gigabit ethernet, up to 3.2Gbit/sec!

Short haul connections have also been improved. 1394b offers extensions from the original 400Mbit/sec to 800Mbit/sec, 1.6Gbit/sec and on to 3.2Gbit/sec, all over copper!

The data encoding has been beefed up, and takes some of it's improvements from both Fibre Channel and Gigabit ethernet. This is mainly to improve reliabilty over long distances, but also helps to lower the RF emissions from unshielded cable.

In addition, the bus arbitration scheme has been updated. Bus arbitration is the mechanism used to decide who will get control of the bus next, as only one device can control the bus at a time. In the original 1394 spec, this was alternated with data flow, so a bus arbitration phase would occur, then data would be sent, then bus arbitration would occur and so on. This increased latency, as any device waiting to send data would have to wait until after the arbitration phase has occured before it could send. Now, the bus arbitration occurs at the same time as data transmission, so the next device waiting for the bus can start it's data transfer as the previous device finishes with the bus. This reduces the "dead time" on the bus where no data transfer can occur. The result? Reduced latency!

One more important thing! 1394B offers more power! 1394B can provide up to 25W worth of power, as opposed to USB's 5W. This means that devices like hard disks and DVD/CD-RW can be connected without an external power supply.

So, 1394B offers us far higher speeds, improved latency, more power and more robust data transfer! What more could we ask for? Perhaps a PCI bus that could handle this speed! Hopefully we will see 1394B interfaces built into the southbridge, with direct access to the link to the northbridge. This will take the load off the PCI bus, as 1394B running flat out takes over 3 times the bandwidth that the currently entrenched PCI (133Mbyte/sec) standard can offer.


In terms of chips out there, there's plenty of silicon. Texas Instruments, NEC, Panasonic and Agere all have Firewire 2 silicon. Recently Oxford Semiconductors released their Firewire 2 to IDE controller chip. This offers 800Mbit/sec Firewire 2 transfers, and ATA5 IDE transfers. Supporting both IDE and ATAPI devices, it offers a plug and play external storage solution controller! In terms of cost, Oxford Semiconductors offer a price of $15 for a one off. In volume, these chips are cheaper.

Áedán
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Old 8th January, 2003, 06:52 PM
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Gotta love those speeds, although it can't be used to it's full speed for a while, as you said. I'm glad about the extra power output, that's one of the big things thats put me off getting things like external hard disks and those annoying external power supplies. Can't wait
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