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USB vs FireWire

One IT issue guaranteed to cause confusion is the conflict between connection technologies, particularly the two apparently competing industry standards - USB, developed by Intel, and Apple's brainchild, FireWire.

USB is an industry standard for connecting peripherals to computers to support plug-and-play applications. It offers increased bandwidth, data transfer at 12 Mbps (Megabits per second), and the ability to connect up to 127 devices to a single computer, using external hubs.

USB ports are now very common on both PC and Apple computers, aimed mainly at low to medium speed devices such as scanners, printers, mice, keyboards and other peripherals with low data loads. USB has only one type of cable, which means it is impossible to connect wrongly - surprisingly valuable in the average office.

FireWire is a faster standard, used most commonly in audio/visual consumer electronic devices such as DV (Digital Video) Camcorders/VCRs. It can transfer data directly from one device to another without having to go through a PC at all, which gives it the edge for audio/visual applications.

FireWires more advanced specification has cornered the market for high-bandwidth peripherals, and comes as standard on all new Apple computers, although it still only features on a limited number of higher end PCs.

Both standards are 'hot-swappable', meaning peripherals can be unplugged at will without having to restart your machine - ideal in an office situation where you may share a printer or scanner.

However, don't be tempted to invest in one or the other on speed grounds alone. USB 2.0 now offers interface speeds of up to 480 Mbps, which has prompted developers to consider an even faster FireWire interface than the current 393Mbps speed available.

The strengths of USB and FireWire really lie in different areas and they are likely to continue to serve different purposes. USB is more widespread and versatile, and will dominate the market for connecting desktop PC peripherals requiring only moderate bandwidth - the keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner and floppy drive.

FireWire's point to point transfer, along with its current speed, seems set to maintain its position as the preferred technology for digital video and audio users requiring high bandwidth.

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