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Image credit:  Tripp Lite; Digi-Key Corporation; Point Grey Research Inc.

 

FireWire® cables are used to connect devices that use FireWire, an interface standard developed by Apple Computer and adopted by the IEEE, for very fast digital data transfers. They are used to connect peripherals such as digital camcorders and set-top boxes to personal computers, especially Macintosh computers. FireWire cables permit hot swapping and the transmission of data, video and audio over a single cable at very high bit rates.  FireWire is a registered trademark of the Apple Corporation.

Types of FireWire Cables

FireWire cables are generally categorized according to the version of FireWire that they support. Since FireWire is a brand name, they are sometimes described more generically as IEEE 1394 cables because they adhere to this serial-bus interface standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

 

The GlobalSpec SpecSearch database allows buyers to specify the following types of FireWire cables. Note that Lynx (Texas Instruments) and i.LINK (Sony) are also implementations of the IEEE 1394 standard, which replaced parallel SCSI in many applications because of FireWire’s simplified cabling system.

  • FireWire 400 cables can transfer data at speeds up to 400 megabits per second (Mbit/s). They adhere to the original FireWire standard, and are sometimes called IEEE 1394 cables. There are two connector types: 6-pin for ports on the Macintosh and 4-pin for ports on Windows PCs and camcorders.
  • IEEE 1394a cables use a 6-pin connector, but also adhere to the original FireWire specification of 400 Mbit/s. By using a 6-pin to 9-pin adapter, IEEE 1394a cables can plug into 1394b ports; however, the speed remains 400 Mbit/s.
  • FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b) cables double the transmission speed of the original interface and increase the maximum distance of connections. Unlike FireWire 400, FireWire 800 has the necessary throughput for bandwidth-intensive applications in digital video (DV) and digital audio.
  • FireWire S800T cables also support data transfers of up to 800 Mbit/s, but over Ethernet connections.
  • FireWire S1600 cables support the 1600 Mbit/s data transfer rate defined in the IEEE 1394-2002 specification. They are backwards compatible with FireWire 800 cables, but more tolerant to electrical interference.
  • FireWire S3200 cables support data rates of up to 3200 Mbit/s and are designed for use with optical systems.

Connectors

FireWire cables are available with 4-, 6- and 9-pin connectors.  The pin arrangement is determined by the FireWire standard or cable application.

  • 4-pin connectors are frequently used with consumer electronics, such as camcorders, personal computers (PCs) and small FireWire devices. 
  • 6-pin connectors are also known as alpha connectors and are typically used for FireWire 400 and IEEE 1394a applications. 
  • 9-pin connectors, also called beta connectors, represent a more recent development in FireWire connectors.  They are used in FireWire 800, S1600 and S3200 applications.

References

 

What is the Difference Between FireWire 1394a and 1394b?

 

IEEE 1394b S1600 Technical FAQ

 

FireWire 800 and FireWire 400

 

What is FireWire 800?