Business Issues -> Innovation
By: Clay Ryder, President, Sageza Group, Inc.
Published: 10th March 2008
Copyright Sageza Group, Inc. © 2008
The 1394 Trade Association has announced a new specification to quadruple the speed of FireWire to reach 3.2 gigabits per second. The new specification, known as S3200, is backwards-compatible with the IEEE 1394b standard and will be able to use the existing cables and connectors already deployed for FireWire 800 products.
The Silicon Working Group developed the S3200 specification within the 1394 Trade Association, with participation by Symwave, Texas Instruments, LSI Corporation, and Oxford Semiconductor. Since the 1394 arbitration, data and service protocols were not modified for S3200, silicon and software vendors should be able to deploy the faster-speed FireWire quickly. Operating without polling, idle times, or continuous software management, FireWire 800 efficiently delivers more than 97% of its bit rate as payload with FireWire 800 hard drives today moving over 90MBps. S3200 preserves the 1394b design efficiency and is planned to deliver payload speeds reaching 400MBps.
According to the trade association, the best FireWire 800 hard drives move data almost three times as fast as the best hard drives equipped with USB 2.0 and do so with more electrical power to enable operation without an AC adapter and at higher rotational speeds. Alternative cable options that can carry FireWire 100+ meters, even at high speeds, will be available with S3200 and will make this interconnect competitive with eSATA while delivering electrical power, which eSATA does not. Based on the working group's progress, the Trade Association has set a January 2008 date for the specification to enter a ratification process with ratification expected by early February.
Sometimes it is easy to think of interconnects as nothing more than nuts and bolts. Fasteners are generally not all that exciting and can viewed as a commodity. But in the case of FireWire, and its latest high-speed specification, the potential impact is more than a mere commodity could deliver. We have seen some astonishing improvements in copper wire connectivity speeds as of late. Not all that long ago, 100MBps over wire was considered lightning fast, but today 1GBps is met with a yawn of the mundane. The original FireWire was fast for its time, and easily beat early USB implementations. However, neither of these was generally considered for the highest speed interconnects, as this was left to expensive fabrics and optical cabling. Yet today, with this announcement, the notion of 3GBps through a low-cost established interface with considerable backwards capability is now on the cards.
With respect to disk drives, the new S3200 could have substantial impact in the cost of delivering storage both inside and outside of the desktop and the server. Small form factor external drives connected through S3200 offer a single-cable, high-speed, no-power-pack-required storage solution. This simplicity could simplify external disk drive usage in mobile environment where laptops are on the move, but also reduce the dreaded power vampire syndrome for desktop environments where bulky power-sucking transformers pile up around machines, generating heat and sucking power 24x7 even when the disk drive is turned off. Within storage appliances or other internal applications, the simplification of cabling could lead to cost reduction and greater efficiency in solution packaging.
As FireWire has many uses outside disk drives, including camera, cable and satellite set-top boxes, HDTV, and more, the potential for S3200 to compete in high-bandwidth digital media scenarios is considerable. Under S3200, FireWire should offer sufficient throughput to support uncompressed HD signals over longer distances. If further developments permit FireWire to operate over the coaxial cable common in TV installations, the potential of additional data streams coexisting with TV programming should be well received by service providers who are seeking to develop additional revenue streams that leverage the existing infrastructure. But even at present, from the simplistic view of cabling expense, FireWire tends to compare favorably with HDMI, and can easily support storage and other devices that are typically not connective through HDMI. This lends FireWire well to media centers, set-top boxes, etc., as well as its existing base of computing and consumer electronic devices.
Overall, we are intrigued by the potential of S3200 and the potential raising of the bar it implies. As rich media increasingly inundates all aspects of life, the ability to easily and cost-effectively move large numbers of bits between devices becomes all the more important. Further, in an era where green is more than just a color, the leverage of a centralized power distribution source to power devices is well positioned to not only save manufacturing costs and complexity, but lower the overall amount energy consumed by interconnected devices and their users.
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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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