updated 09:35 am EDT, Thu July 31, 2008
IEEE Approves FW 3200
The IEEE standards organization today approved the next generation of FireWire. Officially known as IEEE 1394-2008 but also referred to as S3200 or FireWire 3200, the connection specification operates at up to four times the speed of FireWire 800 (S800) with up to 3.2 gigabits per second of data while preserving the energy properties that allow it to power some devices without needing a direct power supply. The extra speed is believed to be useful for multi-disk hard drive arrays and other devices where earlier FireWire would be inadequate.
The format is also scalable and makes room for an in-between specification known as S1600, which peaks at exactly half the performance of S3200, as well as the ability to scale upwards in the future. FireWire should ultimately scale to at least S6400, or 6.4 gigabits per second. Both S3200 and S1600 are backwards-compatible with FireWire 800 and will work with the original FireWire 400 through a simple adapter.
IEEE officials explain that the standard will be available to use for electronics manufacturers in October. Products won't go immediately on sale due to the need to build supporting hardware, though it's widely expected that Apple will be one of the first to use the new technology. FireWire was originally and primarily developed by Apple and has frequently been promoted by the company, which was the first to make FireWire 800 a standard feature in a computer.
The early launch is critical for competition against Intel's USB 3.0 specification. Intel vows a faster 4.8 gigabits per second and is expected to gain wider industry support but will continue to depend on the main processor to process data rather than FireWire's dedicated hardware, potentially reducing its actual performance and giving an edge to FireWire 3200.