FireWire allows for high-speed communication to occur between two separate computers, a PC and a peripheral, or two other connected devices. This technology’s goal is to have each item operating together at the maximum efficiency possible.
If you have FireWire, it is also called IEEE 1394. It’s a connecting device used to add peripherals to your computer in most setups.
Most people use it to connect an external hard drive because it can quickly transmit the data from one place to another. If you upload videos from a digital camcorder, you’re also likely using this technology.
When connected successfully, the data transfer rates can reach 800 Mbps with modern FireWire. The next generation under development is expected to reach 3.2 Gbps.
Can I Use a FireWire to USB Adapter to Connect My FireWire Interface?
It isn’t possible to use your computer’s USB port to connect a FireWire interface to an adapter. The connection isn’t sufficient to run the audio interface when utilizing that methodology. If your PC doesn’t have a built-in port, you should look for a PCI or a PCIe slot instead.
Since there are numerous brands and types of FireWire cards in existence, it’s essential to remember that some of them are not well-suited for real-time streaming needs.
The usability of any given FireWire card is wholly dependent on the compatibility it has with the PC’s motherboard in use. The operating system you have installed on the network, along with the drivers, are also essential components of the equation.
Since you can have almost any combination of chipsets, cards, and motherboards, it’s impossible to test every conceivable scenario when you want to connect the FireWire interface.
Although some have compatibility, especially with the Saffire Range, there are zero guarantees given when setting up your system.
That’s why the recommendation is to use PCIe cards if you don’t have the appropriate port. When that option isn’t available, a PCI is your next best option.
Why Can’t I Use the USB Adapter to Transfer Data?
The issue with a FireWire to USB adapter is one of speed compatibility. When you put in the intermediate device between your computer and peripheral (or two PCs), you’re creating an obstacle that the data must flow around to reach its destination.
Since FireWire doesn’t understand what to do with that roadblock, it creates an information traffic jam. Although you can generate workarounds, even with the adapter, you’ll never achieve the same speeds as you would when a direct connection is possible.
That’s why this connection is not recommended. Once one accounts for all the potential variations, the likelihood that you’ll come out with a positive response is minimal.
You would either need to stick with a straight FireWire connection or use a straightforward USB transfer.
■ How Does FireWire Work?
If you have a computer connected to external devices, it will query them whenever it starts to power up. It’s a process that we call “enumeration.”
The computer gives each device an address during this startup phase. That’s why the operating system detects a new peripheral once it’s already on and asks for a driver. If it already has one, the product automatically activates by communicating with it.
With FireWire, the devices are called “hot” and “pluggable.” That means without any power on, you can still connect or disconnect them from your computer. Since it uses a 64-bit fixed address, three individual parts come in each data packet to the peripheral.
What Are the Speed Differences Between FireWire and USB?
Although there can be significant differences between the speeds if you’re using FireWire 800 instead of USB 2.0, the reality is that only specific applications need the former option.
If you plan to do live streaming through this communication interface, such as you would need with hi-res audio from a computer to your stereo system, the only option is FireWire 800 right now.
When you need to copy files from one device to another, the transfer rate is typically anywhere from 23% to 51% faster. At that point, it’s up to you to determine if the investment makes sense for your needs. If you are always moving data between devices, it makes sense to step up to this technology.
If not, the benefit of moving to FireWire might not outweigh the disadvantages you’d face when making the transition.
■ What Are the Differences Between FireWire and USB?
Each device or peripheral created to work with computers requires a connection to transfer information. FireWire and USB are two different options that allow this process to happen.
The Universal Serial Bus connects printers and other devices quickly to PCs, laptops, and Macs. When you have FireWire, it does the same for items that require more information to transfer between the devices.
You’ll find four different comparison points to review when looking at these two technologies.
|More Data:||• The primary difference between a USB and FireWire is that the latter gets used for devices that send extensive information. |
• You can save several minutes by using FireWire 800 over USB tech, especially when there’s a DVD player, camcorder, or sizeable external drive involved.
|More Speed:||• Since a mouse or a printer doesn’t need to have extensive speed requirements, a USB port makes sense for those peripherals. |
• When using FireWire, you can transfer power to the device through the same cable while data is flowing between the computer and the item – or between two independent peripherals without the PC connection.
|More Cost:||• The cost of a FireWire is more than what it would be for a standard USB cable. |
• With that said, you can find options online that retail for around $10.
• Unless you have extensive cabling requirements to manage, the expense is minimal when comparing the two options.
|More Flexibility:||• When you use USB technology, it is typically a host-based feature. |
• With FireWire, what you’ll get is a peer-to-peer (P2P) connection that allows two devices to speak with each other without needing to go through the computer.
That’s why you’ll see FireWire often coming with high-definition cable boxes in the United States. When customers lease this equipment, they need to have a foundation that enables HDTV to broadcast.
Suppose you plug FireWire into a compatible macOS device. In that case, you could build a home theater system, set up a DJ stage, or create a professional film editing studio in your home office.
Although other options are out there to consider, such as Thunderbolt, FireWire still stands head and shoulders above most options – especially when one considers the 800 choice that is available today.
Why Does This Matter for the Saffire Series from Focusrite?
If you’re creating an audio system at home right now, Focusrite delivers some excellent options to consider for your setup.
When you choose something from the Saffire Range, you’ll need to consider your foundations. The manufacturer produces USB and FireWire equipment to use.
The Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 is an excellent example of the differences to consider. It provides eight in and six out while offering the FireWire audio interface. You’ll get two mic preamps from the manufacturer, all working together to create an ultra-low latency mixer and router.
You’ll receive several plug-in suites, the tone bundle when you register the product, and Softube Time.
You can use the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 (and the other options) on compatible Windows PCs or macOS systems. Several bonuses are available, including Ableton Live Lite, to help you record at rates of up to 96 kHz and 24-bit from your computer.
If you do any home recording, you’ll want to have this setup available to ensure your music has the accuracy you desire.
When you upgrade to a FireWire option, you’ll find fewer CPU overloading issues, less latency in the audio flow, and additional performance improvements.
Please remember that if you don’t have a FireWire PCI card or above, you’ll need to upgrade your setup so that it can communicate appropriately. You won’t get the results you want from a USB adapter.
What FireWire PCI Card Should I Purchase?
When you need to upgrade your system with a FireWire port, you’ll find that the cost is somewhat minimal. Some laptops even let you insert a card through an available case slot to let you finish this work in under a minute.
For everyone else, you’ll need to open up the case to install the adapter card for this technology.
Before you get started with the upgrade, you’ll need to make sure that your computer has an expansion slot available. If you have an Apple device (especially an iMac), this upgrade might not be possible.
When you get an expansion port today, options like the StarTech three-port adapter provide one 800 speed, another 400 speed, and often a third option for you to use. You’ll get the complete installation profile that includes the standard bracket.
You can install the FireWire card in a PCIe slot, delivering broad capabilities for a few minutes of work.
If you’re working with an older device, you’ll have a successful experience since it works from a floppy drive connecter, such as an FDD or an SP4. If you have an updated product (made in the last 10 years), you might need to get a SATA to a 15-pin power adapter and another to a four-pin product to deliver the power you need.
You’ll want to measure your new FireWire card and its port before finalizing your purchase.
Is It Worth the Upgrade to FireWire for My Recording?
If you take your music recording seriously, you should look at getting FireWire tech in your home studio. I can tell you from experience that the upgrade will save you an enormous amount of time when you’re trying to record.
I’ve worked with Apple products for years. When I’d use my MIDI with the keyboard to work with Logic, I’d almost always need to reboot my device to reduce latency. When I started using FireWire instead, with the Focusrite Saffire, the intermediary benefits it offered were worth the price of admission.
I went from needing to buffer 3-4 minutes for extensive tracks to about half of that time.
I also highly recommend using FireWire if you have a large external drive for things like your Time Machine backups. I store this data locally, and this tech has cut my time investments by 40% easily.
Although every setup is different, I would highly recommend evaluating the pros and cons of using FireWire today without trying to rely on a USB adapter.