Firewire products allow for super-fast usefulness

first published in Business in Vancouver, Issue #614, July 31, 2001 CurrentZ section: GearGuide column


The technology with too many names, Firewire (aka Ilink, aka IEEE 1394) combines easy connection and setup with performance 10 to 30 times as fast as the more common Universal Serial Bus (USB). While virtually all digital camcorders can hook right up to Firewire-equipped computers, there's a lot more that you can plug in.

Some favourites:

Speed thrills

Epson's Expression 1680 Pro Firewire scanner is a big step up from the commonplace USB models. (Its $1,800 price is also a big step up.) It includes a transparency unit for scanning slides and other see-through media. Scan quality is superb and resolution up to 1,600 dpi means that slides can be effectively enlarged. Firewire produces fast scanning times: 16 seconds to scan an 8.5 x 11" page at 300 dpi, for example.

If you still want speedy scans, but don't need pro-level resolution, Umax's Astra 6400 is a much more affordable $300 ($400 for the Astra 6450, which adds a transparency cover for slide scanning). It takes 25 seconds to scan a full page; a similar USB model took a full minute. A 1394 adapter card is included to connect to Firewire-challenged PCs.

Picture perfect

Firewire also boosts the performance of Orange Micro's $250 Ibot Pro Desktop Video Camera (www.orangemicro. com). This camera shoots full-screen (640 x 480) video at full-motion 30 frames per second. For comparison, typical USB competitors deliver half the frame-rate and one-quarter the screen size. The Ibot Pro includes a generous software bundle for both PCs and Macs.

Is that a hard drive in your pocket?

LaCie's Pocketdrives, with a choice of 10, 20 and 30 Gb hard drives (priced from $500 to $1,100), offer easy portability with sizes of 3.5 x 5.75 x 0.6", weighing in at around 400 grams. With both USB and Firewire adapters, they connect to most recent desktop and notebook computers, Mac or PC. The USB interface offers a slow but steady 750 Kb/sec, making them only usable for backups or storing data files. Connect to a Firewire port, however, and speed jumps to 12 Mb/sec, suitable for running programs or even capturing digital video. Larger external models are cheaper but still speedy and portable; LaCie offers a full-sized 60 Gb Firewire model for $500.

Split personalities

Iomega also offers several products with split personalities, able to connect to either USB or Firewire. Rather than include both adapters, however, the company has opted for removable connection modules; customers with a USB model can purchase a Firewire module for added performance.

Like other USB drives, Iomega's Predator CD-R/RW drive is limited to a relatively modest 4x burn speed. Plug in the Firewire connector and that jumps to 8x, dropping the time to create a full CD disk from about 25 minutes to around 12 minutes. Its $400 price is higher than some competitors, but it offers better compatibility with both Macs and PCs than most.

New from Iomega is the Peerless external storage series. These external drives use removable 10- or 20-GB cartridges and again come with a choice of USB or Firewire connectors. Once again, the Firewire versions offer enough speed for the most demanding applications in a pocket-sized drive. Currently, the Firewire versions are Mac-only, while the USB version supports both platforms. ($400 for the drive; 10- and 20-GB disks cost $240 and $300.)

Adapting technologies

While all currently available Macs have Firewire built-in, the interface is less common on PC desktop and notebooks. Cardbus adapters are available for many Mac and PC notebooks and PCI card adapters are available for desktop models.

ATI Technologies' DV Wonder ($79) is a good example. Despite the name, like other Firewire solutions it's for more than just digital video. With three ports on a single card, it's easily added to a Windows 98SE, ME or 2000 desktop. The package includes a cable and a copy of Ulead Videostudio 5.0, a nice mid-level video editing package with CD-video and DVD-burning capabilities.


Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan