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Author Topic: USB 2.0 vs. Firewire 400/800 for storage  (Read 8504 times)
tgphoto
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« on: July 17, 2006, 11:59:41 AM »
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Hello All,

I've been using a laptop as my main "workstation" since 1995.  In that time, I have seen numerous storage formats come and go. Some sparked wide adoption overnight, while others caught on slow but slowly built steam.  Then there were those (Orb anyone?) which failed miserably.

Since 1998 I have been using external hard drives to backup a copy of my work (with a second copy on CD/DVD for safekeeping).  Being a Mac user, I've relied solely on Firewire 400 drives, as even today they are cheaperthan their 800 counterparts and are more commonplace (have you ever seen  FW800 on a PC?).

With Apple's switch from FW400 to USB2.0 as the interface for its iPod line, and the elimination of FW800 from all but the high-end MacBook Pro, I'm wondering whether it makes sense to invest in yet another FW400 drive, or if it would be better to go with a USB2.0 drive at this point?

Is there any advantage to FW400 anymore?  And is there any advantage to these triple interface drives which feature FW400/FW800/USB 2.0?

Thanks!

Tim
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alainbriot
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« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2006, 01:03:14 PM »
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Personally, I use Firewire 800 and USB 2.0 for my external drives.  Internals in the Mac are SATA (Serial ATA).  I think SATA has a lot of potential for external drives as well.
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Alain Briot
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jani
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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2006, 05:30:21 PM »
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Is there any advantage to FW400 anymore?
Yes, it's not USB.

USB is not really well-suited for harddisk access patterns, but if you don't care about performance and it's more convenient to use USB, that's an argument for USB.

Here are a couple of articles that are at least half-way decent:

FireWire vs. USB 2.0 (usb-ware.com)

USB 2.0 vs. FireWire (digit-life.com)

One of USB's definite problems is how arbitration is performed on the bus. Performance does not degrade gracefully when you connect multiple devices on the same bus. Regarding what is or is not on the same bus, that's something that's controller-dependent, and as such usually also dependent on your motherboard.
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Jan
61Dynamic
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2006, 09:48:52 PM »
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With Apple's switch from FW400 to USB2.0 as the interface for its iPod line, and the elimination of FW800 from all but the high-end MacBook Pro, I'm wondering whether it makes sense to invest in yet another FW400 drive, or if it would be better to go with a USB2.0 drive at this point?
Apple is not abandoning FireWire. Not by a long shot.

The reason they switched to USB 2.0 for the iPod is due to size. FireWire requires a separate chip to control it which would ad size to the iPod. USB 2.0 can be integrated directly into the circuit board of the iPod allowing them to achieve the slim size the current iPods have.

If they really were abandoning FireWire, it would not have made it's way onto all of the Intel Macs and FW800 would not be on the new 17" Intel MacBook Pro (USB is owned by Intel and Intel has never supported FW previously since it's a competing standard).

I'll bet you one shaved duck that the new Mac Pros (PowerMac replacements) will still have FW800 ports when they are announced.

___...

The problem with USB is that it does not maintain constant data transfer speeds. FireWire is more stable in that regard (and thus the better performance). If you can, by all means go for FireWire.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2006, 09:51:30 PM by 61Dynamic » Logged
tgphoto
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« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2006, 10:50:02 PM »
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Please don't shave any ducks....they'd catch a terrible cold!

OK, so I guess we'll wait and see what happens come August then when the new Mac Pros roll out.

Thanks!
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benInMA
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2006, 09:05:53 AM »
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There is no reason Firewire couldn't have been directly integrated into the main chip on the iPod.

IMO Apple did that purely because there are still large #s of Windows PCs out there that do no support firewire or do not support it well at all.

My older Firewire ipod never worked terribly well attached to Windows as the Windows firewire drivers were pretty unstable.  It works fine on the Mac but if switching to USB 2.0 for the Ipod saved Apple thousands of Tech Support calls from Windows users it was 100% the right way to go.

I'm using Firewire for just about everything on my Mac (even my printer), but for my external drives I have (and probably will continue to) elected to use drives & enclosures which can be used with either USB 2.0 or Firewire.
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61Dynamic
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2006, 09:58:05 AM »
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There is no reason Firewire couldn't have been directly integrated into the main chip on the iPod.

IMO Apple did that purely because there are still large #s of Windows PCs out there that do no support firewire or do not support it well at all.
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Windows compatibility is not an issue as all but the oldest of FW iPods could be connected via USB 2.0 as well as FW (my 4th gen even came with a USB 2 cable).

Sure, FW could be integrated onto a circuit board but you're overlooking the small size of the iPod. FireWire does take up more space than USB 2.0. If you hunt around on the net, you can even find pictures of the FW control chip for the iPod and see why it just won't fit in the newest iPods.
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benInMA
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2006, 10:34:52 AM »
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The thing is they did initially use Firewire, and I'm not sure if the first windows compatible ipods even supported USB 2 at all.  

Their choices would have been influenced by the state of the ipod at that time, not today.  My 3rd gen I believe supports USB, but at that time they were not including the USB cable free, so users had to spend extra money to use USB.  If the FW didn't work well (and it definitely didn't for me and others I know) it definitely caused support headaches.

There is definitely no strong case for the ipod to contain both FW and USB and USB is the obvious choice for highest compatibility.  I don't really see a compelling argument on the technical side for one versus the other but USB clearly has won in terms of being much more ubiquitous.

That size of the old FW control chip is next to meaningless.. the new ipods most likely use chips fabbed on a different process then the old ones, making them much smaller.  On top of that if you've ever cut a chip open or worked on one you would know 90% of the physical space a chip takes up is just the space required for the pins to attach it to a circuit board.  When you integrate you eliminate the need for all those pins and the space requirement drops like crazy.  These two items account for much more of the size difference then the difference in circuit complexity between FW and USB.

No one except Apple can know exactly why the decisions were made.  They used to push FW much harder then they do now, and it failed as a market differentiator.  The choice to use FW in those old ipods and the choice to use it in a separate chip could very well have had to do with an accounting decision or an excess supply of FW chips.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2006, 10:36:16 AM by benInMA » Logged
jani
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« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2006, 03:27:57 PM »
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That size of the old FW control chip is next to meaningless.. the new ipods most likely use chips fabbed on a different process then the old ones, making them much smaller.  On top of that if you've ever cut a chip open or worked on one you would know 90% of the physical space a chip takes up is just the space required for the pins to attach it to a circuit board.  When you integrate you eliminate the need for all those pins and the space requirement drops like crazy.  These two items account for much more of the size difference then the difference in circuit complexity between FW and USB.
Also, there is just about one process generation between the first iPod and the ones in production now, which means that miniaturization alone would help quite a bit.
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Jan
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