In 1995, Apple Computer unveiled a new protocol for connecting computers and peripherals. FireWire was introduced to replace the SCSI parallel protocol that Apple had used for years. With the advent of faster Macintosh PowerPC processors, sending information to external devices required faster speeds than SCSI could provide.
Apple’s development of the FireWire protocol began in the late 1980s. Previously, Apple’s computers would connect to external disk drives and printers using SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) ports. These long, narrow ports received information from contacts made with pins. With the release of the PowerPC chip in the early 1990s, Apple was seeking a cable that carried information at a faster speed. SCSI cabling carries five megabytes per second. When it was released, FireWire was able to carry data at a rate of 100-200 megabytes per second.
Apple received approval for its new protocol from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The IEEE is the governing body which certifies any cabling or device carrying an electrical current. Firewire was approved as the IEEE 1394 interface in 1995 with the ability to transfer data at more than 40 times faster than its SCSI predecessor. Apple introduced it in its Power Macintosh G3 series of computers, beginning in 1999.
FireWire’s primary use is as a peripheral-to-computer connection. It is designed to not place a burden on the system’s RAM. IEEE 1394 cables use copper cabling and draws a up to 45 watts of power from the CPU. FireWire’s advanced speed ratings make it appealing for transferring large amounts of data. Typical FireWire applications include connecting PCs to digital video cameras, external hard drives and external DVD drives.
There are two primary types of FireWire cables. FireWire 400 is rated to carry data at speeds of 400 megabytes per second (Mbps). This is the port that is available on most portable Macintosh computers and iMacs. The professional series of Macintosh computers, or MacPros, are equipped with both the 400 and 800 series. 800 series ports have the ability to transfer up to 800 Mbps.
FireWire is standard on all Macintosh computers and is supported on all Apple operating systems higher than 8.6. Microsoft Windows has supported the IEEE 1394 protocol since Windows 2000, even though most manufacturers have only carried the ports on their machines since 2005, the exception being Sony’s PC line.