Tech: FireWire vs. USB (Storage)

Today’s quick Tech subject is on whether or not your should use FireWire or USB to store your media.

Assuming you are like me, you have a basic HD camcorder or capture device, that goes up to 720p resolution with 30 to 60 frames a second, a 10 minute recording will be about 2 gigs a piece if you are compressing it. And if you are using a Windows or Macintosh computer (the latter prior to the M1 switch), is it worth it to use FireWire (or Thunderbolt) over the abundant USB drives?

The answer is yes, if you can. Why? FireWire is (now) a legacy connector and controller for devices including but not limited to hard drives, cameras, audio capture devices, etc.

The advantage with FireWire is that, it can daisy chain. Meaning you can plug in a DV camcorder on a port you use for your audio capture device, and chain up to several devices without using hubs or splitters, of which USB uses. Your USB keyboard that has a USB port to plug in a rodent? In reality it’s not daisy chaining at all, in fact the “keyboard” is actually another device, and that USB port you see on said keyboard is actually tied in through an internal USB hub, that is basically a printed circuit board with the 4 wires being soldered in.

Another advantage of FireWire (it’s recommended to use the 800 speed) is that the speed is going to be very static and predictable. It’s comparable to moving files on a Gigabit network, another key difference with FireWire over USB is that it has it’s own embedded computer, so it’s not going to tax your CPU (especially if you want to move media and ingest media to your editing app. USB requires your computer’s operating system to do any heavy lifting, while the FireWire has a micro computer to talk to the FireWire bus inside your computer that is separate to what you – as the user, use it for.

Thunderbolt had basically been the successor, and the current rendition is shaped like USB 3 plug, but again the difference is the intelligence in the device. Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 are still hot items, and heavily sought for by creative pros, so it’s probably best to stick with FireWire 800 and save your self some money (and to the environment) so it doesn’t become eWaste and use some “vintage” technology in modern times for people with a tight budget.


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