Difference Between USB and Firewire

The two most commonly used interfaces for connecting peripheral devices to computers are USB (Universal Serial Bus) and Firewire (IEEE 1394). While they both fulfil similar functions, they differ significantly in terms of technological specifications, data transfer rates, and usage scenarios

Read this article to find out more about USB and Firewire and how they are different from each other

What is USB?

The USB (Universal Serial Bus) interface is a popular way to connect numerous peripheral devices to computers, laptops, and other electronic devices. It was designed to standardize device connection and communication, making it simple to add and remove peripherals without the need for specialised hardware or complex configuration

Features of USB

Following are the key features of USB

  • Power Delivery:USB allows for power supply, which means it can power connected devices. The power delivery capabilities differ depending on the USB specification and the device. USB ports on computers and chargers can deliver up to 5 volts of direct current (DC) at various amperage levels. USB Type-C extends power supply capabilities by allowing for higher voltages and currents, faster charging of devices, and even powering laptops and monitors.

  • Plug-and-PlayUSB devices are designed for plug-and-play operation, which means they can be connected or disconnected from a USB port while the computer is still running without requiring a system restart. The operating system detects and configures connected devices automatically, making them ready for usage.

  • USB Hubs: USB hubs are devices that increase the number of USB ports available. They allow several devices to be connected at the same time by splitting the USB connection from the computer into multiple ports. USB hubs can be powered (using their own power source) or unpowered (using the computer's power).

  • Data and Power CablesUSB cables transmit data as well as electricity. The normal USB cable is made up of four wires:

  • Power wires: The red wire is for power, and the black wire is for ground

  • Data wires: The green and white wires are used for data transmission

  • Connector Types: USB supports various connector types, each of which is designed for a specific purpose. The most common types are as follows:

  • USB Type-A: This is the standard rectangular connector used on computers, hubs, and chargers.

  • USB Type-B: This connector is square in shape and is generally used to connect printers and other peripheral devices.

  • USB Type-C: This is a reversible, compact connector that allows for faster data transmission speeds and power delivery. It is more common on modern devices and supports a variety of protocols, such as USB 3.1, Thunderbolt, and DisplayPort.

What is Firewire?

Firewire, commonly known as IEEE 1394, is a high-speed serial interface used for data transport and device connections. It was created by Apple in the 1990s and later approved as a standard by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Features of Firewire

Following are the key features of Firewire:

  • Data Transfer Speed: Firewire provides fast data transfer speeds, making it suitable for bandwidth-intensive applications. Firewire 400 (IEEE 1394a), the original Firewire specification, has a maximum transfer rate of 400 Mbps (megabits per second). The speed increased to 800 Mbps using Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b). Firewire S3200 (IEEE 1394b-2008) introduced a 3.2 Gbps (gigabits per second) transfer rate.

  • Bandwidth Allocation: Firewire uses an isochronous data transport mechanism that guarantees bandwidth allocation. This means that Firewire-connected devices can reserve a specific amount of bandwidth to ensure continuous data flow. It is especially beneficial for applications requiring real-time data transfer, such as audio and video devices.

  • Daisy-Chaining: Firewire is known for its ability to daisy-chain multiple devices together. This means that multiple Firewire devices can be connected in a chain. Each device in the chain has its own unique identification and can communicate with the other devices in the chain without needing to connect to the computer directly. This simplifies cable management and minimizes the number of computer ports required.

  • Power Delivery: Power can be supplied to connected devices through Firewire. Power delivery was not included in the original Firewire specification. However, Firewire 800 allowed devices to take power from the Firewire system, removing the need for additional power adapters.

  • Hot-Plugging: Firewire, like USB, offers hot-plugging, which means you can connect and uninstall devices without turning off or restarting the computer. This feature offers simple and convenient plug-and-play functionality

Difference between USB and Firewire

The following table highlights the major differences between SCSI and IDE:




Bandwidth Allocation

Shared bandwidth

Guaranteed bandwidth allocation

Power Delivery

Supports power delivery

Supports power delivery (Firewire 800 and above)

Connector Types

Type-A, Type-B, Type-C

6-pin, 9-pin (Firewire 400/800)


Not supported


Device Compatibility

Wide range of devices

Primarily used in professional audio/video applications




Cable Types

Various types (Type-A, Type-B, Type-C)

6-pin, 9-pin

Primary Use Cases

General-purpose connectivity

Professional audio/video applications

Data Transfer Speed

480 Mbps (USB 2.0)

800 Mbps (Firewire 800)


In conclusion, USB and Firewire are two distinct interfaces with different features and uses. USB is more versatile, widely supported, and suitable for general-purpose communication, whereas Firewire offers faster speeds and dedicated bandwidth, making it suitable for professional audio and video applications

The decision between USB and Firewire depends on the specific requirements of the connected devices as well as the required data transmission speeds

Updated on: 14-Jul-2023


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